#158 Productive Philanthropy in Rural Places with Erin Borla, Executive Director and Trustee for The Roundhouse Foundation

community disaster economies journey passion philanthropy rural strategic Dec 11, 2023


Erin Borla, Trustee and Executive Director of the Roundhouse Foundation, shares her journey into philanthropy and its focus on rural Oregon. Erin is passionate about explaining how the rural community needs that can differ from those of urban communities. She shares how she developed a strategic initiative that supports rural philanthropy, including community food systems, disaster response, and early childhood education. 

Episode Highlights:

  • The inspiring story of Erin's family.
  • The opportunities to support rural communities.
  • The benefits of community engagement and its long-term impact.

 

Erin Borla Bio:

Erin Borla is the Executive Director and Trustee of The Roundhouse Foundation, and has worked in non-profit organizations that support rural communities through the arts and creative economies for the past 17 years. Her dedication to supporting rural spaces through listening, collaborating, and open and honest sharing of ideas helps her elevate community partners throughout her work. Borla holds a BS in Agriculture from Oregon State University and a Masters of Tourism Administration from The George Washington University. She has served organizations like Oregon State University – Cascades Campus, Sisters Parks & Recreation District, Central Oregon Regional Solutions Committee, Oregon 4 H Foundation, and others. She has served as a Trustee for the Sisters, Oregon based Roundhouse Foundation since 2014 and most recently stepped in as the organizations first Executive Director at a time of rapid growth for the Foundation.

The Roundhouse Foundation supports innovative problem solving and creative solutions in four programmatic areas including arts and culture, environmental stewardship, education and social services throughout rural and tribal communities in Oregon.

When she isn’t exploring Oregon’s unspoiled beauty, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, pets and reading.

 

Links:

 

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https://www.doyourgood.com/blog/156-Supporting-the-Places-that-Rejuvenate-You-with-Dana-Okano

 

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FULL TRANSCRIPT: 

Erin, this is such a pleasure. I have more. I have told you I wanted you on this podcast for so long, and I've threatened repeatedly. We must record some of our conversations because we have many great ones. You have so many good insights about giving well, and I would love for you to talk to my listeners, who also care very much about giving donations to nonprofits effectively. I want you to talk about your story. You're a trustee at the Roundhouse Foundation. You know, your family started it. So, I want to talk to you to talk about that. 

And then let's just also talk about how you consider Funding. What? How do you focus your funding strategies? How do you think of yourself as an effective funder? Sure. And there are so many things to unpack, but let's start with your story. What? What made you passionate about giving, and why are you spending so much time on your family's foundation?

Well, thanks. Thanks so much for having me and letting me join in on this wonderful thing you're working on. I'm happy to discuss all the wonderful things we're doing here at Roundhouse. I think they're pretty great. 

So. Yeah. We are a private family foundation, a Roundhouse foundation. We are place-based, which means we are based in a small community called Sisters in Central Oregon. Again, I always joke and say if Morgan were a big square, we'd be right on the east side. My mother started the cascades in the middle and the foundation years ago. My mom is Kathy Deggendorf. She's an artist by trade. My grandmother was very Boyle, the CEO and a big leader of Columbia Sportswear. He was a real Oregon icon. 

My mom, as an artist here in Central Oregon, had been pulled onto all these different committees around economic development. In addition to the work she did or had been doing as an artist, she had a small retail business. And she and my father did a bunch of other community economic development. Projects. 

So she kept getting pulled into these different committees to sort of The creative voice. And OK, well, we have somebody that's in real estate, and we have somebody that's in business, but she was the creative voice served on a variety of different boards. She was the chair of the Warm Springs Apparel Commission at one point during the Sisters Folk Festival outdoor quilt show. 

And so she kept trying to solve some of these issues. What we were seeing around economic development in rural communities is that we often look at the same point in the same way. And if we bring creative people to the table, we can look at things slightly differently. And so, how do we add that additional voice? Many of our rural communities, particularly in Oregon, were originally timber towns. Then, they transitioned to tourism-related economies, none of which have been sustainable in the long term. And so now how do we bring in some additional economic resilience, and that was around creativity?

Yeah. And so you're focusing on rural conversations? How do You support rural Oregonians? When we've talked, it sounds like many of the things you're working on are relevant for Anyone who cares about supporting their rural communities all across the country. So, I think what we talked about today will be relevant. No matter where you live, not just in Oregon, talk to me about how your foundation decided to focus on supporting rural Oregonians. And then, what are some key themes you're leaning on?

Yeah. So it's sort of a broader story, right? So, with Kathy's engagement in economic development and the creative side, the family joked that my grandmother got tired of my mom saying I needed $500.00 for this school project. 

So, they started a very small foundation. We called it Roundhouse because we live in this small community and didn't necessarily want it tied to our name. And just because we wanted to live in the community and not be seen as somebody different and so focused on arts and culture and recognized quickly, it was hard to be creative when your teeth hurt, you don't have access to healthy food, or your kids don't have the opportunity to go to a good school. 

And so, we expanded our program areas to include environmental stewardship, education, and social services, all of which are broad. And so, essentially, anything that any nonprofit is doing could fit into one of those four categories. We chose to do that expansion work for rural Oregon after Gert passed in 2019.

So we've focused on many of our efforts in the tri-county region; Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson were the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs for a long time in Central Oregon. When Kurt passed away in 2019, we knew the foundation had been left as part of her estate plan. 

So we knew our organization was going. With that, we had several meetings, I would say. We have a small trustee base, but we had several meetings where we got a chance to chat through. What does that look like when our organization grows? We continue to invest. Significantly more capital, and when I say that, we grew over 1000% in 18 months. 

So it wasn't like Just a little bit. It was a lot. So, if we were to consider investing significantly in just this small region, it could saturate the region, and we didn't understand; we didn't know if that would be sustainable and what that looks like because, truly, especially grassroots organizations, we can blow them up from the inside out sometimes if we Infuse too much capital up front and all those other things. 

So we made the decision. You know, Gert moved. She was forced to immigrate to the United States in the 1930s with her family because she was. Jewish and was one of the first Jewish refugee families from the Holocaust to move to Portland and Oregon treated her. And her family? Very well. And it was. We must reinvest in the communities that supported her and her family during that transition. 

And because the foundation had already been focused on a more rural region, even though many would say Deschutes County is not as rural anymore, we recognized how challenging it was to get capital to these smaller communities. 

So many of the foundations in Oregon are based along the I-5 corridor. So Portland, Salem, and Eugene, And it took much work to get money into other communities, whether private or private, state or federal. So, we made the intentional decision to focus on rural spaces. And with that, we talked about reservation communities and whatnot. Does that look good? 

So, we called reservation communities out specifically. So now we say we support all rural Oregon; there are nine federally recognized tribes and 54 historical bands of Indigenous peoples. It was a journey, but I'm confident and happy. How do we do it?

Tell me more about your grandma's immigration to Oregon and what things people did that were welcoming for her.

Well, I wasn't alive then. So I don't know exactly what's

The story What's the family story?

Yeah. So, my grandmother, her two sisters, and her parents immigrated in 1937. My great-grandfather was a general in the First World War for the German army. And then they were Jewish. And they also Owned a shirt company in Germany. That was back in the time when you shouldn't be Jewish. It was forced immigration. They chose to move their family here. My great-uncle Max, who also lived in the region, sponsored us.

And they rode, and they came through Ellis Island. We were just in New York in April. We got to see her information in the book and on Ellis Island. 

Oh, so cool. Yeah. 

Then we came through the Panama Canal and were here in Portland. I only know a few stories from her childhood. I know she started the first grade at 13, which was How old she was. When she immigrated, you could. I have a 13-year-old who would not be happy starting in first grade at that age. She didn't speak a little English, except she could sing hot cross buns. 

So, she quickly learned as much of the language as possible to get back up to her grade level. I graduated in 19. Oh. And in 1941, I want to say, she moved to Tucson, where she met my grandfather, famously under a table at a fraternity party. And.

That's a story.

Yeah. And then, They moved back to Portland to take over what my grandfather had purchased. Columbia Hat Company: Yeah, my great-grandfather. And so did my grandpa, my grandpa Neal, my grandmother's husband. Or they are. They remained married. My grandmother was widowed. But he took over in 1945. I had my uncle, then they had my mother, and my aunt Sally was born a few years after that. My grandfather continued to run the company, and my grandmother was a seamstress and a homemaker. She sewed the first fishing vest in her garage, and they ran this business. 

In 1970, my grandfather took out a loan, leveraging both their house and my great-grandmother's house against the expansion of the company, and then he died suddenly on December 19, 1970. My grandmother went to work the next day because they employed several people and tried to figure out how to manage what was happening. My uncle Tim dropped out of school and ended up coming to help. He was at the UFO at the time. It's all sort of his history, right? The bank offered her what would have been $1100 to buy her out. And she said I'd run it into the ground for that kind of money. So there she went, yeah.

Since then, Columbia Sportswear has become very well known.

It is, yes, and so are we. I feel very fortunate to have had her.

And I love That story, too; it helps me think through it. I mean, yeah, Oregon was good to you and the family because you were able to start this amazing business, and your grandma played such a great role in it. I just loved that story so much. And yeah.

I broke the glass ceiling in outdoor retail work as a woman, and she taught me a lot about what it means to be a woman in business and what it means. To work with people. You may feel that they know more than you. And how to communicate, and we all have different things to learn from each other.

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah. Yeah. And half of my family is Jewish. And so I have a lot of similar stories. My granddad made Ackerman pants in the Bronx but was less successful.

Very cool. We all have this unique history that helps build who we are. It ties us to a familial legacy, and sometimes it's fantastic, and sometimes it's more challenging, and we have to think through what, how those impacts, and who we are as humans. And I think it's always fun to think through those things.

Yeah. And I love your connection there. And to your history and family: And so is your foundation. Let's go now. OK, now your foundation has. You've just gotten a lot larger very quickly. You're spending much time as a family member trustee and running the foundation.

And you've sort of generally focused on the issues you just outlined in rural Oregon—talk to me a little more about your process now. I mean, you did hire a consultant. You deliberately thought through some of the key substantive issues you're funding and how you came across them. How do you help them? How do you decide on those? Because I think my listeners get this question all the time. How do we focus? How do we think through things even though we have these broad interests?

I'm watching you. I've watched you. You're more focused than you give yourself credit for.

Well, the tough. Part, especially when you talk about rural, is the intersectionality of work, right? So philanthropy and philanthropists are good at saying I am only an arts funder. I am only a climate funder. I am alone. You know the Childcare funder and the intersectionality of all of the things. Especially in smaller communities, it is critical that you can only have one with the other. If we're talking about agriculture, we can only have climate-smart work in rural spaces. If we're not talking about agriculture, then we're talking about, you know, we have to talk about the economy; we Have to talk about what? What does that look like for the education program? The schools and that So they all interconnect. That was so. There is a process.

So I stepped in as a trustee or trustee in 2014, but then I stepped in as a staff person in January. 20/20 was a unique opportunity to step in knowing that our organization was growing. You're right. We did end up hiring a consultant, and very much in the sort of structure and structure of an organization. I want to make sure that it's sustainable. I want to know how things work. I want to ensure that we know how decisions are made so that we can be super transparent with people when they ask. 

So we built some of those bigger structures. We had meetings with our trustee base. We had meetings and brought in a consultant. We did some one-on-one interviews and things like that. We sat and worked through our current mission and vision, making a few tweaks and changes. But we kept our same four program focus areas for the first year as we started receiving disbursements from the estate. We also decided to pivot our entire endowment toward 100% mission alignment. So, we made a big investment transition at the same time as we were building and growing. So, there were a lot of moving parts when we were growing. 

But the endowment did not come in all at once. The state disperses only some at a time. So, throughout that first year, I came in super excited. In January of 2020, OK, we have all these plans. This is what this is going to look like. And then? In March, COVID hit. And then it was like, oh, well, that will throw a wrench in the system. OK. What does that look like? Well, now we have, you know, we're consistently tracking the 5%. That is the required distribution from the federal government. OK, as this dispersion is coming in from the estate, the 5% is increasing like this. Anyone who's done this work before knows. That's a rolling average of averages that can be exhaustive if you spend only some days. So it became my second hobby to sort of watch those numbers. 

But then also try and figure out, OK, how much will we have to distribute this year compared to last year? What does that look like, and what's that intentional growth pattern and how? How will we show up in the community so It doesn't just look like a surprise? We're here. Here's—a bazillion dollars.

 So, we were thoughtful in that process. We chose two big projects, one of which was a very large initial investment that we'd never done of that size before, which was a capital investment in the high desert. $6 million, and that was a disbursement over five years. But it felt like it was. An aligned project. Centering the values of rural communities in rural space and highlighting how this region has come to what we've come from with their work with indigenous people and continued work with indigenous peoples. All of the Westford settlements, to the wildlife, to the logging industry, and the forest industry, so it told all these stories and woven all these pieces together. That felt like a great sort of launch.

So we spent that first year—we didn't launch until 20/21 with that grant—but we spent that first year deciding what that would look like. During the COVID crisis, which we're still, I guess, sort of in, I'm unclear, we tried to find other funders. That was the first thing that I did. I reached out to other Oregonians. Funders and I said hi. We've been around for a while.

We'd like to fund things, too, but now we're expanding. What else are you funding? Can we share lists? Can we coordinate? How do we talk to you? But during COVID, things sort of shut down and shifted, so we were just trying to track and build relationships. And then George Floyd was Murdered. 

And so then it became OK. How do we also talk about Racial reckoning, but how do we talk about what race look like in rural spaces, and how do we talk about equity when, in reality, these communities are also really distant from where decisions are made? And yes, there is diversity in rural spaces. But if we just box-check to ensure our board looks a certain way, they’re not truly building leadership capacity within those communities. So, how do we work alongside the community to ensure that they are doing their very best with what they can, rather than just trying to? I'm trying to get the check right. So it just kept coming and coming and coming with all these things. Everybody who lived through 2020 knows These things are so. 

Erin, I mean, everyone does know. Still, the interesting thing about your perspective is that at the same time, you were coming into an enormous amount of potential wealth, not even potential actual wealth that you can put it back into the community. There was such a poignant and intense time. Erin, this is interesting; we have yet to discuss this in as much depth before. This is one of the reasons I love Podcasts is because I learned new things about my friends. Anyway, I just wanted to underline that.

It's important. Yeah. And I think it's important that people hear the term wealth and think of it. Individual wealth and I think about how the funding came into the foundation. So, it is owned 100% by the foundation. It is a family foundation, so this sort of thought process exists. It's hard for people to disconnect the family with the funding, which is why we chose to name the Foundation Roundhouse and not, you know, the Kathy Deggendorf Foundation. But I think there's a difference there. There is a distinct no; we are stewards. Of these dollars, these are not our dollars.

Another great point, right?

And I think that's it... It's hard for me to. Kindly talk through that piece. But it's such an incredible privilege and honor to be a steward and to honor the legacy that helped bring, Excuse me, those dollars to fruition, but also to say we have this power to do some incredible things in the community. But. And you and I've had this conversation about what it's like. Our job as philanthropists, I think, is easy, and I will. I will die on that mountain that we get to sit behind a desk and fill out a check that people truly doing the work are those in the community. And how do we continue to elevate their story with ours? Job. So, if that makes our job hard, it's like pushing the elevation.

And we are not getting in the way of ourselves in this situation.

We're so good at that.

They can be. I know, I know. Turn it. So I keep trying. I keep trying to get you to this place because I know you're here, but you keep pushing back on me a little. There's more to it.

The story is what keeps me.

Oh, no, no. Yeah. No, we'll do it. There is more to the Story, too, but I would love you to tell my listeners. You are focused on and excited about specific areas of work. So just give us, give my listeners a little bit of an understanding of where you've landed on that, given the intersectionality and everything else, there's some interesting work you're doing.

So, there's a reason I keep backtracking: it took us all of those experiences to determine those.

It wasn't like I woke up and went. I'm going to fund, you know, knitting. It took so long. 2020 happened. We have COVID. We have George Floyd murdering and racial Seconding. We're sort of managing rural communities through that process. And then the wildfires. And they were devastating across Oregon, even though we've been around for a while as a relatively new, bigger funder in the state. I didn't have those relationships with other funders. I and people were very generous with their time, but it required a lot of Like, hi. Hey. Hey. Would you zoom in with me? I'd like to have money as well, I'd like to deploy this capital. How can I get money alongside what? You're right; there were many phone calls in the back end, and that built some relationships, but I still saw some struggles, like where I saw funding going and where I saw it being missed, and a lot of that was in our Rural and frontier spaces It then led to our getting in the car right as COVID sort of went through these waves. Some of the down points were when we got in the car and drove all over the state. We spent weeks together. I think I put 30,000 miles a year on my pickup, met with people, and said, tell us what you're doing. Tell us what? What's happening? How is this impacting your community? Our first big visit was in northeastern Oregon, and I had a nonprofit. 

So you're the first funder that's been here in three years. And that made such a profound impact on me and our trustees that they traveled with me; it was like, what do you mean we're not? I traveled to Portland once and gave a presentation. What are we doing? We're putting. We're actually.

We have to pay more so that they're paying for them to travel. To us, it was so. It's so counterintuitive, and so is it. The more that we are in the community, the more we learn. And I always say the same thing. Rural is not a monolith. Some rural communities are different. If you come up with one thing that you think will fix rural poverty, you're wrong. There are things that Each community is different and unique. We all like to think we're Special, it's true, but there are these. Through the lines I'm getting now, I'm getting to your point that you Want me to get there.

No, but I love the journey. No, no, I love all of it. All of it. The journey is also part of it. And that's. Important. 

These through lines came through, and it's like we kept hearing OK as and typically as a smaller funder and smaller being grants of anywhere from 500 to 5010 thousand dollars. It was OK. How do we fix this need right now? What does the need look like right now? It's, you know, free. I always use the example that the freezer goes out in the food bank we have to fix it. 

But now we can scale and strategize to fix the freezer. We can develop something to fix the freezer, but then let's talk about what that looks like in 12 to 18 months. How do we fill that? Freezer. And then let's look at these big, longer strategies. Why do we need the freezer in the first place? Why does the food bank exist? What's the root cause? So I use that. Example a lot because people can understand.

So as we looked at those three lines that came through, we were looking at, like, OK. On some of These bigger issues, how can we move the needle on something that will truly impact the community? So here we go; they're ready. 

Community food systems is one. So, we kept the same four program focus areas. Now, we have what we call seven strategic initiatives. That falls within those four focus areas: community food systems, community resilience, and disaster response and relief. Early childhood education and childcare, career technical education and workforce development, rural healthcare access, particularly access to pharmaceuticals, and gun violence prevention, particularly firearm-related suicide. We call it youth, arts, culture, and healing. So, as we talk about mental health with young people, it's how we get particularly students of color or young people of color reconnected to their culture for mental health support. 

So whether that is working with indigenous communities and language, language revitalization, or access to outdoor spaces For forest work or gathering, whether it's Latin X communities or working with leadership development, that's culturally specific. Those types of projects So that's our other bucket.

It's so great because you have. I just want my listeners to think about You heard Erin’s story, and then she was able, even though there's all these different pieces and she's focused on intersectionality, to also think about the lines that are. It was really important, and then what you also did, Aaron, was that in the beginning, when I watched you, it was you and a consultant or two helping you. Think through your strategy now that you've hired staff. You can hire staff because you have those areas of expertise you need, and then you're recruiting these amazing people who are also going out in the field and helping you. 

How does that evolution work for you? Because that's a real transition as well, to have staff.

But we had a finance person for quite a while. So, in addition to our grant-making, we also operated a 260-acre working ranch that serves as an artist residency and living laboratory. For the foundation, we've had staff that help manage that for a bit.

While yeah, although to push back a little bit, that's kind of that staff that focuses on the ranch, the program officer, the heart of making grants, it's a very different kind of thing.

It is correct. So first, we had one person who's been with us through the whole journey. She's lovely; she's our finance person, our first real big hire outside of the facility was our grants manager, a data manager, just to help us track what that application looks like. What does the process look like? How do we use that process? 

And I was naive, and I was like, we’re going to hire this grants manager, and they're also going to be an office manager. They're going to be the ones that answer the phone, give tours, and do all this stuff. And then people found out that we had money to distribute, and the phone kept ringing, and the applications kept coming in. While that job became much more than we anticipated, she's fantastic, and I would do anything in the world to keep her.

So if you find a good data person, they are wonderful. Keep them. They're awesome because they can make or break and change your life. So we hire her and also continue to hire people. That kind of work is on the facility and our art program here at the ranch.

What Sybil's talking about specifically, or what you're talking about when you talk about you and the third person, is our latest round of hires, which was our grant program directors. We initially set out to hire a lead on two of the seven projects we discussed. We've had a great response to that process and are thrilled to have a lovely pool of applicants. We only hired one who is awesome, works on our rural healthcare project, and is dedicated to being out in the community. That was a big piece of the work that we wanted to ensure. Because I was in the community, I've traveled 25% of my time. 

So that was an important piece. They had to be able to connect in the Community, so we asked about the lived rural experience. You know, I can teach you about philanthropy. It's harder. For me to teach. You learn how to communicate with people who have different experiences or lifestyles. 

So we hired one grant program director around healthcare and then hired a grant program. A specialist serves in our office as a generalist, so as inquiries and, information, requests come in, they can filter and be the balance. They've proved to have some interest in our childcare work.

So, the healthcare person we hired from a healthcare program had done a little work in philanthropy but very little through the Health Council. And then our grant program specialist, whom we hired out of social services, had been working for a nonprofit for 16 years, and they have just been lovely. People to work with; they understand the community and the challenges nonprofits face. Please go through it because they lived it.

Yeah. And you did your hiring after you went through the process of figuring out your issue areas? So I can imagine that that would be helpful for you, but I can't. I'm just looking back, thinking back on how much you carried yourself before you arrived—hats off. 

I mean, also with all the things that are in addition to COVID with the wildfires, and just the list goes on while you were navigating this. You're also about to launch a podcast series to discuss rural work and how to think through it. I'd love for you to talk to my audience about what you're doing there.

Yeah, for sure. I mentioned reaching out to statewide funders when we first started. I also have very little shame when recognizing that I am not the first to do this work. And there are other philanthropists and other folks that have been through this experience that have led family foundations that are dealing with trustees that might be their parents or, you know, I've gone through what... In the foundational world, you call it a gross wealth event… but a big expansion.

So I reached out to various philanthropy-serving organizations, and I said I'm going to be your needy best friend, and you're going to introduce me to all the people that you know that have done this work, whether they're in Oregon, Washington, or Rhode Island, I don't care. I want to know. I want to talk to people who have done this before, and through that, we joined various PSOs. I learned a lot and

PSO stands for philanthropic support organizations. Whenever I use that word, people ask Pizza?

Chamber of Commerce for Philanthropy. That's the way I describe it. Every time I would call these folks, whether it was an issue-related topic, there were philanthropy-serving organizations that focused on climate or healthcare. And then there's something more general. 

So every time I call any of those, I think we're members of 6 or 8. Now, at this point, I get the same six questions. We're the only rural-based funder We work with. You're the only person who does this work. Why is rural life important? What do you mean? There's diversity in rural So after the third time, I kind of had to channel my inner being and go. OK, why is it not? If someone else is talking about this on a national scale, it's still surprising. If you were to ask me,

And just to be sure, Erin, everyone gets it. Why isn't everyone talking about this? Define what this is. Why isn't everybody talking about this? What is it exactly that you feel is the gap?

I am incredibly naive, thinking that people recognize that there are challenges that rural communities face that are different from those in urban and metro communities.

That is well said.

It was the biggest surprise for me across the whole thing. As you mentioned, all I have done was to have conversations with very smart people willing to invest. Significant amounts of capital that they have raised or stewarded. They need to talk to half the population to make some changes to these issue topics.

And it was so confusing to me, and I had to answer those six questions repeatedly. And then I think it's fine. I don't mind answering. I'm like, yeah, I'll talk about why people don't have access to some of them all day. 

One of those organizations is the National Centre for Family Philanthropy (CFP). They're based out of Washington, DC. They do much work supporting family philanthropists. And I got a phone call saying that we're members. 

And they said, hey, you should consider running or applying. For this fellowship that we have, I said I don't have a tremendous amount of time. What does that mean? And they said no. I think it would be good. I think it'd be good to talk about the rural work that you're doing and the indigenous work. I mean, I am not an indigenous person. We serve as an ally in this space to try and elevate and activate additional dollars for indigenous communities, which I think should apply. So, I'm like, oh, OK, so I applied.

I am lucky and honored to receive a fellowship, which is a two-year process. And then they said, What? What's your project? And I went, oh.

I don't know what Do you want my project to be like this? So I set out trying to build this concept of, well, I've answered these same six questions 150 times. I might as well write it down. What's the answer?

Yeah, for the record, you were being sarcastic. I don't know people.

No, I didn't know.

I didn't know what my thinking was.

No, I was like, OK.

No, I didn't know how to do a project. I am very sarcastic, so I didn't know some parts of that.

OK, you do.

So it did come up with, OK, I'm. Write these blog posts about, and then, like I said, much of our work is about how we elevate people on the ground. I spent much time discussing how my job is relatively easy. The people on the ground are doing a hard job. I want to tell their story. Not my Story. So I want them to say: How rural all is important. Why should it be valued? 

And I said, Well, maybe I'll do this podcast instead. And we had funded a podcast a couple of times talking about women ranchers working on climate change, a woman named Ashley Ahern, a podcaster used to work for. We funded that project, and then we funded another project recently around Mustangs, Wild Mustangs, that she had done. So I called her and said, Yeah, this hair-brained idea. I want to. Do this podcast. What do you think? And she's like, I love it. I'll produce it. So here we are. So, originally, it would be this series of conversations around those same six questions.

And then I just couldn't get traction on it. I did two interviews with people I greatly value and treasure at work. That they're doing in rural spaces and why that's important. And I heard those two sorts of rough cuts put together, and it all fell into place. 

So it's a 16-episode arc. We'll most likely launch in early spring 2024; all 16 will be published simultaneously. It's called Funding Rural, and it is talking about our hope. In the very beginning of the first few episodes, we are talking with folks who work on a national scale, about philanthropy, and with federal and state agencies that fund rural communities about some of those challenges, some things that are, some myths that we've heard, and other things like that sort of baseline. Funding in rural spaces will then transition into some of that authentic storytelling. How we get news and information from rural spaces and how that can sometimes be interpreted differently, depending on who's writing the story or who's producing that story. 

And then and then talking more about some of the really big things about the scale of the landscape, the distance, when we talk about climate, we are not talking about the city park; we're talking about miles. You know what that looks like compared to private and public lands, and how if we want to have climate conversations, we must include private land owners. And that means including agriculture, fishermen, and things like that.

And then really transitioning at the end of the series with some of the alignment. That is why we talk about equity. Where we're seeing alignment between Underserved and underrepresented communities, whether they're communities of color or others and rural communities, and seeing things that are very similar but are foundation partners, are not maybe necessarily seeing them in the same way. That's sort of the plan.

I can't wait to Hear it. It's going to be so interesting, and that's it. If you're interviewing, I mean, first of all, you have this amazing person who will be experienced in doing the storytelling. I just. I can't wait to hear the stories. I can't wait. Are you going to have any previews for us? You know, I'll air this. I'm going for my listener. I'm going to air this interview in December, and then because we, I always batched my stuff.

So we're talking a little ahead of December, but it's going to be in December, but then it will come out in the spring. So, I'll be sure to remind all my listeners. When it comes out, and if you have teasers ahead of time, I want to have links to things so people can hear them. Maybe some sample stories are that kind of thing.

Yeah, I would love that. That's all a piece of what we're trying to pull together. As you know, the hope is to sort of launch everything at once but have some of that data available ahead of time as far as the things that we'll be talking about topics that may interest folks. 

You know I do. You're so good at this. You've done this for a long time. You've probably done a bazillion of these podcast interviews. I feel like a 100% amateur. But I also love having conversations with folks, and I think we can get through many things that can pull out some actions just by having conversations. 

We had one of the initial interviews with the state director for USDA here in Oregon, and we talked a lot about how we leverage. She talks a lot about finding unicorn projects with community members willing to put in the time and do all these things. And so, how do we deconstruct the unicorn? To be able to replicate. I love that concept so much. So, there's a teaser for you. How about that?

That's perfect. Yeah. How do we deconstruct the unicorn? Wonderful. Aaron. This has been so much fun. I don't want to stop talking, but I guess we have to because, you know, it's been a while since we've been. There you go. 

And I can't wait until the next time I come by your ranch; we can talk more about these important issues. I just really value that you're emphasizing rural Oregon and rural communities and ensuring that funders recognize and understand the unique stories and conversations we need to think through and how to show up right. In those communities. So, thanks, Erin.

Yeah. Well, thanks. So much for having me. I appreciate it.