The Louisville Health Equity Fund – A Bold Experiment in Collaboration

In 2015, the Community Foundation of Louisville, Greater Louisville Project, IDEAS xLab, and KentuckyOne Health provided leadership resulting in Louisville receiving the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize, including a $25,000 grant and ongoing membership into a national network focused on improving health.  Louisville was recognized for our collaborative approaches to improve health in the broadest possible terms; committing to sustainable systems changes and policy-oriented long-term solutions; and harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners, and community members.

“This award helps to recognize the power of working together, thus this recognition must only be a starting point for our community,” said Trisha Finnegan, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at the Community Foundation of Louisville.

The recognition and increased collaboration of local partners inspired community leaders to consider how they might do more for our community. The Louisville Health Equity Fund (HEF) at the Community Foundation of Louisville was created with the $25,000 prize money. With contributions from the Humana Foundation, Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Metro United Way, and the Community Foundation of Louisville, the HEF grew to $250,000 and marked a historic moment when Louisville philanthropic institutions joined forces to create a joint grantmaking strategy. Over three years, these institutions provided grant support while equity training and assistance were provided by both the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Center for Health Equity and the Community Foundation of Louisville.

The grants offered through the Health Equity Fund were directly informed by the Center for Health Equity’s 2017 Health Equity Report, which named 11 root causes of health disparities. Nearly 200 Louisville residents identified education and income as priority root causes to address if we were to improve our city’s health. Consequently, the 2018 year one grants of the HEF were made to equity-focused nonprofit organizations addressing education barriers preventing students from reaching their full potential. The YMCA of Greater Louisville and Doctors and Lawyers for Kids were the first HEF grantees. Each organization received a single year grant of $20,000 and opportunities to participate in the Center for Health Equity’s Advancing Racial Equity workshop.

In 2019, the HEF funders used the second and third round of grants to invest in organizations whose decision makers’ reflected the lived experiences of the communities they served and whose work was impacting root causes. There was also a commitment to implement trust-based philanthropy principles of multi-year, unrestricted funding, and support beyond the check. Each grantee received a renewable grant of $25,000 for two years (2019 & 2020) and the opportunity to meet as a group with the Center for Health Equity and Community Foundation of Louisville staff to develop their skills to collectively change systems.

From 2019-2020, the HEF supported the work of:

Tiffany Fabing with the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, a funder of HEF, reflected on the process by saying, “It’s rewarding to come together with peers to think creatively about different ways of supporting social change, something that can sometimes be difficult when working only internally.”

The three-year partnership with funders and grantees informs the current grantmaking practices of all HEF funders. For the Community Foundation of Louisville, a key lesson was that renewable grants for any nonprofit purpose provide nonprofit organizations with the resources to plan, adjust, and respond to the needs of the community while fulfilling their mission.

“This process demonstrated funders’ understanding that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)-led organizations deserve dignity, respect, and access to necessary resources,” said Karina Barillas, Executive Director, La Casita Center. “It was reaffirming to have funders finally acknowledge our expertise and lived experience by offering unrestricted and renewable grant dollars, especially while we tried to overcome the challenges of a global pandemic.”

The Community Foundation continues to rethink what is possible with our grantmaking. We remain committed to collaboration and centering leaders with lived experience. You can see that commitment clearly reflected in our Racial Justice Cohort.