Frequently Asked Questions

Earn It Keep It Grow ItWhat is RuFES?
What is the basic RuFES Framework?
How is RuFES different?
Why is RuFES important?
What difference will RuFES make?
Where did RuFES come from?
What is the RuFES Action Network?
How can I join the Network?

What is RuFES?

Rural Family Economic Success (RuFES) is a powerful framework that guides community, program and policy leaders as they act to help low-income working families get ahead in rural communities and regions.

  • It helps communities and policy makers see the whole picture of the multiple challenges that low-income families face. And it helps them understand that addressing just one or two of these challenges may not be enough to lift up either low-income families or the community and its economy.
  • Rather than isolating one or two issues, it looks at the whole range of underlying conditions necessary for families to meet their basic needs and advance into the economic mainstream.
  • And so, it encourages local, regional and state decision makers and program planners to act on the multiple challenges and multiple conditions, and to connect the programs and policies that affect low-income families – or create new ones to fill the gaps.


The RuFES approach to making things better for low-income rural families is based on three basic beliefs:

  • Families Matter.

The RuFES approach is family-focused. It targets low-income children and their parents and builds toward affecting the wider community – not the other way around. It starts by learning about low-income rural families who are working hard but struggling to get ahead. Then it examines the barriers that stymie these families’ progress and finds out what it will take to remove the barriers and help families improve their lives and economic prospects. In short, RuFES puts families first.

  • Place Matters.

RuFES is a place-focused approach. Healthy businesses and strong, nimble community institutions are essential for families to get ahead anywhere. But communities vary widely in how their economies are structured, how their government is organized, and in their cultures, civic participation and pride. So the RuFES strategy looks at what must change in a specific rural community (or communities) where hard-working, low-income families are trying to enter the economic mainstream. RuFES focuses on a community’s starting point, and builds from there.

  • Connections Count.

RuFES builds connections. Low-income families are better able to successfully raise their kids and get ahead economically if they are connected to all the services, supports and opportunities they need in their community. Likewise, community services, supports and opportunities are better able to help families if they themselves are connected. So the RuFES approach brings together people in rural communities who have a stake in family economic success – from fields as diverse as economic development, childcare, business, social services, banking, religion and education – to connect them to low-income families and each other. It encourages families and the larger community to piece together their efforts into a RuFES quilt that ensures that both low-income working families and the community thrive.



What is the basic RuFES Framework?

When Rural Family Economic Success happens, it’s easy to see tangible signs in a community.   Families that are succeeding economically can meet their basic family needs, provide for emergencies, and improve their living conditions.  They can expand their knowledge and skills, do better in their careers, and save enough to obtain and maintain key assets – like a home, business or retirement account – that grow in value and provide family stability over time.

This is the ideal result of RuFES in a nutshell.  To acheive this result, the RuFES Framework helps families do three things: Earn It, Keep It and Grow It.  Here is what each outcome means for a family:

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

This means that a family’s working members can qualify for a job in the region, they can find and land that job, they can keep it, they can create their own businesses locally, their jobs produce enough income to meet at least a basic family budget, and they advance in careers and income over time.  Read more about Earn It.

kKeep 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.

This means that a family sets financial goals, builds a mainstream banking relationship, improves its credit record, obtains affordable financial services, accesses available tax benefits and public and private support to close the gap between income and expenses, and obtains their family’s essential goods and services at reasonable prices.  Read more about Keep It.

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

This means that family members are saving, advancing their education, buying homes and acquiring other assets that improve their financial prospects over generations; they are caring for and maintaining those assets; and that civic engagement and local investment increases the value of family and community assets over time.  Read more about Grow It.

Using the RuFES Framework, community, policy and organization leaders Quilt It – that is, revamp, launch and connect services and programs that help families make progress on all three outcomes. Read more about the RuFES Framework here.



How is RuFES different?

Most efforts to help low-income families and children start with programs and services. They jump from a perceived problem right to a particular solution. The families trying to get ahead are rarely consulted.

RuFES starts at a different place – with families in their specific rural community. It tries to understand what is going on in these families’ lives that is blocking their success. The very best RuFES efforts consult with and involve families at each step of designing strategies or delivering programs. When this isn’t possible, RuFES does the next best thing – it brings together community leaders who care about and work directly with families to initiate RUFES efforts. As community leaders do so, they’re encouraged to constantly ask themselves: How is this making a difference in the day-to-day lives of the low-income rural families we are trying to help?

Keeping the interests of low-income families front-and-center at all times provides an important “reality check.” The RuFES approach measures success not by whether a program was launched but by whether families are doing better. It makes sure that the actions that result from the RuFES process meet real needs and provide real help. If they don’t, then it is back to the RuFES drawing board!  (See Families First: The Tupelo Story for an example of the power of putting families first.)



Why is RuFES important?

RuFES is important because economically successful families are better positioned to raise their children well. RuFES offers a comprehensive approach to improving the lives of low-income rural children over the long-term by addressing the entire situation families face in their community. If rural communities care about producing better futures for kids, they must pay attention to the parents’ circumstances and capacities. RuFES helps create the supports that allow parents to succeed as workers, and workers to succeed as parents.

RuFES is important because it helps communities weave and connect a wide range of supports that help low-income children succeed by promoting the general health of their families. Doing this connecting – and sustaining these connections – makes a lot of sense. But often, it isn’t done.

Why? The old adage – If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – rings true in many communities, both rural and urban. More often than not, services to help families are organized into distinct “silos” that are isolated from each other. Nonprofit or government agency staff who assist low-income families typically have only a few tools in their particular agency. Likewise, communities often address the issues facing their low-income families only one at a time. Hard-working families are very familiar with these silos – they bump up against them all the time:

  • “We offer fuel assistance here; if you want help with a computer class, go across town.”
  • “We can help you with housing, but you’ll have to go somewhere else to deal with your credit issues.”
  • “We can offer you a night-shift job. The fact that your child care provider doesn’t work those hours? That’s your problem.”
  • “Engine trouble again? Your work’s been good, but we need you here. Guess you can’t hold this job. We’ll find someone else who can.”

This is everyone’s problem and concern because when siloed services thwart low-income families from getting ahead, they don’t do well – and when they don’t do well, the entire community and economy suffer. Conversely, when low-income people do better, everyone does better

In most communities, little work is done to identify what is missing for families that could help them move up the ladder toward self-sufficiency. So those undetected gaps aren’t filled. There’s no attempt to connect key services or invent new ones. RuFES changes all that.

RuFES recognizes that families exist within communities. The obstacles facing families stem from many sources. So the solutions must come from many sources – crossing the lines between agencies and services. RuFES gets people talking and working together across disciplines by focusing on the family. It helps to identify gaps, and to precisely target scarce resources so they make a bigger difference. RuFES multiplies the value of everyone’s efforts by connecting critical pieces of the puzzle into one unified whole.

RuFES is important because it helps pull community players together to focus on family outcomes – and by doing this, encourages you to gradually fill gaps and stitch connections. It helps you act differently – and thus, make a real difference.



What difference will RuFES make?

Communities that adopt a RuFES approach typically see a range of benefits, depending upon the specific strategies adopted. Some potential benefits over time include:

  • Families become more stable, better able to meet their basic needs, and more likely to weather an unexpected turn of events, such as a health crisis or job loss.
  • Children grow up in better environments, with a better chance to grow into productive, self-sufficient adults.
  • Workers increase their incomes, confidence and aspirations.
  • Businesses experience a better prepared, more reliable and more stable workforce.
  • Businesses gain more revenue as workers become more productive – and as resulting higher family incomes circulate in the local economy.
  • Government sees increased tax revenue from families and businesses, and experiences lower demand for social services as families gain income and become more confident and self-sufficient.
  • Communities prosper as more of their citizens contribute to the local economy and participate in building a better quality of life.
  • A sense of community is created or reinforced, and communities acquire an approach for collectively addressing potential issues in the future.
  • Policy that affects families changes as rural and urban communities begin to work together, with concern for better family outcomes helping them cross partisan lines.



Where did RuFES come from?

The Rural Family Economic Success Framework comes from the work and experience of dozens of rural-focused organizations, community groups, agencies and associations that have been supported and encouraged by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF).  AECF developed the initial RuFES Earn It, Keep It, Grow It Framework in 2003 in partnership with the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.

Since then, the Framework has served as the organizing focus for action-learning teams at local, regional, statewide, and national peer-learning workshops and conferences. As these teams develop action plans and report progress, they also offer healthy feedback – which is used to update the Framework. As new ideas and strategies and stories emerge from any source, we add the best we can find to the Framework. And so it is – always – a Framework in progress!



What is the RuFES Action Network?

The RuFES Action Network, managed by Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group and supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, offers innovative ideas, stimulating stories, useful data and solid rural-focused opportunities, to help community leaders, practitioners and policymakers find better answers to the following question:

How can we help hard-working rural families who are struggling to get ahead Earn more, Keep more of what they earn, and Grow it into assets over time?

Over 1,300 Network members, from forty-eight U.S. states and D.C. and Puerto Rico, regularly receive:

      1. Bi-weekly email Action Alerts on current and upcoming resources, opportunities and events.
      2. The chance to participate in quarterly webinars on timely topics and other RuFES-related events.

These resources, events and opportunities are embedded within the RuFES Framework, a set of family-focused goals that seek to improve rural families’ economic success.



How can I join the RuFES Action Network?

If you are interested in joining the RuFES Action Network, and receiving regular Action Alerts and invitations to join RuFES-related webinars, simply visit the Join Our Network page on the Community Strategies Group website. You’ll also have an opportunity to join other networks organized by CSG.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
One Dupont Circle NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C., 20036