Stop Sign: Competitive Funding

If this is the sector that was supposed to change the world, how come the world has not changed?

Part 1 of this Stop Sign addressed the first of these related questions: How can we develop a community-wide spirit of cooperation, rather than merely the window dressing of collaboration? And to encourage real cooperation, how can funders provide grants that don’t require competition?

This week, we will tackle Part 2 of that question. (To see other Stop Signs along the Road to Changing the World, just click here.)

STOP Sign: Competition and Collaboration (Part 2)
Are funders actually causing competition? And if so, how can funders provide funds in ways that do not encourage competition?

Picture this:
A funder wants to address a particular issue and create as much impact in the community as possible regarding that issue. The funder announces the following:

During this grant round, we have $150,000 to address X issue in our community. We will have another $150,000 next year, and another $150,000 the year after, for a total of $450,000 over 3 years.

If you are interested in addressing X issue, please attend a meeting on June 5. We will fund absolutely everyone who is interested in participating. Everyone. No kidding.

There is just one condition: You must all work together as a team, to comprehensively address the issue.

We will offer facilitation, conference space, and other types of support to assist this effort. And we will learn along with you, to be part of the solution.

Think that is outrageous? It happens. We have seen it. We have seen it create incredible results, faster than anyone thought possible.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, the Community Health Endowment did it with 3 area hospitals. One of those hospitals had applied for funding, to address an issue common in hospitals around the U.S. – use of their Emergency Room as primary care for folks with no other healthcare support. CHE knew that if they helped only one hospital fix its own ER problems, that solution would likely cause the other 2 local hospitals to absorb the overflow.

So CHE said, “We will fund you and support the effort with facilitation and other assistance. But we will only do so if the effort includes all 3 hospitals.”

The result? All 3 hospitals jointly created solutions. And within one year of instituting those solutions, there has been a 65% reduction in the number of non-emergency visits to those emergency rooms, and a 63% reduction in the costs related to those visits – a savings of more than $600,000 in one year. Best of all, 100% of all individuals who arrived at the hospital seeking non-emergency care now have a primary care provider. And 100% of those individuals now have prescription assistance. (For more info, check out CHE’s annual reports for 2005 and 2006.)

A win win win – for the hospitals, for the funder, but mostly for the patients, who can now receive more attentive care. And those results occurred in just the first year of the program!

Lincoln’s hospital scenario is not the only example. We have seen other instances of truly collaborative funding, where everyone who shows up gets funded. And we have even seen it in the seemingly proprietary area of capacity building. (Click here for a look at the subject of Shared Capacity Building from the provider perspective).

If funders are going to make collaboration a condition of funding, this is real collaboration. This is not just the mechanics of collaboration, but collaboration in spirit. It is collaboration that creates something stronger, and involves everyone. It is collaboration that builds trust and leads to other collaborations (which is exactly what is happening in Lincoln, BTW – those hospitals are now getting together on other projects, to address other issues – together!) And best of all, this is collaboration that will make our communities far better places to live.

Funders and Community Results
Part 1 of this post talked about the funder roundtables we host, facilitating funders in discussions about what it will take to create more significant impact in their communities. During those sessions, most of those funders walk into the room blaming the organizations they fund for the lack of more visionary, comprehensive impact in their communities.

By the end of those sessions, in part through the reasoning shared in these posts, they begin to see that blame doesn’t get us anywhere. And that funders can be creating significantly more impact, if they change the way they see things, and make small changes in the way they do their own work.

So what might be different if funders held themselves accountable for results in their communities? What might be different if funders dedicated themselves to learning along with the organizations they fund?

And what might be different if we ran over this Stop Sign of competitive funding once and for all, and dedicated ourselves to working together – all of us together, funders and providers side-by-side? What if instead of letting competitive funding stop us, we worked together to build an amazing community?

Click here for 11 Ways to Encourage Noncompetitive funding!

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