Tell us about your organization’s work and how family economic security fits into your priorities as a philanthropic organization focused on community health.
Our vision is to make Lincoln, Nebraska the healthiest community in the nation. For the past 18 years, the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln (CHE) has worked to fulfill this vision which was set in motion by the community when it decided to create CHE by investing the proceeds from the sale of a city-owned hospital. Our primary tool for impact is health philanthropy, and we further our impact by building partnerships, convening the community around important health issues, influencing policy, gathering information on new and emerging trends, and participating in community decision-making. Since 1999, the CHE has funded 128 different agencies and 333 new projects, returning more than $26 million to the community.
About three years ago, we revised our funding priorities and intentionally included the impact of poverty as a funding preference. CHE currently has three funding priorities – health innovation, early childhood investments, and prevention – and funding requests have an improved chance of success when applicants consider factors such as the role poverty plays in causing or addressing a community issue.
How did these funding priorities and the link to economic security emerge and how does the foundation think about this connection?
The funding priorities grew out of Place Matters, a community mapping project we undertook in 2015 with help from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, the City of Lincoln Urban Development Department, and NeighborWorks Lincoln. Building on an established body of research that connects place to health outcomes, we created hundreds of maps to better understand the role and importance of place when examining health status and behaviors in Lincoln. The project allowed us to visualize demographic, socioeconomic, and health indicators on the census tract level.
Not surprisingly, we found significant disparities within the community. Life expectancy, for instance, is one the best indicators for a community’s overall health. Lincoln’s overall life expectancy is slightly above the national average, but drilling down tells a more complicated story. There is an almost three decade difference in life expectancy between neighborhoods just a few miles apart.
One lesson we take away from this project is that no matter how the maps are layered or the indicators are parsed, poverty is woven throughout the stories that these maps tell. We know that the pressure of being poor makes people sick and that the stress of poverty affects our children’s minds and bodies in ways that will also impact their health as adults. Looking at health at a neighborhood level allows us to think about health beyond health care and helps us understand the unique needs and opportunities in each geographic area.
Tell us more about your current funding portfolio and how you became connected to EITC-related work.
In the last grant year (2015-2016), CHE awarded 30 new grants totaling $2.5 million. Projects funded range from improving dental care for low-income patients and providing more opportunity for physical activity to low-income youth to supporting women of color, refugees and immigrants in their efforts to breastfeed. When we adjusted the funding preferences to include the role of poverty in 2015, we also received a grant application from the UNL Center for Civic Engagement on behalf of the Lincoln Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Coalition. We awarded the Center a three-year grant to provide no-cost tax preparation to low-income individuals. This is the first time we have funded an EITC-related project and we are just now dipping our toe into the water. That said, this project fits into our priorities by assuring that individuals and families receive tax credits for which they qualify and that strengthen their financial stability. We know cost is a big reason why people don’t seek health care or eat healthy food consistently, so we believe helping families achieve self-sufficiency will improve health outcomes in our community.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
We’re always interested in learning about best practices and funding strategies from other funders. Given that our mission focuses on health, we’d be especially interested in visiting with funder-colleagues about how they tie non-financial outcomes, such as health outcomes, to EITC funding. How do you work with applicants and grantees to craft measurable outcomes that go beyond financial stability?