Giving Compass' Take:

• Steve Coen, former President and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation, shares what he has learned using philanthropy to improve the health systems in Kansas. 

• What health issues is your local community foundation focused on?

• Read more about how philanthropy can help communities reach health goals. 

At the end of July 2019, I’ll be retiring after 31 years in health philanthropy at the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF).

“To improve the health of all Kansans” has been our mission since day one. For more than 30 years, we have been able to be a small part of some very significant health improvements. Through partnerships and community collaboratives in all corners of the state, we have improved the health of all Kansans in immeasurable ways. It’s been a rewarding ride.

While it’s hard to believe that this journey is coming to an end, my upcoming retirement has given me the opportunity to reflect on these wonderful years. I’d like to share a few of the most important things I’ve learned.

We began the Giving Resources to Our World (GROW) initiative, a 20-year, $60 million investment to create or grow community foundations across our state. This financial boost helped create a sustainable source of local funds to use for more strategic, community-based grant making.

Through GROW, community foundations were able to build upon KHF investments to increase their total assets from $19 million to more than $693 million in 20 years (1999–2018). If it weren’t for investing millions of dollars in Kansas community foundations to build capacity, I truly believe we wouldn’t have seen as much local grant making, or the growth of local philanthropic leadership and resources that have made Kansas healthier and more prosperous—and will continue to do so for years to come.

Over the years, we have continued this philosophy of capacity building by providing core (general operating) support to grantees and maximizing our resources to tackle challenging policy issues and help build a stronger cadre of health organizations.

As we worked within communities or advocated for policy changes, we saw a need for two critical pieces: data and leadership. We saw this as a great opportunity to establish long-term, supporting infrastructure systems. So we created the Kansas Health Institute (KHI) and the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC). The KHF provides ongoing operational support to each of these separate nonprofit organizations.

When it was founded, the KHI was unique in its standing as a health policy–focused educational organization that was independent, not attached to a university, and supported mainly through philanthropy. The KHI has become a trusted source of objective, accurate information for legislators, the media, and other organizations in Kansas and across the United States. Since then, other states (including Colorado and Ohio) have established similar institutes using this model.

I’m proud of how these organizations have become interconnected with our philanthropy work, but more importantly, how they have become great assets to people and organizations across the state working to improve Kansas.

Read the full article about three decades of improving health in Kansas by Steve Coen at Health Affairs.