When the Health Forward Foundation embarked on their grantmaking journey a decade ago, we were at ground zero, certainly not the grantmaking organization of today.
Starting from the ground up is never easy, but thankfully we had partners helping us along the journey. At the time, I was the only employee at Health Forward alongside a hard-working board of directors, many who had never worked in distributing grants. The Missouri Foundation of Health and the Kauffman Foundation were very gracious in sharing their resources and personal experiences. Along with research commissioned from the Resource Development Institute, the program/grants committee worked with the growing number of Health Forward associates to design our own, unique grant processes.
The Greater Kansas City community had been waiting a long time for this money to enter the community so we were committed to begin awarding grants as quickly as possible. But at the same time we wanted the due-diligence process to be refined before we made that move. One of our biggest challenges was how to be inclusive and create opportunity for organizations of all sizes.
In the world of grantmaking, there are big organizations and small organizations, and Health Forward wanted to find a fine balance between the two, when distributing funding. Large organizations have a grant writing team and capable technology, making it easier to submit a polished proposal. We knew that smaller, grassroots organizations, whose work is just as important, lack some of those resources, putting them at a disadvantage against the larger organizations.
Health Forward was dedicated to providing resources and assistance so those smaller organizations could compete competitively for grants. Within the first year, the program/grants committee created a pool of technical assistance providers who would offer up to six hours of assistance. The providers reviewed and guided the grant proposal, while our offices provided access to computers if they needed it.
It’s funny to think about a time when hard copies were the norm and access to computers, a luxury. But technology was just hitting its stride when Health Forward began, so we had to think about things like offering computer usage.
In looking back, I feel one of our greatest successes was making sure that balance existed by creating a process that was attainable for everyone. We continue to think this way: we continually tweak our RFP to make the process smoother and faster for the grantees, and for the staff. Each improvement we make allows us to process grant requests in a timely manner.
Another benefit unique to our organization is feedback. If a proposal is rejected, the applicant (no matter the size of the organization) can meet with a program officer, who offers valuable insight on some weak areas of the proposal that could be improved.
I am so proud of Health Forward. We are always trying to build upon and improve our process, and we will continue to do that. Yet even with all the changes, we ensure that the grant process continues to be simple for all applicants. We pride ourselves on making this process easy to understand; we don’t want an application to be a barrier in partnering with organizations who are working to eliminate barriers to quality health.
Decade of Difference