Rural Family Economic Success: The Approach

Earn It, Keep It, Grow It

The Rural Family Economic Success (RuFES) approach to helping low-income rural families get ahead is organized around three basic outcomes that low-income families seek:


Earn it: Working families earn a living that allows them to survive, thrive and raise their children in their community.


Keep it: Working families have access to and make good choices that safeguard their family income and lower their cost of living, forging stable and predictable financial lives.


Grow it: Working families accumulate and maintain assets that gain value and advance family and community prosperity over time.

Each of the three outcomes has a set of more specific RuFES family-focused goals.  Each goal is a positive statement about what economic success looks like to families. It is a condition that must become true for low-income families in any community if they are to get ahead and build the financial well-being to sustain themselves and their children into the future.

There are 28 family-focused goals in the RuFES Framework. Rural Family Economic Success can best be understood, even pictured, if you review and think about these goals – because they describe what Earn It, Keep It and Grow It success would look like in the daily lives of families.

Check out the Earn It, Keep It, Grow It pages to learn more about the family-focused goals that relate to each outcome.

The Quadruple-Play Power of the RuFES Framework

The RuFES goals are the heart that keeps the RuFES Framework pumping. They are powerful because you can use them to advance RuFES action in your community in four different ways:

  • Diagnose your starting point. You can use these goals as a screen to help you figure out what is true or not true for low-income families in your community. Using available data, finding new data, or talking with focus groups, you can actually gauge which goals are eluding your low-income families and which are not – and perhaps even begin to get at why.
  • Set your RuFES action priorities. Once you do a diagnosis, you can choose which goals are the most important to pursue. In the real world, it’s rarely practical or doable to work on every single goal we have all at the same time. So it makes sense to start with the goals that local low-income families experience as their biggest sticking points, along with some that are the easiest wins. You can analyze where holes exist in the RuFES “service quilt” your community is trying to piece together to unstick those sticky goals, and to stitch some friendly goals together. And you can set an action plan to fill the gaps and do the stitching.
  • Measure your RuFES progress. These goals can all be measured. Once you set community priorities and take action, you can measure whether targeted low-income working families in your community are doing better on the local priority goals.
  • Reframe your work for greater impact. The Framework goals offer a great way to talk about what you do to help hard-working families and your local economy. One example is Minnesota’s West Central Initiative (WCI), a regional organization that conducts an impressive array of economic development, worker training and family support programs. WCI used to find it hard to explain the full range of its work to the community, and why it was important to support it. When WCI embraced the RuFES Earn It, Keep It, Grow It approach in 2004, it started explaining in one easy phrase all it was trying to do in its rural nine-county area. WCI has since galvanized hundreds of leaders to join in regionwide RuFES action effort that now celebrates its joint progress annually.

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RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
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