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Using Philanthropy to Advance Your Community Health Initiatives

The health of our communities has been the focus of conversations for months. More than 90% of hospitals agree or strongly agree community (or population) health is aligned with their missions, but only 19% of health care leaders strongly agree they possess the financial resources available to support it.¹ Lack of capital and future uncertainties are significant barriers for health care organizations to proactively advance community health improvement. Philanthropy can provide significant financial resources to initiate and to sustain these strategies.

Community health takes a holistic approach to the health care problems and focuses attention on environment, society and other social determinants of health to positively impact health outcomes. It recognizes hospitals cannot solve complex health problems alone or by only treating illnesses without preventive measures. Preventive, expansive initiatives are difficult to prioritize, especially with the current critical, urgent needs.

What makes this concept difficult for health care organizations—such as developing new models of care, expanding services outside of the hospital and collaborating with previously perceived competitors—also makes funding community health attractive to a new set of donor investors. It’s a matter of matching community need to the desires of those who want to help.

Today’s health care donors are poised to engage in community health partnerships. There are unlimited opportunities to fund community initiatives at every interest level and financial level. New, innovative models of care provide ideal funding opportunities for donors who want to provide transformational impact with results that are measurable and scalable, within a specific organization but also with potential to be replicable on a larger scale. They recognize needs and impact that can yield positive outcomes as well as a financial return on investment.

Services not covered by insurance, as well as programming that extends outside the hospital walls can also be attractive to donors. Other community health priorities, such as mobile mammography units, make care more accessible and focus on prevention and early detection. For example, those with diabetes understand the value of funding diabetic strips for those who can’t afford them, as well as helping improve accessibility to healthy foods in supermarkets and free exercise options. These preventive and proactive initiatives have not always been perceived as core priorities until now. These challenges make headlines daily. Because of their enormous scope and financial needs, organizations need to dissect components of initiatives to target donors at all giving levels, matching donor passion with community need.

Addressing social determinants within the community can attract and engage new prospects to the health care organization. Approaches such as accountable care units are anticipated to improve patient and family experience and increase satisfaction by enhancing care coordination between an interdisciplinary team, patients and their families. Other value-based models are being developed to build stronger relationships with patients while providing better outcomes at lower costs.

Furthering these health initiatives can also attract new donors who currently support other community organizations. Big-impact donors seek to solve complex problems. Rather than supporting one singular organization, they envision partnering with health care and community organizations as an effective way to elevate efforts. Donors are perceptive and realize the advantage of investing in a comprehensive approach with multiple collaborators.

Philanthropy leaders must be part of early discussions to help identify which initiatives and projects align with private support. They can also communicate the value proposition to make them inspirational for the donor. Health organization professionals can also develop and deepen community relationships. They are ideal connectors. They can identify the best organizations for collaboration and develop the ideal community partnership infrastructure, fund development, communication and engagement.

At the core, philanthropy provides an opportunity for individuals to save lives and to make lives better. Community health, with a goal of improving overall health outcomes, provides such a platform. It can be funded through support from those who wish to recognize care received within the hospital walls to the care that follows them home. They can offer support simply due to their passion and philanthropic goals. Many donors understand a diagnosis and its care can change lives forever, and not just within the hospital, but far into the community.

¹ Health Research and Educational Trust, Approaches to Population Health in 2015: A National Survey of Hospitals, Chicago, IL, August 2015

Accordant White Paper_Advance Community Health
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About the Author: Amy Dorrill, FAHP, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. She can be reached at


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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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