Henocson “Henny” Mulatre, Manager, Corporate Citizenship, Point32Health
Rachel Reichlin, MPH, MSN, RN, Senior Program Officer, Michael Reese Health Trust
Linda Shak, MSW, Program Officer, Sunlight Giving
Beth Jones, MPA, Director, Community Impact, Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation
As 2022 begins and we reflect on the year behind us, we are keenly aware that the two year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic—which upended all of our lives and created even wider health and economic disparities in our country—is approaching. Our class of Terrance Keenan Institute fellows, which launched six months into the pandemic, looked to one another for support as we navigated the muddy waters of grantmaking during a global pandemic. Many of our lively conversations centered around the theme of health justice. Health justice, as defined by Dr. Jamila Michener, is both an outcome that we strive for and a process we must work to advance. As funders we can support power building from the margins so that people have access to equitable resources, and have the agency to influence the policies, practices and institutions that shape our lives.
Heading into the new year, we are now asking one another, “What risks did our foundations take during these past two years that we may want to continue? What has philanthropy done differently over the last two years that perhaps has made our sector more effective, inclusive, and responsive? We highlight three ways our foundations changed for the better during the pandemic, strategies funders are using to support building or shifting power to nonprofit partners. We hope the philanthropic community will continue to build upon these practices into 2022 and beyond:
- Support spaces for creativity to flourish
- Create new entry points for nonprofits to access funding
- Remove restrictions and reduce administrative processes for grantees
Support spaces for creativity to flourish.
People impacted by the very challenges health funders are trying to address have invaluable lived expertise that illuminate effective solutions. Foundations are engaging in participatory grantmaking, exploring ways to diversify their boards, developing their advocacy muscle in partnership with community residents, and cultivating mechanisms to center and elevate the expertise of community members. Philanthropy needs experts with lived experiences who hold hope and knowledge of how to improve community health. Not only do we need to be more creative as funders, we need to make space for creativity to percolate across all our partners.
The Health First Collaborative (HFC), incubated at Michael Reese Health Trust in Chicago, trusts that people most proximate to the issue know what is needed to improve health. Launched in July 2020, five foundations pooled just over $1 million to support hubs for community-led health transformation to address root causes of racial health inequities. The collaborative started making grants despite limited details on activities and engaged an evaluation partner to document the journey. The collaborative also recruited and compensated an advisory council of community consultants to help guide the collective vision with relevant cultural context. The work expanded with the support of 22 funders who have since pooled nearly $8 million. HFC builds upon trust-based philanthropy and generations of strong community organizing efforts in Chicago. It creates flexibility for local groups to collaborate, identify and implement solutions tailored to the needs of their community. One of the hubs, the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership (CVP), provides additional infrastructure for coalition-building so that community members can lead and participate in regional strategies for health equity, while simultaneously strengthening the public health workforce. The collaboration across foundations is unprecedented. Beyond aligning funds, the HFC shared operational capacity and risk to move resources to grassroots organizations who demonstrated capacity to mobilize communities and build a health justice movement. The creative minds in that movement are the public health workforce of tomorrow.
Create new entry points for nonprofits to access funding.
Foundations have finite budgets and long-term grantee partners, which can make it difficult to forge new funding relationships with nonprofits. Small and grassroots organizations may lack the time, staffing, and social capital to seek foundation support. Additionally, a study conducted by Echoing Green and the Bridgespan Group found a racial bias in philanthropic funding, with the revenues of Black-led organizations 24% smaller than their white-led counterparts (Dorsey, Bradach, and Kim 2020). Many foundations are working to bring new organizations into their portfolios and addressing racial biases that may be creating barriers to entry.
Over the past two years, Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation (Delta Dental) looked for opportunities to build new partnerships to address health equity. Delta Dental launched two new grant programs, providing $500,000 to 24 organizations. The goal was to fund organizations supporting groups disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and was designed so nonprofits could quickly access dollars to provide services. As the crisis becomes a longer-term reality, Delta Dental continues this support to address health disparities in oral health, and oral and overall health integration and overall health, through a new grant program, “Strengthening the Sector.” Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation envisions a world where health equity is a reality. To achieve this goal, Delta Dental will focus on building and supporting systemic solutions to address health inequities to create fair and just opportunities to health for all Iowans.
Remove restrictions and relax administrative processes for grantees.
In March 2020, many nonprofits began pivoting their work in light of the emerging public health and economic crisis and some even struggled to keep their doors open. A number of foundations acted swiftly to convert restrictive program grants to flexible general operating grants to meet the uncertainty of this unprecedented moment. As the months passed and the toll of the pandemic became clearer, some foundations went further and temporarily relaxed reporting requirements or waived renewal applications in acknowledgement of increased demands on staff time and disruptions to traditional work routines. Sunlight Giving, a family foundation in Silicon Valley, adopted these temporary steps and had already emphasized multi-year unrestricted funding and minimal reporting requirements prior to the pandemic (in 2019, 78% of its funding was general operating support and 66% was multi-year). Now, in preparation for 2022 and beyond, the foundation is considering how to enact permanent changes and find additional ways to alleviate the administrative burden on grantees to create space for developing deeper trust-based relationships between foundation and nonprofit staff. Other foundations that have traditionally emphasized programmatic support to grantees are exploring the option of making more general operating grants to nonprofits in the future.
The past two years have seen a new reckoning for philanthropy as the entire country confronts racism and white dominant culture permeates all facets of society and continues to harm people of color in the United States. Some foundations had an explicit commitment to working towards racial justice prior to 2020, and many more foundations have since pledged to become anti-racist organizations. As health funders look to advance health justice, we must consider how our foundations can help dismantle racism by transferring power and cultivating political capacity within the communities most harmed by current conditions. Terrance Keenan wrote that “a great foundation is informed and animated by moral purpose, walks humbly, is deliberate, accountable, and self-renewing.” We ask ourselves and you: If not now, then when? How will your foundation define itself at this critical inflection point in history? And how will GIH leverage its power, across 219 foundations, to do something greater together? As emerging leaders in philanthropy, we are inspired by the resilience and action of people on the ground and believe in our collective creativity to ensure that everyone has the freedom to be healthy.
Dorsey, C., Bradach, J., and Kim, P. Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table. Boston, MA: The Bridgespan Group, May 2020.
Michener, Jamila, “Health Justice: Love, Freedom Dreaming, and Power Building,” Harvard Law School Bill of Health (Blog), September 9, 2021.