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The Hats We Wear, And The Opportunities They Present

Love it, or hate it. If you live in a rural area you may often find yourself wearing multiple hats. Let's face it, there's always work to be done, and by the definition of rural... there are simply not a ton of people around to do it. Consequently, as a result, you may find yourself serving on multiple boards, heading up volunteer committees, filling city council name it.

Back in 2019, the last thing on my mind was adding a side gig to the mix of our already hectic lives. The business was booming and we had just made plans to expand our offerings to include more commercial photography and video production. We were busy with two children and had just found out we were unexpectedly expecting our third.

To say I wasn't actively looking for another opportunity to fill my time would be an understatement, but after attending the Hansen Forum that March I excitedly accepted the position of part-time Director for our local community foundation.

In my defense, I didn't know attending said forum would result in me accepting a position in an industry I had absolutely no experience, knowledge, or awareness of. But isn't it funny how that sometimes happens? Opportunities we don't even know we want, somehow land in our laps at precisely the right time ❤️

At this point, the studio had already started to work with rural-based businesses. In fact, some of our strongest work stemmed from either blue-collar industries or narratives that promoted rural quality of life. To this day our Mitchell County, Welcome Home, and SMC Concrete & Construction videos are still referenced by clients during their consultations.

What we started to realize is that we excelled when came to understanding and connecting with ag-related industries ie. farming, ranching, construction, manufacturing, etc. I attribute a lot of this success to Cole's experience and awareness of not only the importance of these occupations but also being aware of how they significantly impact and shape the culture of many rural communities.

We also started to notice that our appreciation and love of the rural lifestyle began to surface in the work we were doing. Whether it was how we structured a campaign narrative or composed a video script, it was evident that those intangible aspects of rural communities ie. safety, security, and a sense of community were coming through in a lot of the work we were doing.

It wasn't until I started working for the community foundation that we came full circle!

After attending the Hansen forum in March of 2019 I remember thinking, "These are my people, this is my jam!" They were optimistic and outwardly passionate about rural and they had an attitude of getting things done. At that point, I knew absolutely nothing....a big fat ZERO...when it came to anything about foundations, endowments, grants, non-profits, donors, legacy planning...that entire world was unknown to me. All I knew was that I left that conference feeling excited and reaffirmed in my love of rural living.

Over the next four years, I learned so much! I gained a wealth of logistical knowledge. What is a community foundation? What is an endowment and why are they beneficial? What are the different types of funds and how do they function? Tax planning, estate planning, grant writing, grant reviewing....the list goes on and on.

I also gained a wealth of peer-to-peer knowledge. Working with board members who had the vision over 10 years ago to create SVCF in the first place. Their leadership and passion for our communities was, and continues to be an inspiration to me.

I learned from donors and those who had experience working with donors. Understanding their connection with our communities and their desire and willingness to invest their time, talents, and treasures to take what they were afforded by those who came before and continue building that impact for future generations.

And finally, I had the opportunity to learn from colleagues, industry leaders, and many others who work in various aspects of rural development analyzing and developing solutions to rural issues such as housing, childcare, and workforce recruitment. Through a two-year cohort, I was able to see Impact Investing in action and take a closer in-depth look into why people across the country are choosing rural communities, what they value, and how to harness those aspects to effectively market and tell the stories of the communities who are vying for their attention.

The interesting aspect of my work with the community foundation is the cross-over I experienced with my work at our studio. I often found myself referencing knowledge or insights I had gained while working for the foundation to solve problems for our studio clients. And vice versa I started implementing resources and expertise we held at the studio to solve or enhance aspects of the community foundation.

In conjunction with the foundation's 10th anniversary, we held a board visioning that led to a focused strategic vision and path forward in addition to an overhaul of the organization's mission, vision, and values along with a complete rebrand. We utilized the studio's expertise in visual storytelling to create a video for a donor dinner event, customized our annual reports, segmented, analyzed, and built email lists, and implemented curated bi-annual newsletters.

In the coming year I am looking forward to working with the foundation to promote and market their brand new Give to Grow initiative, transition the foundation's website in-house to more efficiently represent their brand and messaging, and tell their donor stories. We will continue to build effective email campaigns, promote the Legacy Society, build out a non-profit portal, and launch "The Hub" a community podcast hosted by SVCF.

The hats we wear at times can feel heavy, and if you live in a small community I'm sure you can relate. However, many times the hats we wear can be a blessing. An opportunity to learn and to grow from leaders who are older and wiser, to get involved, and to work with people who are not only neighbors but colleagues and friends.

I will forever be grateful for my time spent wearing the hat of Solomon Valley Community Foundation's part-time Director 😉 I am ecstatic that I was able to pass that hat to a friend and colleague who has the time and capacity to take the organization to the next level. And I am honored to continue my work with them, as well as other rural communities, organizations, and businesses who proudly display the badge of #ruralbychoice

For more information on Solomon Valley Community Foundation contact Executive Director, Julia Rabe


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