The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

USDA, Council on Foundations agree to work together

The Agriculture Department and the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit membership association of foundations and corporations that make grants for community purposes, have signed an agreement to work together to spur economic growth in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Council on Foundations President Steve Gunderson have announced.

The memo of understanding, which Vilsack announced at a White House Rural Forum at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Friday, follows a speech that Vilsack gave to the Council on Foundations Rural Philanthropy Conference in Kansas City last month.

Vilsack told the foundation leaders then that he was not sure what they did. and that they should educate him about their activities. He also said they and USDA’s Rural Development division should collaborate, noting that all groups with an interest in helping rural America need to work together more efficiently in a period of a difficult economy and federal budget constraints.

“Step up, take risks, and work creatively create jobs, improve the quality of life and make an impact on rural America," Vilsack said in his speech.

The MOU provides for a survey of existing programs and investments that further economic opportunities; linking of resources that are complementary; and coordination on common agendas and projects.

The memorandum also promotes joint activities between the council and the USDA, including meetings, webinars and teleconferences, and joint efforts to advance common work.

“This memorandum represents two important initiatives of the Council on Foundations,” said Steve Gunderson, the former Wisconsin Republican congressman who is the council’s president and CEO.

“First, we’re absolutely committed to growing philanthropy’s role in creating better lives in rural America,” he said. “And second, at this time of limited resources, public-private-philanthropic partnerships can help increase collaboration and impact. This partnership reflects both goals, and we look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and his team to achieve these goals.”

Under Gunderson’s leadership over the last six years, the council has devoted more attention to philanthropy in rural areas. At the conference, foundation leaders from Nebraska, South Dakota and California said they are encouraging farmers and landowners in rural areas to consider leaving money or land to community foundations and other philanthropic organizations when they make out their wills.

Gunderson has said that, while there are many community foundations across the country, there are not as many in rural areas, and he encouraged their formation.

In contrast to private and corporate foundations, community foundations gather money from many individuals and use it for the benefit of communities on everything from economic development to improving schools to providing day care for small children.