Why Bridging Federal Funding to Underserved Communities is so Important


Poplar Bluff, Missouri, situated in the southeastern part of the state, serves as the county capital of Butler County and acts as a pivotal center for both economic and social activities in the region. Like many American rural towns, Poplar Bluff is characterized by a close-knit community fabric, where residents often share strong ties to the area's history, culture, and each other. Economically, Poplar Bluff functions as a regional hub, especially for healthcare. In fact, the healthcare sector is particularly prominent in Butler county: 67% more people are employed in the sector than the national average for a labor force of the county’s size. 

What’s driving this demand? Like so many rural communities, a staggering 80% of residents in the adjacent ten counties live in a healthcare desert, defined as a severe lack of access to essential healthcare facilities. Factors such as an aging population with lower socioeconomic status and higher chronic illness rates all contribute to high needs in the region. In 2022, the American Hospital Association estimated a $1.1 million nursing shortage by the end of 2022. The national crisis is especially evident in Butler County. With an estimated 150,000 people depending on Poplar Bluff for healthcare access, the community’s nursing shortage has turned into a regional crisis. 

The intervention of the Community Funding Accelerator (CFA), a philanthropic-funded initiative that helps local coalitions better access federal grants, marks a significant turn in addressing that shortage by building healthcare career pathways for students. By assisting Poplar Bluff in assembling a coalition of local stakeholders, including school districts, hospital networks, and community colleges, Delivery Associates enabled the community to secure a $1.5 million Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities (WORC) grant. The grant aims to introduce over 1,050 students to nursing careers, emphasizing support for underserved communities.

Infographic sources: MAHEC, GoodRx Health, Missouri Hospital Association, Philanthropy Daily

Navigating the Federal Funding Maze

Earlier this year, our colleague Amy Zhou, Associate Director at Delivery Associates, wrote in Philanthropy Daily about the CFA and Poplar Bluff. Led by Delivery Associates, CFA focuses on K-12 education and workforce pathways by providing deep technical assistance to not only help coalitions submit winning grant applications, but also scale proven solutions in communities across the U.S.

In her article, Amy highlights that despite the abundance of funding over the last five years, a tangled web of competition and bureaucracy often leaves under-resourced communities unable to access the funds designed to uplift them. Without capacity and resources to navigate the complex grant application process, systemic hurdles not only perpetuate inequality, but also stifle the potential for transformative economic mobility in disadvantaged communities. 

Playing a Critical Role: The Community Funding Accelerator

Philanthropic organizations are stepping up, recognizing the crucial role they play in making federal funding more accessible. Philanthropy’s role has always been to take risks and build capacity in ways the government cannot. Facilitated collaboration across philanthropy, government, and local community groups can provide unique opportunities to drive meaningful outcomes. CFA exemplifies this, focusing on empowering communities to secure grants for vital projects.

The Power of Partnerships 

Poplar Bluff’s story exemplifies how strategic philanthropic investment can leverage federal funds to make a tangible difference in communities facing systemic barriers, highlighting the potential for similar models to enact change across various sectors.

The success of Poplar Bluff, supported by CFA, underscores the importance of community cohesion and the collaboration of local stakeholders in addressing pressing needs. The remarkable return on investment and the strengthening of community organizations through these efforts highlight federal funding’s transformative potential when leveraged effectively.

To date, CFA, led by Delivery Associates, has supported 30 coalitions to apply for over $320 million collectively in competitive federal grants. Learn more about the Community Funding Accelerator’s impact here. 

March 25, 2024

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