Be Like This Funder and Support Community Health Centers With Capital For Capacity

By focusing solely on making capital grants that build capacity, the Bothin Foundation takes a refreshingly different—and enormously useful—approach to supporting public regional hospitals and community health centers. Though this foundation limits its support to the Bay Area, foundations and funders immersed elsewhere could serve their constituents in similarly meaningful and impactful ways.

Some background: the Bothin Foundation is a long-standing institution, established back in 1917 by Henry E. Bothin, a so-called “Philanthropist of Steel.”  

These days, the Bothin Foundation (pronounced "bo-THEEN") provides support for social services, education, the arts and environmental programs that substantially engage with low-income families and youth, or individuals with disabilities.

While the Bothin Foundation has a broad focus in terms of causes it will support, it has a narrow way of supporting them. The foundation solely provides capital investment grants intended to build the capacity of the nonprofit being funded. Examples include building improvements, vehicles, equipment and technology infrastructure (especially if it’s directly used by program participants).

In a 1999 interview, Lyman Casey, the foundation’s media-shy President of the Board of Trustees, noted, “We give some of the least sexy grants probably ever done.” He cited septic tanks as an example, and added, “We're probably the only foundation to ever do that!”

Unsexy is a point of pride for Bothin, as it underscores the needs they address. Their application doesn't explicitly ask about outputs, outcomes, or measurement/evaluation systems, as so many funders do. Rather, because the Bothin Foundation is looking to fund “durable” investments that “directly impact clients,” and projects that are immediately necessary or time-sensitive, it asks applicants to address its program in that context.

Here is a sampling of community hospital and health centers that have recently benefitted from the Bothin Foundation's approach:

The Bothin Foundation might have luxuries other funders do not. For starters, it is a family foundation, so it is not beholden to as many other entities as corporate foundations/giving programs are. Furthermore, as an established and widely respected philanthropic organization, it doesn't seem to worry about optics, and need not prioritize the quick marketing and press releases opportunities that could accompany newsier grants.

Not every funder has these luxuries, but it would be good if others could find a way to address these significant needs for community hospitals and clinics nevertheless.

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Bothin Foundation: Bay Area Grants