Philanthropy has a special role to play in creating and supporting healthier communities. Foundations have been at the forefront of recognizing and addressing health inequities driven by the social determinants of health, planting the seeds of health transformation by forging strong relationships across sectors, and promoting partnerships that increase our place-based focus. Through these efforts, we seek change in what can seem like intractable problems: poverty, education, racism, environmental justice, and more.

There is no doubt that the scale of the challenge is immense. At the same time, we are equally convinced that we can achieve our goals – so long as we do not try to go it alone. Even our largest philanthropies don’t have the necessary influence or assets to thoroughly address the economic, social, educational, environmental, and other upstream factors shaping our communities. These problems are simply too big for an uncoordinated response. To make real and lasting progress, we need the power of a collective voice and aligned resources.

Our individual efforts are laudable and well-intentioned. They may even be impactful in specific situations. Nonetheless, the simple fact remains: if we are to catalyze the change that our communities need, we need to focus less on our solo performances and more on how each of our voices contributes to a powerful choir.

Does your foundation and the communities that it serves see themselves as part of a large, national movement? Do you want to be part of a national learning community of foundations and grantees? Do you want to engage your local hospitals and health systems in collaborations with public health and community-based organizations to make a difference in the social and economic factors that impact health? Do you want to improve health equity through improved partnerships?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, an opportunity exists to combine your efforts with an existing group of funders in the BUILD Health Challenge.

BUILDing the Choir

In 2014, five funders (the Advisory Board Company, the de Beaumont Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) partnered to create the BUILD Health Challenge. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, forging this partnership was not easy. There were challenges driven by differences in our staff sizes, our profiles, our assets, our existing commitments, and more. But while remaining true to each of our foundation’s mandates and missions, we overcame our differences. We shared a commitment to respecting divergent points of view and a belief that true change cannot be achieved working alone.

In the first year, 18 community partnerships in 14 states received BUILD Health Challenge grants. Each of these partnerships shares a common goal of improving the health of their residents with the greatest needs in the neighborhoods experiencing the greatest health inequities.

Their approaches are as diverse as the communities themselves, ranging from housing improvement to food access to job creation. As part of a national learning collaborative, these communities benefit from the collective wisdom of their peers and the subject matter expertise available through the coordinated technical assistance of nation-leading nonprofits and think tanks.

Results won’t come quickly, but coordinated evaluation is already starting to find common lessons that cut across the differences in these communities. In time, we will be able to contribute learnings and strategies from implementing evidence-based strategies around data and integration and how best to develop and sustain multisectoral peer collaboratives that can improve health and drive smarter, more effective health interventions nationwide.


Adding Your Voice

These 18 communities are only the beginning. We need your vision, voice, and experiences to strengthen and expand this work. Your fresh ideas, thought leadership, and local expertise are needed in the national conversation about transforming community health. No philanthropy is too small; no part of the country is too remote to be a part of this movement.

Social change rarely comes from the top down. Philanthropy has a unique opportunity to give voice to the community-led innovations that are cropping up in neighborhoods all over the country. The BUILD Health Challenge creates a platform where we can gather, amplify our voice and messages, collect and share the evidence we need, and achieve real change.

There is strength in numbers. If we are to grow a national movement focused on redirecting resources, attention, and action upstream to drive sustainable health improvements and reduce health disparities, we need more partners and more communities. We can’t do this without you.

If we all want to get to the same place, doesn’t it make sense that we get there together? Make the leap from deliberation to participation, add to this momentum, and partner with us in leading this change.

For more information

If you are interested in joining the BUILD Health Challenge or would like more information, please contact Rachel Keller Eisman at or see our Call for Partners here.

About the Authors

This blog was jointly authored by Brian C. Castrucci from the de Beaumont Foundation, Chris Kabel from The Kresge Foundation, Amy Slonim from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Graham McLaughlin of The Advisory Board Company, and Christopher Smith from the Colorado Health Foundation.