Theory of Change: How Our Work Supports a Thriving Rural

At Dakota Resources, our mission and vision guide our work. Our mission is to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities, and our vision is for a thriving rural. This past year, we invested in a new infographic (right) to help explain how Dakota Resources as an organization is focused on promoting change and moving from our mission to our vision. This Theory of Change helps show how we are uniquely bringing capital and capacity to rural communities, which ultimately allows them to thrive.

The unique ways in which we deliver our mission are through our programs. Let’s first take a deeper dive into what each of those programs has to offer.

Community Development Loans

First, our Community Development Loans initiative helps support economic development organizations, housing authorities, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in rural places nationwide by offering flexible, affordable loans. Dakota Resources serves as the connecting arm between regional investors and organizations who are ready to make an impactful investment.

Dakota Resources’ Director of Community Lending and Finance Coach, Terri LaBrie, points to the impact of this program in terms of a rural community’s ability to gain meaningful momentum, both from the actual capital and from the increased capacity through Dakota Resources’ support and expertise in helping communities to put the funds to work.

“Dakota Resources provides capital to community and economic development organizations who in turn create impactful projects in their rural communities. The increased capital and capacity build momentum towards a thriving rural,” LaBrie said.

Learning Network

A program that’s supporting economic development leaders, and, by extension, the rural communities that they serve, is Dakota Resources’ Learning Network. This program connects leaders in rural communities across the region, both at in-person gatherings and through an online platform called Thriverr.

According to Dakota Resources’ Learning Network Orchestrator and Community Coach, Mike Knutson, the Learning Network has become a crucial destination for community builders and economic development professionals to seek answers and solutions and to learn from others’ experiences.

“The Learning Network began when twenty plus community leaders came together to share their ideas and resources and to support each other in solving the real-world challenges they faced in their work,” Knutson said. “By linking and leveraging these assets, insights, and experiences, we have discovered how to help each other learn faster, together. We’ve moved from competing with each other as community leaders to connecting and co-creating the future of our communities across the region. For our rural communities to thrive, we need our community leaders to connect and support each other.”


The Learning Network isn’t the only program that is built upon cultivating connection; RuralX is Dakota Resources’ program that creates spaces for community shapers to connect, inspire and celebrate each other with stories and action.

Each year, our RuralX event has taken on a particular theme that’s dedicated to exploring aspects of rural life and a thriving rural. This year’s RuralX event featured a keynote address from Melody Warnick, author of If You Could Live Anywhere. Her talk inspired leaders to position their rural communities as ideal locations for people who can live anywhere, particularly focused on communicating their community’s stellar quality of life.

Dakota Resources’ Director of Community Impact, Ellie Naasz, points to this program’s ability to draw people together through stories and action.

“The RuralX program is all about bringing together leaders who are passionate about doing cool things in their rural communities,” Naasz said. “We give them the space to inspire and celebrate each other in an easy way.”

Community Coaching

Inspiring and celebrating the work within and amongst rural communities often involves new and creative thinking, and that’s where Dakota Resources’ Community Coaching program shines. Led by our team of Community Coaches, each coaching relationship is personalized to the needs and dreams of a particular leader, organization, or community as a whole, allowing them to discover answers in a unique way.

According to Paula Jensen, Vice President of Program Development and Community Coach at Dakota Resources, the role of a Community Coach is to guide the process and then step aside to empower leaders, organizations, or communities to discover the answers together.

“Our Community Coaching Program is personal and unique for each individual, organization, and/or community we serve, whether it’s 1:1 coaching, economic development board strategy retreats, or Empower Community Coaching,” Jensen said. “In short, we work to assist communities in moving closer to a thriving future.”

New Markets Tax Credit

Sometimes, the best way to propel a community forward is to work in partnership with organizations, communities, and regions, and that’s precisely what is accomplished in our New Markets Tax Credit program. Dakota Resources manages our New Market Tax Credit program through Dakotas America, which provides New Markets Tax Credit allocations across rural U.S. communities and Native Nations. This work includes building equal opportunities in health care, education, community services, and manufacturing in order to assist innovative organizations in shaping their community’s future.

The impact of this program, according to Dakotas America’s Managing Director, Dustin Ludens, is evident in watching low-income communities flourish as a result of providing critical capital and support.

“Approximately 70% of our projects take place in rural communities, which are classified as population centers below 50,000 people,” Ludens said. “The remainder of our projects take place in minor urban centers and typically have a rural connection as well.”

Vision Casting: How Our Programs Support a Thriving Rural

Regardless of where or how a community’s needs align with Dakota Resources’ programmatic offerings, Dakota Resources builds momentum in our programs by focusing on building the capacity of individuals, organizations, communities, and regions of communities. Because the needs and dreams across rural are unique, our central question at Dakota Resources isn’t what solutions will fit across all of rural, but instead asks, “How might we help you make your rural leader, organization, or community the best it can be?”

This is how it works at those four levels:

  • Our programs empower leaders by increasing their capacity and confidence.

  • Leaders access resources through our programs to invest in their organization.

  • Our programs allow organizations to share their capacity and strengthen their community.

  • Communities connect, collaborate, and create momentum regionally through our programs.

We continue to build momentum in our programs by connecting leaders, organizations, and communities to capacity building, capital and each other.

“The beauty of Dakota Resources’ work is that there is a way for you to collaborate with us. You don’t have to fit a certain mold or check a certain box,” said Director of Community Impact, Ellie Naasz. “We are ready to guide you through whichever program is right for you, whether you’re a leader, organization, community, or region of communities. That’s how we can create the greatest impact across rural.”

Published On: September 28, 2022Categories: News & Notes

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