The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, established by the head of Johnson & Johnson, has a special interest in health care and is one of America’s largest foundations. Big national foundations rarely consider grants to small local projects, and when they do it is typically in a top-down fashion, recruiting locals to execute one of their national projects. But in 1987, RWJF inaugurated a new program, eventually known as Local Funding Partnerships, which gave grants in the $50,000–$500,000 range to local organizations who come with their own ideas on what problem to attack, and how to do it. “The best ideas for solving pressing community problems,” explains the foundation, “come from members of the communities themselves.” Local funders were required to provide a dollar-for-dollar match to each grant.
The program was instantly popular and highly competitive, with just 6 percent of the hundreds of annual proposals winning awards. Some sample projects that were funded: Preventing teen pregnancies among Hmong refugees in Minnesota (1988). Providing support services to frail elderly so they can remain in their homes in Maryland (1989). Creating dental care for people with AIDS in Texas (1992). A Los Angeles program to combat teenage obesity (1998). An effort to reduce emergency-room visits by homeless adults in Georgia (1999). A satellite clinic in Ohio for Amish children with rare genetic disorders (2002).
In addition to money, RWJF offered expertise and managerial guidance to its local grant winners. In 2013, the last annual meeting of the Local Funding Partnerships program was held. By then, pairing grants from a national donor with local ideas and local matching funding had become a philanthropic commonplace, and many of the experimental health interventions tried through the program were accepted practices.
A total of 369 grants in 49 states were given during the 25-year life of the Local Funding Partnerships program. A 2002 outside evaluation found that fully 75 percent of the experimental projects launched by the partnership turned into sustained and successful health-care programs.
- History of the Local Funding Partnerships, lifp.org/html/aboutus/history.html