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Sunday, 15 March 2015 22:00

Catherine’s Health Center secures large foundation grants three years running

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Catherine’s Health Center has landed nearly $486,000 over three years from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation to work on improving the heart health of community members. The foundation’s grants will serve as seed money to build the clinic’s program into a sustainable model. Catherine’s Health Center has landed nearly $486,000 over three years from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation to work on improving the heart health of community members. The foundation’s grants will serve as seed money to build the clinic’s program into a sustainable model. COURTESY PHOTO

When someone urged her to seek a grant from the philanthropic arm of a global pharmaceutical maker, Karen Kaashoek initially passed.

Her first reaction was to say “we don’t have enough time, (we) can’t do that” at Catherine’s Health Center, a medical clinic that provides primary care for low-income people in Grand Rapids.

“That, for us, was really a step out of our comfort zone,” said Kaashoek, the nonprofit organization’s executive director.

In taking a closer look at the idea, and after concluding the health center was in a better position to do it than first believed, Kaashoek changed her view. Three years ago, the health center sought and received $161,000 from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation for an outreach initiative to help people improve their heart health. Catherine’s landed another $163,000 the following year.

Backed by data showing the effectiveness of the Live Heart Smart program, Catherine’s Health Center late last month received another $161,916 from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation to expand the effort.

The medical clinic’s ability to land nearly $486,000 over three years from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation provides an example of how a nonprofit organization tapped a revenue stream to support and expand its mission.

Catherine’s Health Center today is positioned to continue the Live Heart Smart program even after the foundation funding comes to an end this year. The funding over three years essentially served as “seed money” to build a financially sustainable program, Kaashoek said.

“What this has done is help us get the resources to establish stuff,” she said. “A lot of things you do, your costs for getting them set up are in the first couple of years because you need to hire staff, you need to train them, and you need to develop materials and buy equipment — and you need to forge partnerships. Those are upfront costs that a small organization like ours didn’t have.

“The programs we have now, we know how to do them. They’re less costly now because we have the training, the policies, the procedures, the equipment, and the connections and partnerships in place.”

As more people now access health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, and with startup costs in the past, the health center plans to add to the Live Heart Smart program with the third year of funding from the foundation. The goal in 2015 with what’s known as Heart Smart Connections is to help Live Heart Smart participants to better connect with medical services and health insurance coverage.

Key to landing the foundation funding was compiling data that showed results, which the health center had previously done through two women’s health initiatives backed by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The ability to track performance and demonstrate outcomes helped to land the first AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation grant as well as the subsequent funding.

Through the first two years of Live Heart Smart, Catherine’s Health Center served more than 2,700 patients through outreach and education, health screenings, risk assessments and support to change their lifestyles to improve their health.

Live Heart Smart served 1,247 people in the first year. Of the nearly 1,000 participants who continued with the program in the second year and were tracked, more than 60 percent lowered their blood pressure by an average of 15 points. Nearly 45 percent reduced their body mass index by an average of 1.2 points, and more than 60 percent of the 232 participants who had elevated cholesterol levels reduced it by an average of 34 points by the second year.

Many participants reduced or quit smoking and 276 people lost a combined 2,068 pounds.

Those kinds of results are what the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation looks for when reviewing grant applications, said Ann Booth-Barbarin, senior counsel and a trustee at the foundation.

Catherine’s Health Center was one of 13 grant applicants out of hundreds nationwide to receive funding this year, Booth-Barbarin said. The foundation awarded $2.6 million this year through its Connections for Cardiovascular Health program, which has provided $17.0 million in funding since forming in 2010.

The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation requires grant recipients to regularly provide data showing how well their programs achieved targeted outcomes.

Catherine’s Health Center is “very good at the measurements and holding themselves accountable,” Booth-Barbarin said.

“They have measurable outcomes on how health is being improved,” she said. “Organizations like Catherine’s Health Center are really making a difference.”

For nonprofit organizations that may consider moving beyond a local donor base and appealing to a large, national foundation for support, Booth-Barbarin advises that they have the capacity to generate data and report results. They should also “do a little digging” to find the right prospective funder that not only matches its mission but also has the ability to provide support in addition to the money.

The AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation, for example, uses a third party to work with grant recipients to evaluate outcomes data, identify the infrastructure needed to carry on the grant funding and implement best practices, as well as to find ways for it to carry on once the grant funding expires.

While the foundation is careful not to impose, “there is a way to suggest things back and work with a particular organization and say, ‘What resources do you have and have you considered X or Y or Z?’” Booth-Barbarin said.

“One of the things that we look for is sustainability. Who else are you going to and who else are you getting money from? How have you thought about not only the near term but the long term?” Booth-Barbarin said. “We want success. We want success for the patients, ultimately, and we want success for the organizations because there’s a need out there.”

Kaashoek encourages organizations that may pursue large grants to not surrender if they get turned down initially. Catherine’s Health Center in 2012 was rejected by another organization before landing the initial grant from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation.

“Don’t give up if the first time you do a proposal it isn’t funded,” she said. “Think about ‘what are we missing?’ Was it not the right funder mix? Did we not have our ducks in a row to be able to give them good data?”
Kaashoek also cautions organizations to avoid pursuing a grant simply because it’s available. Organizations need to stick with their core mission and make sure that any funding they seek matches it, she said.

If not, they risk delving into an area or forming a program that is unsustainable, which in time can hurt their broader fundraising work.

“Don’t develop a program just to go after money. We look for funders who support the type of work we are already doing,” Kaashoek said.

That helps organizations avoid the dreaded “mission drift,” or creating a program specifically to go after available funds without a sustainability plan in place.

“We don’t start a program unless we have a really good thought process behind it of where the funds are going to come from to do it in future years,” she said. “Otherwise, you make commitments to your community and to patients and to participants, and then you walk away from them. You hire staff and you bring on partners, and then you have to let them go at the end of the year. That doesn’t inspire trust.”

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