It’s almost like somebody was reading Britt Davis’ mind.
As Campbell’s vice president for institutional advancement was working on ideas to further promote the University’s standing as a leader in rural health advocacy, he received a call from Allen Smart, who he previously worked with while raising money for the School of Osteopathic Medicine. Smart was working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — the nation’s largest public health philanthropy — on ways to make rural philanthropy “more impactful and more strategic” to the intended communities. The idea was to conduct a study and form models that would give future funders the most “bang for their buck.”
The Foundation and Smart agreed that they needed a home for this study — an organization that shared the goal and mission to serve the underserved and an organization that wouldn’t be mired in government bureaucracy and red tape.
Enter Campbell University. And one vice president eager to make this happen.
“I think the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation saw in us a growing university in rural Harnett County producing professionals in all sorts of fields — from health care to law, business to the ministry — and sending these professionals all across this state and this nation to the small towns and rural communities that need them most,” Davis says. “Campbell was just a very good fit for what they were looking for. We just fit the profile.”
Last summer, the Foundation awarded Campbell a $730,248 grant to fund an 18-month national exploration — the Rural Philanthropic Analysis — designed to create, identify and enhance new ideas and insights to improve the practice and impact of charitable organizations when it comes to supporting healthy, equitable rural communities. Smart was tabbed as the lead project director, and the RPA had an office and staff on Campbell’s campus in Buies Creek by the fall.
Smart and his team — program coordinator Johnathan Rine and graduate assistant James Hampson — have spent the past year surveying and interviewing national rural associations, drilling them on how they would benefit best from working with philanthropic groups and talking about innovative ways to make their funding more impactful. Smart has maintained a national blog on rural health topics and has written for a handful of national websites dedicated to rural philanthropy. He’s also working with “funder affinity groups” (linked by a specific interest) to make sure those groups have rural content during their annual meetings and have a direct line of communication with their rural constituents.
“There’s also a side of rural philanthropy that some may feel uncomfortable hearing when it comes to funders and communities, but I’ll say it without hesitation,” Smart says. “The best rural philanthropies recognize and understand the historic patterns of leadership in these communities — those who have been allowed to be the decision makers. They understand that many who have held these roles have not always had the best interests of others in mind. There’s a class element and, especially in the South, there’s a racial element. Funders have tripped over themselves in the past, giving grant money to people who maybe ultimately are trying to make sure things don’t change.
“The best funders use skill, creativity and respect and they bring other voices to the table. The best rural philanthropists provide a comfortable way for old and emerging leadership to work together and lead real change.”
While the RPA is new to Campbell, Davis says rural philanthropy has been a part of the University’s mission since Day 1, back when founder J.A. Campbell started Buies Creek Academy 131 years ago with the idea that everybody deserved an education, regardless of finances or social standing.
“We were a rural health leader before we were ever conscious of it,” Davis says. “This is well documented.”
The 1900 graduating class of Buies Creek Academy included at least 21 young men and women who went on to become teachers in rural Harnett County’s public school system. Their education begat the next generation of educated residents.
When Campbell’s third president, Norman Adrian Wiggins, established Campbell Law School in 1976, his goal was to train lawyers to practice in smaller communities east of Raleigh — while he may have never used the term, “rural strategy,” Davis says that was exactly what he was getting at.
“There was a need in rural North Carolina, and we created a law school to fill that need,” Davis says. “Have we done that since 1979? Absolutely. Eighty percent of our law graduates currently live in this state, and they’re working in 95 out of 100 counties today.”
The pharmacy school opened it doors to students 10 years later and has since graduated nearly 2,500 pharmacists, of which Davis says 80 percent still live in North Carolina serving in 90 of the state’s 100 counties. And when Campbell set out to establish a medical school in 2013, there was pressure from some in the state to build it in Raleigh, where it would have easier access to hospitals and residency programs.
Davis says, “I’ll never forget, [former Campbell president and School of Osteopathic Medicine namesake] Jerry Wallace said at the time, ‘If we put this school in an urban area, we’ll never meet our goal to train doctors to practice in rural, underserved parts of North Carolina and the United States, where there’s the greatest need for physicians.’”
The Rural Philanthropic Analysis takes Campbell’s 131 years of rural-based education and — through the partnership and support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — puts it in a national spotlight.
“Working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is tremendously validating for Campbell University,” Davis says. “It brings all these things into view that we have consciously or unconsciously been practicing for over a century. Schools like Campbell don’t often receive these Foundation grants. Our peers in this state and in the nation now see that the largest private health care funder is putting some of its resources into us, and that’s significant for not only our University as a whole, but for our reputation in the marketplace.
“It shows that we are, indeed, doing things to help make life better for our rural communities in this state and beyond.”