MJ Smith: Rural Leader Extraordinaire

Our longtime staff member receives the 2024 Rand Fisher Rural Leadership Award.

The 8th Annual Iowa Rural Summit last week included a special recognition of six rural leaders, including the Community Foundation's own MJ Smith of Guttenberg. Smith was honored for her role in expanding rural philanthropy in Northeast Iowa and supporting rural community foundations in the network of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

The Iowa Rural Summit brings together leaders from small towns across Iowa each year, and this year’s event included a special tribute to a group of individuals who have made a difference in their rural community or region. The Summit is hosted by the Iowa Rural Development Council (IRDC), a statewide non-profit focused on small-town and rural vitality.

The Rand Fisher Rural Leadership Award, sponsored by the IADG Community Foundation, recognizes individuals in rural economic and community development, philanthropy, the arts and utilities. The honorees are nominated by friends, colleagues or anyone who values their contributions to rural places. The final selection is by an IRDC screening committee.

Smith was cited specifically for helping to build a high-performing region which includes eight affiliate foundations and 70 communities. Over the past 15 years, she has led development of more than 500 endowments from small towns from New Albin to Camanche that represent $45 million in assets invested to pay out forever for these beloved hometowns.

MJ first became involved with the Foundation as a donor after a successful career in health care and as a writer. Today, she facilitates the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s Small-town Dreams Initiative. Through this effort, high-performing, self-determined communities in rural areas can leverage $100K endowment challenge grants by raising matching funds, eventually creating $450,000 endowment funds that can help towns respond to the needs and opportunities of the day.

“MJ’s work in Northeast Iowa has created a model for rural community foundations that is second to none,” said Mark Reinig, IRDC board president. “She’s a perfect example of how a leader can make a huge difference for communities now and long into the future.”

With a crowd of more than 360 individuals from 70 different small towns, the Iowa Rural Summit addressed issues this year ranging from rural pharmacy shortages to ag technology innovation to community development options.