In 2015, health programs received over $29.81 billion from U.S. funders (individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations). This is 8 percent of the $373.25 billion in donations in total giving.
As part of our ongoing article series in honor of World Health Day, Pass It Forward is highlighting five funders that have innovative approaches to funding health programs.
* The California Endowment (Los Angeles and Oakland, CA, USA): The California Endowment (TCE) is a private foundation that was created out the merger of two California health insurance companies in 1996. With $3.6 billion in assets, TCE’s grantmaking totals approximately $182 million every year. TCE’s grantmaking focuses on California communities. The foundation identifies itself as a social justice organization and as such, it focuses on systemic change that will lead to long-term broader change for underserved communities. TCE funds not only health research and healthcare services, they also support grassroots and community-based civic engagement and advocacy through strategies like the 10-year, $1 billion dollar Building Healthy Communities TCE’s funding approach is based on the innovative premise that health does not only “happen in the doctor’s office” but that “health happens where you live, work, learn, and play.”
* Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Princeton, NJ, USA): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) is the largest private American foundation that focuses solely on health. With $9.2 billion in assets, RWJ grants about $400 million every year to organizations working in four areas: Healthy Communities, Healthy Children/Healthy Weight, Health Leadership, and Health Systems. RWJ’s Pioneering Ideas funding opportunity is an innovative approach to funding health because it allows organizations to explore forward-looking ideas that will influence the future of health. Foundations are often criticized for not taking risks. RWJ’s Pioneering Ideas is an example of a funding approach that supports risk and exploration.
* Firelight Foundation (Santa Cruz, CA, USA): Firelight is a public charity that gives grants to support children and families in Africa who are affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS. Although the grants are relatively small—ranging from a few thousand dollars to $50,000--compared to large foundations, Firelight Foundation is still able to make a large impact. This is because unlike many foundations that support health in Africa, Firelight Foundation focuses on giving to local African grassroots groups instead of large international NGOs. One of the challenges for out-of-country funders that want to support overseas causes is the issue of due diligence. This is why many funders will support a small handful of large international NGOs that are usually based in the United States or Europe, while overlooking smaller local groups that may be more effective. Firelight Foundation taps into local networks in Africa to help identify these smaller groups.
* Cathay Bank Foundation (El Monte, CA, USA): Cathay Bank Foundation is the nonprofit affiliate of Cathay Bank, which provides banking services in nine U.S. states, primarily in communities with large Asian and Asian American populations. One specific area that the foundation supports is mental health services and programs in the communities where Cathay Bank operates. Mental health is one of the most underfunded health areas in philanthropy. Mental health carries a social stigma and in some ways, it can also be said to carry a funding stigma. So when funders specifically identify mental health as a health issue they want to support, it is a relatively rare but meaningful occurrence.
* Healthy Futures Fund (Chicago, IL, USA): The Healthy Futures Fund is a $200 million funding initiative supported by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Morgan Stanley, and The Kresge Foundation. This initiative is an example of a nontraditional cross-sector alliance because it works to improve health in low-income communities by connecting the health sector with the housing and community development sectors. Healthy Futures Fund supports a co-location model to improve health care access and community health. It supports projects like health centers that would be co-located with non-health service providers like grocery stores, schools, community centers, and affordable housing developments.