Lessons Learned 2002-2006…

6. Grantor & Grantee: Partners in Progress20 yr VNA logo no tag for web

Without the financial backing a grantmaker provides, even the best project at a nonprofit may not be developed, and even the most successful program may fail to be sustained. Similarly, however, even the most astute foundation board or staff can not make informed decisions in isolation: they need their nonprofit partners to share firsthand knowledge and vision. In short, when funders and applicants work together, toward mutually agreed-upon goals, the best results are achieved. As our grants during 2001-2006 indicate, when this true partnership model is followed, grantmaking can be one of the best examples of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

7. It Pays to Reinforce the Backbone

VNA Foundation proudly supports several free medical clinics in and around Chicago, as well as the Illinois Association of Free & Charitable Clinics. Free clinics, staffed primarily by volunteer physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers, offer badly needed health services to the working poor and impoverished. Although these programs could not exist without the selfless efforts of those who donate their time, VNA learned that care is both more impactful and more efficient when a paid, full-time RN provides coordination, oversight and follow-up duties at free clinics. The very purpose of these clinics is to offer an effective alternative to episodic, irregular care; when the efforts of alternating volunteers are supplemented by the steady presence of a full-time case manager, that promise is fulfilled.

8. The Best Help May Not Involve Grant Dollars

Although we know that the primary role of a foundation like VNA will always be as grantmaker, during our second five years of grantmaking we saw the value of another role a foundation can play—that of a convener, facilitating opportunities for grantees to share issues and ideas with their peers. Our first such convening involved health providers who care for homeless populations, during which participants shared common challenges and needs, and explored potential methods and solutions. The healthcare providers found the meetings to be so fruitful that they soon began meeting autonomously, and VNA was inspired to convene other groups including community health worker leaders. Relationships between foundations and nonprofits are commonly bridged by dollars, but we are committed to continuously exploring other ways to add value, strengthen relationships and capitalize on common vision.

9. Outcome Measures Have Value Beyond the Immediate Grant

Sharp reductions in emergency room visits due to asthma attacks, dramatic upturns in completed referrals from a free medical clinic, and increased birthweight for babies born to teen mothers: these are only three examples of the impressive outcomes reported to us by grantees over our second five years as a grantmaker. Although VNA had always required its grants to have objective and measurable outcomes demonstrating the grant’s effect, by our second five years of grantmaking we’d refined the process and posted on our website examples, taken from actual VNA grants, of strong outcome measures. We found that requiring outcome measures maximized the impact of our grant dollars and allowed us to share with other nonprofits and foundations objective information about successful–or not so successful–approaches to assisting the medically underserved. In addition, because they showed objective measures of impact, our grantees’ programs often became more attractive to future funders and were more easily duplicated in other neighborhoods.

10. Two is (Good) Company

Although VNA is proud of its distinct mission to enhance the health of Chicago’s medically underserved, we also recognize the benefits of collaboration with other funders. We were very fortunate, in the years covered by this synopsis, to work in partnership with many of our local peer healthcare foundations, and three times partner with the nation’s largest health philanthropy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). By collaborating with RWJF through its Local Initiative Funding Partners program, we were able to get RWJF to match, dollar-for-dollar, our grants in support of innovative community-based projects to improve healthcare for vulnerable populations. Via these collaborations VNA was able to leverage substantially higher levels of funding for some of our most inventive and impactful grants, and plant the seeds for further collaboration in the years to come.