AARP Foundation: Grants for Public Health

OVERVIEW: The AARP Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the widespread membership group for those aged 50 and up. It focuses on social good and creating change as it relates to this age group, including food security, nutrition education and the prevention of isolation.

IP TAKE: This foundation looks at need and distributes grants solely through the lens of its target age population. It's not active in disease-related work, but focuses on an interconnected list of social needs. This isn’t a funder for a quaint retirement community; its expectations of a program’s model (and the program’s outcomes) are sophisticated and rigorous.

PROFILE: The AARP Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons), the well-known paid-membership group for those aged 50 and up. In line with its membership organization, the mission of the AARP Foundation is to serve “vulnerable people 50+ by creating and advancing effective solutions that help them secure the essentials.”

“Secure the essentials” is this foundation’s take on addressing poverty. Indeed, alleviation of poverty is the orbit around which the foundation does its work and distributes its grants. As the American population ages, the AARP Foundation is combatting a demographic slide into poverty, noting that that by 2030, one in every five Americans will be age 65 or older. The foundation is therefore “working toward a country free of poverty, where no older person feels vulnerable.”

AARP Foundation grants focus on RFPs that the foundation posts at various occasions throughout the year, and the foundation takes pride at its own internal rigor at determining and framing these grant opportunities, viewing them simultaneously as collaboration for social good, a contribution to research and a call to action. These RFPs are centered around four program areas upon which the AARP Foundation believes action and legal advocacy will have the greatest impact: Hunger, Housing, Isolation, and Income.

Though you’re likely reading this for your work in public health and wellness, it’s important to consider all of these quadrants, because for the AARP Foundation they are strongly interrelated. 

For public health, two of these four impact areas intersect: Hunger and Isolation.

For its work with hunger, the foundation supports the development of long-term solutions that address root causes. Specifically addressing its 50+ age group, the AARP Foundation supports programs that:

Educate—both its direct service population and general community awareness; Extend—strengthening existing programs and policies; Elevate—allowing the foundation to serve as a central hub and connector for the implementation of strong new ideas.

The foundation looks to promote two primary results:

1) Reduce negative health outcomes of vulnerable 50+ people due to poor nutrition;

2) Reduce food insecurity among vulnerable 50+ people.

For its work with senior isolation, the foundation doesn’t provide as articulated a framework, instead stating that it seeks “innovative and evidence- or outcomes-based solutions at the community or societal level that optimize meaningful connections and interventions to reduce negative health outcomes highly correlated or associated with social isolation in low-income or vulnerable individuals 50 and older.” Though it will support the right project anywhere, it is particularly interested in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and Philadelphia.

On its website, the foundation notes: “Uncertainty is the new normal. Americans age 50 and over face choices and pressures unlike those of any other age group—choices no one could have prepared for.” This is more than a casual (albeit dire) statement. Rather, it elucidates the foundation’s attempt to fix things, to be as proactive, quantitative, and research-based as possible amidst this uncertainty.

All of the foundation’s RFPs and grantees center around the implementation of evidence-based solutions. The foundation likewise expects rigorous returns. It looks for quantitative outputs, of course (such as the number of people served) but also wants to see notable outcomes (e.g., rates of effectiveness as compared to other programs). Be prepared for this rigor, but don’t let it scare you off. The foundation says it will work with grantees “to ensure we can capture the data necessary to measure the results to achieve acceptable returns.”

Past grantees working towards AARP’s Hunger initiative include the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC) for its “Meeting the Dietary Needs of Lower Income Older Adults” workshop; Meals on Wheels to increase SNAP enrollment for those 50+; and Feeding America (Chicago, IL) for its “Senior Analysis of Hunger in America 2014,” among many others. Past grantees who earned funding for work related to isolation, include Do Something, as well as Tougaloo College for an intergenerational digital literacy program to combat isolation.

When the AARP Foundation’s RFPs are posted, it states: “Whether you are a new, innovative organization serving the 50+ or a time-tested one that has supported older adults in need for years, we welcome your grant application.”


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