Pinch: Nathan Cummings Foundation’s Strategic Planning Bad News for Health Programs

Sit back, watch, wait, and hold your breath: Strategic planning is like that. Among the big, big funders it’s admittedly higher-stakes, but even from a small foundation like Nathan Cummings that gives moderately-sized grants, strategic planning can arouse interest, and nerves. The end product of such a process can be all good news or all bad, depending on your own personal stakes—programs get cut completely or pumped up, “refocused” or “streamlined.” Lately, there’s been a real trend towards this “streamlining,” which we’re pretty sure is just foundation-speak for “putting more eggs in fewer baskets.”

The Nathan Cummings Foundation has undertaken a big-time shift in priorities, and for those in the health field, the news is not good. Formerly, NCF had programs supporting Arts and Culture, Environment, Health Care, Social Justice, and Jewish Life. In the big shake-up, a lot of these priorities got reshuffled into other programs, or just plain done away with. Instead of funding arts and culture initiatives moving forward, for instance, NCF wants to use arts and culture to achieve change in its two remaining grant spaces. Which are—drumroll please—Inequality and Climate Change.

The word "health" barely appears in NCF's long new description of what they fund. Initially, that may seem like a total loss for anyone in the health world, but poking around Cummings’ emerging Inequality program reveals possible paths for health initiatives to seek funding. Health is part of inequality, after all, and Cummings understands that. But exactly how that will play in grantmaking remains to be seen. 

Likewise, Social Justice. And certainly NCF, a longtime supporter of a variety of Jewish initiatives, will continue approaching grantmaking from that perspective. One of the biggest projects they’re currently funding is the Israeli organization Shaharit’s work to make discourse in that part of the world not about common good instead of special interests.

On their website, they come right out and say that 2014 is going to be all about transition, so obviously much is still up in the air as we work to keep tabs on the organization’s fresh new focus. Stay tuned for an update on the roll-out as we learn more.