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Steps to Take Now to Advance Health Equity Through Philanthropy

Funding is, by far, the limiting factor to advance community health. There is a substantial need for philanthropy in this space. In a survey conducted by ReThink Health, 82% state that, “Not enough funding for our services, programs or policies,” is a barrier contributing to equitable community well-being.¹

To meet the financial challenge faced by health care organizations, health care foundations are leaning in and incorporating health equity in their philanthropic case for support. For many organizations, designing a health equity case requires a fresh approach beyond the traditional capital and/or specialty care projects.

Funding is, by far, the limiting factor to advance community health.

Below is a roadmap for health care foundations to follow to address the uniqueness and complexities of a community health case for philanthropic support including:

  • Understanding the health care organization’s vision and priorities to advance health equity

  • Identifying the right community health case for support

  • Educating and inspiring the foundation staff and volunteers

  • Inspiring philanthropists with a purposeful call to action

  • Determining philanthropy infrastructure

  1. Understanding the health care organization’s vision and strategic priorities to advance health equity As the foundation is identifying potential philanthropic priorities, ensure the addition of potential community health and well-being initiatives by including leaders who represent community health and well-being, the community health needs assessment (CHNA) and community benefits, diversity/equity and inclusion, health equity and overall strategy. With many health care organizations historically focused on capital projects, ensure you are proactively requesting programs and initiatives along with capital priorities. Review the organization’s strategic plan, the CHNA and the Community Benefit Report, along with the traditional capital needs report for potential case ideas.

  2. Identifying the right community health case for philanthropic support Sixty-eight percent of development leaders say the greatest challenge of campaigns (no matter if the campaign is capital, programmatic or comprehensive) is establishing, vetting, sourcing or communicating campaign priorities.² Not every community health and wellbeing initiative may be positioned for philanthropic support. Chosen community initiatives need to excite, be unique and have the ability to enhance the current status of care. As with all fundraising initiatives, there should be a champion and a personal impact story. Health equity can often feel too vast or obscure. Ensure the case has enough specifics to be understood and measured.

  3. Educating and inspiring foundation staff The business case, the community/patient case and the philanthropic case for community health and well-being are complex. Time and training cannot be overlooked; they must be a focus to ensure the foundation staff is comfortable sharing the case with clarity and inspiration.

  4. Educating and inspiring foundation board members and volunteers Take board members and other volunteers along on this journey. Have health care leaders share the shift to value-based care and the organization’s business (and patient) justification to provide more preventative and holistic community care. Include champions of the care and first-hand testimonies and/or stories to personalize the impact.

  5. Engaging philanthropists Expand inquiry to potential donors. Ask broad, inclusive questions focused beyond the organization to identify what the donors care about globally and inquire about what other organizations they support. Staff and volunteers should present the case in simple terms, sharing why health care organizations are adding community health, health equity and wellbeing in addition to core service lines, connecting the strategy to the more familiar scope. For example, how does housing impact asthma or how will a positive change in housing have a positive change in asthma?

  6. Determine philanthropy infrastructure As health care organizations expand their reach to impact the drivers and determinants of health, organizations will decide whether to internally create additional capacity through new positions or additional companies and/or they can choose to partner with other community organizations with the expertise to address health equity challenges. Similarly, philanthropy has multiple options to help structure philanthropy strategy and funding allocations. Campaigns can be under an entire health equity umbrella to benefit the community. They can also be part of an overall plan focused on a specialty, such as a cancer case for support that includes a new capital expansion in addition to the inclusion of a free mammogram and transportation service. Internally, contributions could be captured into one health equity fund, a community fund or as part of an unrestricted or specialty fund. A specific health equity fund can support core activities focused on reducing health disparities through healthy food options from the hospital’s internal food pharmacy and more.

Regardless of how the program is created and funded, health organizations are positioned to lead the charge in elevating community health and well-being. It’s time to get started with the initial steps above and expanding to include external partners whose mission aligns with your priorities.

¹ ReThink Health, Rippel Foundation, 2022

² 2017 Advisory Board-Curating-Donor-Ready-Campaign-Priorities

Accordant Perspectives_Advance Health Equity
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About the Author: Amy Dorrill, FAHP, CFRE, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. She can be reached at or through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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