Recapping RCP’s first year catalyzing rural-led climate solution

A year ago in April, the Rural Climate Partnership launched as an ambitious effort to accelerate rural-led climate solutions and help small-town communities leverage the many economic benefits that can and should flow from the transitions to clean energy and regenerative agriculture. 

We had surveyed the climate-funding landscape, and there was an obvious need for a cross-cutting strategy, working across clean energy, regenerative agriculture, federal funding implementation, and narrative transformation. Yet it was also clear that the climate funding community had, to date, dedicated a small fraction of philanthropic investment toward rural-centric climate efforts. 

Could we bend this curve? We wouldn’t know until we tried. But we did know we’d give it our best shot, driven by our passionate belief in the importance, ingenuity, and potential of rural communities.

RCP is born

With pilot support from three lead Foundations – Wallace Global Fund, McKnight Foundation, and Stolte Family Foundation – RCP made its first three grants and hired Josh Ewing. Hailing from a tiny town in Utah, Josh has lived and worked in rural America most of his life, most recently working with Indigenous tribes on land conservation in the southwest.  With that, the Rural Climate Partnership (RCP) was off to the races and began the work of elevating the importance of a rural strategy in climate philanthropy. 

RCP’s fundamental premise is that the 30+% of climate pollution that has a direct tie to rural America cannot be addressed without on-the-ground leadership, long-term investment, and a commitment to racial equity that provides opportunity to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis who are often the most invisible. RCP has now defined and detailed a legitimately rural playbook, informed and executed by people living and working in the countryside.

Ensuring Rural Communities Aren’t Left Out and Don’t Opt Out

 As RCP enters its second year, we must scale our work to make sure hard-working folks in rural America benefit from the tools and opportunities federal investments offer. Low capacity, intentional misinformation, lack of resources, and other barriers mean it’s no given that rural communities will land these historic funds. 

To meet this moment, RCP aims to significantly increase our grantmaking with an ambitious target of growing annual investments beyond $10 million by the time we turn two. Early in 2023, RCP hired three highly skilled and committed new team members to shepherd this growth and support our grantees. Francesca Santos and Maria Doerr now serve as our new Program Officers and Scott Laeser is our new Senior Working Lands Advisor. Check out our team bios page to learn more about the rural passion and lived experience these new leaders bring to the team.

More Passion Than Ever on Rural Climate

After a climate-induced wildfire destroyed Josh’s family’s ranch in western Nebraska last summer, he’s even more passionate than ever about our collective work to prevent future families from suffering this same fate.  Josh and the growing RCP team devote every day to a 100% focus on rural climate leadership that recognizes the critical importance of rural communities in our economic, political, and environmental systems.

A year into our start-up, we’ve started to shift the conversation and create buy-in that sustained rural strategy is needed. However, rural investment as a whole still represents only 7% of all US giving and, similarly, contributions to rural-specific climate work remain a small fraction of all climate philanthropy. The year ahead will be a pivotal one to continue changing this dynamic so that we can leverage federal climate funding to create success stories and shift the narrative around rural climate solutions. We’re grateful to all who share a passion for this urgently needed work!

Historic Federal Climate Investments Add Urgency & Opportunity

While we certainly hoped that federal climate investments might catalyze our work, the launch timing for RCP turned out to be more fortuitous than we imagined. Just as we started, both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) were passed, unlocking billions of dollars that, with guidance and support, could help transform economic realities in rural America. 

To leverage these investments, we built detailed strategies across a range of climate issues intersecting with rural people. In turn, more visionary climate funding partners joined the effort, including the Waverley Street Foundation and the Builder’s Initiative. Their catalytic support allowed RCP to grow modest but meaningful grantmaking across a spectrum of investment areas, ranging from rural electric cooperatives to managed grazing and federal funding technical assistance. In its first year, RCP made grants to 28 different organizations, totaling $2.6 million. To learn more about our recent grants, read this blog post on our 2023 grants to date.


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