November 11, 2015
When we decided to shake up our role as a funder four years ago, the concept of philanthropy took on new meaning at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Our message was clear: "We are moving from grantmaking to changemaking. We will spend less time identifying fundable projects and more time immersing ourselves in the communities we serve." To that end, we charged our program officers with thinking and acting differently — with going beyond the usual partners and funding requests, listening to communities in our state, and exploring new relationships and ideas.
It was a seismic shift, and we experienced some program staff turnover because of it. But those who stayed — as well as those who have joined us since — remain steadfast in their belief that this model is an essential part of how we can impact entrenched, community-wide problems. It also played a crucial role in the 2012 launch of Healthy Places NC, a ten-year, $100 million investment that put the responsibility for improving community health and quality of life squarely in the hands of the communities themselves.
Here are five lessons we have learned in the course of that journey:
1. Give Up Control. At its heart, Healthy Places is about a large regional funder giving up control of its processes in favor of outcomes. The trust works with communities to identify high-level goals but takes a back seat in the discussions of how best to achieve them. There are no specific models and no prescribed solutions. Instead, our program officers focus on helping communities convene discussions; align disconnected efforts; connect with statewide, regional, and national experts and services; and supply funding for many — but not all — projects a community wishes to undertake. The trust is willing to take risks, learning continuously from our successes and from the places where we have stumbled.
2. Invest in Unusual Relationships. A hallmark of Healthy Places is that it reaches beyond the network of "usual suspects" with regard to health. Trust program officers recruit new voices to the conversation and encourage diverse perspectives on community successes and challenges. There are health centers and hospitals engaged in this work, but the vast majority of those working under the Healthy Places umbrella are community organizers, faith leaders, nonprofit organizations, child care centers, housing authorities, local government officials, recreation enthusiasts, school systems, and a wide variety of people from outside the traditional health arena.