How Does the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation Give in Massachusetts?

Healthy food is a key of HPHCF. photo:  udra11/shutterstock

Healthy food is a key of HPHCF. photo:  udra11/shutterstock

With a strict focus on the New England region of the U.S., Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is a not-for-profit health services company with philanthropic interests. The company’s health benefit plans, programs, and services reach over 3 million customers, and it’s had a foundation since 1980. The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation (HPHCF), and it has given out over $145 million to nonprofits since it was established.

HPHCF is based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. This means that many grants go out to local groups in this region, but the funder has a broader geographic focus. HPHCF’s funding area extends throughout Massachusetts and into Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire as well. Last year, the funder committed over $2.3 million to more than 900 organizations in over 300 communities to further its mission of building healthy communities.

Its main focuses right now are providing access to fresh and healthy food and reducing health disparities that affect diverse populations. For example, the Harvard Pilgrim Healthy Food Fund is a grant and leadership initiative to make fresh, healthy, and local food more accessible and affordable for low- and mid-income families. HPHCF’s health equity program is all about ensuring that people in the region have access to quality health care.

These are fairly popular topics among health funders right now, but there are a couple things that are unique about this corporate funder.

For example, HPHCF has been particularly interested in transgender health care in Greater Boston lately. This is an emerging issue that not a whole lot of health funders have shifted towards just yet. The foundation hosted its first Health Equity Roundtable discussion in Boston back in March 2016 to explore issues of access to care and gender-affirming care for the local transgender community. Discussions with community members who identify themselves as “trans” or “gender queer,” medical professionals, and community outreach staff reveal that there is a lack of consistency among insurers regarding coverage, that out-of-pocket expenses disproportionately affect trans people, and that most health care professionals lack basic knowledge about trans health issues. Furthermore, trans people consistently report being treated poorly and even in a hostile manner by healthcare professionals. Meanwhile, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was praised by participants for providing easily accessible insurance information and having a dedicated care manager to serve as a point of contact for people seeking transgender health care. Through this roundtable program, the foundation recently awarded a $8,000 grant to PFLAG Hartford to address transgender health issues in Connecticut as well.

Another interesting aspect of HPHCF’s recent funding is its mini grants program. We’ve reported on mini grants in the past as a strategic way to make foundation money more accessible, widespread, or locally focused. However, these mini grants are a bit different. At HPHCF, employees get to award $500 grants that are completely funded by the foundation to charities of their choice. This employee engagement-style mini grant program has been part of the funder’s strategy since 2002 and contributed over $5.7 million to local groups like food pantries, fundraising events, schools, and youth organizations.

Overall, Massachusetts groups come out on top in terms of securing grants from this foundation, with $818,000 of the 2017 total going to Massachusetts organizations. These local grants were all between $5,000 and $113,773, with that top grant going towards statewide healthy aging grants for things like community gardens and cooking classes for the elderly. Recent Boston grantees include the Boys & Girls Club in Boston for a farm-to-family program and City Year for service activities at Joseph Lee K-8 School and other community organizations.