Funding Community Health: How One Clinic Makes It Happen

Community health clinics play a crucial role in providing healthcare to low-income Americans, but fundraising for them isn't easy. These outfits rarely land the big, high-profile gifts that you'll see going to hospitals and because they work locally, it often isn't easy for them to pull in money from major foundations. Many operate on a shoestring; some end up failing. 

One local health clinic that's done enormously well at mobilizing resources is the Venice Family Clinic, and it's worth asking why. 

Founded in 1970 in a small storefront by Phillip Rossman, M.D., and Mayer B. Davidson, M.D., the clinic has grown into a community health system for low-income and homeless people with ten locations in Venice, Santa Monica, Inglewood, Mar Vista, and Culver City, California. Each year, 24,400 patients of all ages are treated during well over 100,000 visits.

“Since Obamacare, for the first time more than 50 percent of the clinic’s patients are covered by some sort of insurance, whether public or private, and that’s a big change for us that’s exciting," Laney Kapgan the VFC’s Chief Development Officer/Development Director told Inside Philanthropy. "At the same time, the reimbursement still doesn’t cover the true cost of care. There’s still a major need for donations."

Where do those donations come from? A number of places.

More than 2,000 people, including more than 500 doctors, donate their time worth more than $2 million annually. In-kind donations of medication, lab work, and other clinical services top $14 million a year. “We have extraordinary support from across the community. We have a lot of healthcare providers and others who are involved in public health or healthcare delivery more broadly that are involved in our work,” Kapgan said. 

But the Venice Family Clinic also reels in a good amount of hard cash in the form of significant foundation grants. 

“We have really strong support from private foundations across Los Angeles and across the nation,” Kapgan said. These backers include the UniHealth Foundation and the Blue Shield Foundation of California. In the last couple of years, some of the most significant foundation backing has been $500,000 from the Ahmanson Foundation, a gift of $300,000 from the Weingart Foundation, $200,000 from the Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation. and $150,000 from the Hearst Foundation.

Since 2011, the California Endowment has contributed $750,000 to the clinic. Another large gift of note is more than $3,000,000 contributed by the Simms/Mann Family Foundation. Now one of the clinic’s Santa Monica locations, which offers an integrative approach to medical care—including chiropractic, acupuncture and dentistry—is known as the Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center.

California has an unusual number of major foundations that fund healthcare, and the Venice Family Clinic has benefited from that. But make no mistake: It takes hustle and sophistication to pull in this kind of big-league money.

Meanwhile, the clinic has also done well pursuing some of the more traditional kinds of funding streams that local nonprofits often rely on. 

The clinic’s best known fundraiser is its Venice Art Walk and auction. “It was founded by artists who lived in the area, some of whom were patients of the clinic, some of whose friends were patients of the clinic. They decided to open their homes for a ticketed tour. The project came from both the talents of the community and the desires the community,” Kapgan said. “We hope we’re somehow celebrating and driving the arts community in Venice and helping to get the word out about the extraordinary artists who are here.”

In recent years, the Internet’s most popular search engine has showcased a gallery-quality contemporary silent art auction at its Venice office. “Google very generously agreed to host the Venice art walk as it continued to grow,” Kapgan said.She credits the increased growth of the event to local support. “It ties in with the collaborative and community-minded nature of fundraising that is so critical to our work here.” This past year, the art walk raised a record $700,000.

Also in time for the holidays is the annual Children’s Holiday Movie to fund the pediatric programs at the clinic. It’s projected to bring in $140,000. Children were also the beneficiaries of a Wine & Cheese Benefit Event in October that cost just $20 a ticket.

The clinic’s biggest fundraising event is its Silver Circle Gala. “It’s a more traditional, honoree-driven dinner. We have the chance to recognize community leaders and senior volunteers at the clinic and there’s a wonderful base of entertainment industry support that always comes out that has really driven significant fundraising for the clinic over the years,” Kapgan said. In 2015, it raised a record $1.6 million.

Fundraising for the Venice Family Clinic is firing on all cylinders, and against the backdrop of visible and valuable work in an area with lots of affluent people. Kapgan summed things up this way: ”Our commitment to being part of our neighborhood and our neighbors’ commitment to supporting us and to caring for the people around who really need it has been a real driver of our success. It is very collaborative and community invested partnership that we have.”