January 22 2020

Earlier this week, we hosted a webinar to update grantee-partners about where The California Endowment is headed in the decade to come.  This blog is being made available to those of you who were unable to participate in the webinar.

We have been in “planning mode” for more than a year, and the temptation is to conclude “Well, enough already!”  Fair enough.  But I do want to convey that the planning process has included multiple forms of grantee and stakeholder feedback going back several years, evaluation reports, staff input, and deliberative conversations with our Board of Directors.  Plus, we engage in our work in a political and civic landscape that features a White House and federal leadership narrative of exclusion and marginalization that works at the opposite end of our growing “California for All” narrative of inclusion and equity. We are taking the coming decade of work extremely seriously.

First, let me say thank you for your partnership over the last almost 10 years, but also recognize the life changing work of BHC–your day-to-day fight for health equity and justice continues. Every day, your work is making a difference in the lives of Californians and we’re proud to be working alongside you to transform communities into a healthy place for All Californians. 

I also want to acknowledge that change is hard.  I’m sure we can all agree on that. And anytime a foundation goes through a transition it causes some anxiety both internally and externally for our partners who mean so much to us. If it offers you any comfort, I want you to understand that the plan for the next ten years is built from the strong foundation you’ve helped to lay down over the last 10 years, and from the wisdom of communities most impacted by structural inequalities. 

Along this journey, we’ve learned a lot together.  You have changed us for the better. We are not ending our Building Healthy Communities 10-year initiative with the precise strategy we had when we started and that is mainly because of you.  You taught us about the pillars of “Agency” and “Belonging” to drive Change.  You told us what was working, what was not working, and we tried to listen and adjust with you. 

From a personal perspective as a leader in philanthropy, we set out to help communities transform, but, as a foundation, we have been transformed by your work in BHC.  This transformation and enlightenment are embodied in two quotes from the social justice warrior we celebrated this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The first quote, from a speech on “Justice Without Violence” in 1957, is centered on the words “Our goal is to create a beloved community.”

The second is my favorite MLK quote on the matter of Power: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.”

Our vision of a truly healthy community is now broader, more comprehensive, and yes, more ambitious: it looks more like Dr. King’s vision of The Beloved Community.  And BHC taught us the central path to the Beloved Community is through community voice and community power.  This idea represents the BHC-driven cornerstone of our work in the decade to come, and our Board of Directors – over much of the past year – agreed this must be the path forward for our foundation.

Our transition beyond 2020 is grounded in what we’ve been hearing from community leaders like yourselves–that demanded foundations like ours to be more responsive to the needs of communities, that we focus on long-term systemic and structural change, that we continue to invest in organizing and power-building, that we behave as a better and more humble partner.  These are the lessons that inform our next steps and we’re excited to get started. 

Vision + 3 Bold Ideas

While there are a few pieces of the puzzle still left to be sorted out, I am proud to share the key elements that our Board of Directors has committed to and allow me to speak to the “why”, the “what”, and the “how” of our work in the decade ahead.

On the “Why” – BHC has been so successful that it is a fair question to ask why we should bother changing things at all.  In short, we are hoping to see the impact of our investments in more regions across the state and translating into greater statewide impact.  The 14 BHC sites have impacted work in the 12 counties they reside in; simply put, we want to have impact in more counties across California.  Structural and systemic inequality is unacceptably uneven across many of the counties in our state – and this is inconsistent with a “California for All” narrative.

On the “What”: the vision speaks to the future of what Dr. King might call a “Beloved California”, grounded in wellness, inclusion, and shared prosperity. A California For All.  The three Bold Ideas our Board has approved are: 1) The idea of People Power — where voice, advocacy, civic participation have a robust role in assuring that the lived experiences of the marginalized and disenfranchised are asserting leadership; 2) That People Power translates into re-imagining key public systems and policies to assure better health; and 3) Continuing and finishing the battle of Health for All across our state, in coverage, prevention, and equity.     

On the “How”: we are committed to be better listeners, humble, values-grounded partner with our grantees.  This means more General Operating Support grants that are multi-year in length.  This means leaving more space to co-design strategies with you.  This means more of an emphasis on investing in the infrastructure of community-grounded change strategies for statewide impact: leadership support, organizational capacity building, narrative change, and network and alliance-building among and across grantees.  This means a greater emphasis on racial equity and racial healing in framing our work.  Over the years of BHC this is what we have heard from you directly and across multiple reports and surveys, and we are committed to translate this feedback into practice and action.  We pledge to fulfill our mission by:

  • Explicitly committing to Healing Informed Racial Equity as a driver of Health Equity
  • Centering a Power Building ecosystem rooted in a healing informed, racial justice lens
  • Reach more Californians – Expanded Footprint, from the current 12 BHC county-footprint to nearly double the counties in the years to come.

These changes for us are both inspired and hopefully inspiring, but all strategic plans come with tough decisions and trade-offs.  It will come as no surprise to you to understand that we cannot afford to be in a meaningful, multi-year funding support relationship with every organization who is doing good work to advance healthier communities.  Our grant resources reach as many as 1000 nonprofits in a given year, but you can expect us to arrive at a place where we are in a modestly fewer number of grant relationships with a larger proportion of multi-year operating support grants.  We intend to be transparent, respectful, and timely on how we communicate both good news and bad news to grantees in 2020.

Our Board recognizes the value of building the coming decade of work on the platform of Building Healthy Communities.   What this will mean is that we will continue some level of support for both the 14-sites work as well as the statewide advocacy work – we will not be “pulling the plug”, or completely de-funding the work in any of the 14 BHC sites.  But it will also mean, as we endeavor to see “health for all” impact across more counties in California, that we will need to make grantmaking room for newer partners in those expanded geographic regions.  So, we will see some of our grantee partnerships ending and reduced with some of you in the year ahead.

In the cases where we are unable to continue our relationship of support, you will receive this news from your program manager in the months ahead in 2020, and we will be respectful and transparent in those conversations, with a one-year grant decision “heads up” so appropriate planning and adjustments can be made.  The good news for those continuing grantee-partners is the stability and consistency of more multi-year general operating support.

You can expect a final decision announcement about our “Beyond 2020 Planning” from our Board of Directors hopefully no later than this coming summer.  Thank you for your leadership and contribution to a new and healthier “California for All” narrative that will shape the decade to come.

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