Bridging the Gap: Corporate Social Responsibility in Rural America

In today's episode, you'll learn about the unique challenges and opportunities for social impact in rural America. We chat with Andrew Jones, Senior Researcher at the Conference Board, and delve into the state of philanthropy in rural America, explore the socioeconomic issues corporations are addressing, and highlight the key partnerships needed to scale social impact efforts.

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Unraveling the Complexity of Rural America

When we talk about rural America, it's essential to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all definition. From scenic landscapes and small towns to bustling peri-urban areas, the term 'rural' encompasses a wide spectrum of communities.

According to the most recent U.S. census, approximately 20% of the total U.S. population, or about 67 million people, live in rural areas.

Yet, these areas represent about 97% of the country's total land area, emphasizing the vastness and diversity of rural America.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Rural America

Rural America faces numerous socioeconomic challenges, including a lack of economic opportunities, limited access to healthcare, lower educational attainment, and environmental challenges such as climate change. However, these challenges should not overshadow the potential these communities hold.

For CSR professionals, rural America presents an untapped opportunity.

Despite representing a significant portion of the population, rural areas receive only about 5% of major grants from large philanthropic foundations, including corporates and their affiliated foundations.

This disconnect suggests an urban bias among corporate funders and a significant gap in the CSR landscape.

The Role of Corporations in Rural Development

Corporations have a unique role to play in bridging this gap.

By actively recruiting and developing rural talent, companies can contribute to the economic development of these areas.

Additionally, corporations can support rural non-profits, either directly through grants or by partnering with regional foundations that already have established relationships within these communities.

Interestingly, the shift to remote work due to the pandemic has highlighted the potential of rural areas.

As more people relocate to smaller towns and rural communities, companies have the opportunity to tap into a more diverse talent pool.

However, to fully capitalize on this trend, it's crucial to address the digital divide and ensure these communities have access to high-speed broadband.

The Need for Public-Private Partnerships

Public-private partnerships can play a pivotal role in revitalizing rural communities.

While few companies consider the extent and scope of government funding or programs when planning their CSR efforts, closer collaboration with policymakers can help expand rural prosperity.

By aligning their CSR goals with public sector initiatives, companies can amplify the impact of their efforts.


The complexities of rural America require a nuanced approach from CSR professionals.

By understanding the unique challenges and opportunities of these communities, corporations can make a meaningful impact.

As we navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it's time to shift our focus and explore the untapped potential of rural America.