Back in 2018, the Health Fund engaged the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to complete an independent survey of our grantees and grant applicants whose proposals were not selected for funding. CEP is respected around the country for its expertise on the grantmaking landscape—it’s an organization with a unique capability to analyze the Health Fund’s performance and relationships in the context of broader trends from across philanthropy.
The 2018 survey results proved profoundly beneficial. They crystalized the core strengths that the Health Fund established in its first few years and helped identify several concrete opportunities for improvement. This feedback led to numerous changes that have helped make the Health Fund a more effective funder.
But much has changed since 2018. The world our grantees are navigating today looks radically different than it did four years ago, and the resources and support they need have likewise evolved. The Health Fund has also matured into a more established and focused force for progress in health across our state.
So, how have these changes affected our work? What do our grantees value about the Health Fund today, and where do we still need to improve?
To help answer these questions, we re-engaged CEP in 2022 to take stock of where we stand. In May and June, CEP conducted a survey of active grantees from 2021 and the first cycle of 2022, as well as applicants whose submissions were not funded during those periods. The response was strong—58% of grantees and 44% of declined applicants provided input.
Here’s what we learned.
A strong foundation: expertise, impact and trust
We were pleased to hear from many grantees and declined applicants that we’re working from a strong position of partnership. Survey results shows we are doing better in many ways than responses showed in 2018, while maintaining or improving on a high standard in areas where we were already doing well.
Respondents reflected a perception that the Health Fund is excelling in terms of our impact on grantees’ fields, communities, and organizations, and that interactions with staff and many grant processes support a positive experience for nonprofits engaging with the Health Fund.
Comments from a few of the respondents helped illuminate these strengths, with some describing the Health Fund as “an integral partner,” noting that staff are “kind and easy to work with” and “truly care.” This positive input gave us cause to celebrate the ways that we’re helping our grantees achieve success, while reinforcing the need for continued attention to maintain that standard.
A commitment to improve
We were also thankful for those grantees and applicants who provided constructive criticism, highlighting areas where we can continue to get better. From across the pool of respondents, several recurrent themes emerged.
Message: Increase grant flexibility and reduce restrictions
What we’re doing:
Applicants will see changes in our upcoming RFPs, as well as grantmaking FAQs on our website with an aim to provide greater clarity and direction on the use of grant funds. Our board recently approved the easing or removal of a range of grant restrictions. We’ll continue to evaluate our remaining grant restrictions in 2023 to ensure we are maintaining an effective balance of sound financial stewardship and flexibility for our grantees.
Another recent change approved by our board enhances our indirect cost policy to make sure grantees have the resources needed to successfully carry out their grant-funded projects. Beginning with our upcoming 2023 grant cycles for Maternal & Infant Health and Community Health Impact, applicants with annual operating budgets under $10 million may request indirect costs of up to 30% of the total project budget. Applicants with annual operating budgets at or above $10 million may request indirect costs of up to 20% of the total project budget. We are thankful for the extensive analysis from the MacArthur Foundation around the minimum indirect cost rates for financially healthy nonprofit organizations, and excited to make this change to better support our grantees.
Message: Provide more interaction with the Health Fund
and grantees running similar projects
What we’re doing:
We want to see our partners, too! Following a multiyear pause due to the pandemic, our staff have returned to in-person meetings with grantees and applicants who are comfortable meeting face-to-face, while continuing to offer virtual meetings to those who prefer them.
Our program officers and grants management team are available upon request to meet with grantees about their projects, or about any reporting or grant management questions that may arise.
We’re also working on more convenings in 2023 to bring our partners together, while increasing access to staff during the application period. For example, some of our programs have begun offering virtual office hours—including our Behavioral Health and Maternal & Infant Health programs—to provide applicants a forum where they can ask questions, get to know our team, and develop a deeper understanding of the Health Fund’s goals. In addition, the Community Health Impact program will be accepting verbal concept papers in lieu of written ones starting in January 2023. Stay tuned to the program’s webpage for updates on how this will work.
If you are considering applying to any of the Health Fund’s grant programs, we are available before RFPs are released and happy to review concept papers at any point during the year.
Message: We want more information about Health Fund projects
and capacity building opportunities
What we’re doing:
The Health Fund offers a range of capacity-building opportunities, from access to trainings and software to grants that help nonprofits invest in essential functions to better serve their communities. To help make this information more accessible, we’re putting it all in one spot on our website. We’re also continuously evaluating our capacity building programs, including reviewing grantee feedback about each program’s effectiveness and whether there are opportunities to improve.
In addition, we’re working on website improvements to include a fully searchable database of past grants, providing applicants and the public with a greater level of context about the projects we’ve funded and the evolution of our grantmaking. Expect those additions in 2023.
Message: Continue to improve processes
What we’re doing:
Refining our processes and increasing efficiency is a continuous priority for the Health Fund. As a starting point in 2023, we’ll be looking at our grant applications and reporting questions to remove redundant sections.
Beginning with the latest round of grants funded in November, most programs will require fewer reports, and our program officers will also accept some reports delivered through a phone call in lieu of written reports.
We’re also working to build a more intentional process for offering feedback about declined applications. While we’ve always been open to meeting with applicants who were not selected for funding, we are now piloting written comments about applications, while continuing to be available for calls.
The Health Fund relies on a strong, innovative, deeply committed network of grantees and collaborators to carry out our mission to improve the health of Michigan residents. Our deepest thanks go out to the many grantees and applicants who took the time to share their thoughts—your input will help make our work together even stronger.
Have questions? We’d love to hear from you.