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The California Wellness Foundation

April 2011

The California Wellness Foundation The mission of The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education, and disease prevention. Evaluations of TCWF's work have helped fine-tune the foundation's grantmaking efforts over time, as have partnerships with other grantmakers. The Foundation Center asked TCWF's President and CEO Gary Yates:

QuestionWhat has the California Wellness Foundation learned about the most effective ways to support nonprofits working in its areas of interest, based on its recent collaborations and evaluations?

Answer"We realized that more could be done to address the challenges that small grassroots nonprofits providing services to minority populations face in securing grants from larger foundations. Over half of our grant dollars are awarded to organizations with budgets of less than $2 million, and the majority of our grants go towards general operating support, capacity building support, or some combination of the two. The Weingart Foundation—also based in L.A.—has similar values to ours, and both of us had made separate grants to the Liberty Hill Foundation that funded technical assistance and core support for 50 small, grassroots nonprofits serving minority populations. California Wellness and Weingart's separate grants with Liberty Hill had been successful, so it made sense for us to work together on providing joint support. We welcome other opportunities to work with foundations like Liberty Hill on re-granting projects.

"Given that the state of California is essentially bankrupt, there's been a lot less government funding available for health and human service organizations, so we've been responsive to what our grantees tell us they need. We believe that most nonprofits know best how to do their work, and we lean on their expertise—I myself worked in the nonprofit field for about 20 years before arriving at the foundation. As a result of an eighteen-month strategic planning process we started in 2000, we shifted from having most of our grants be project-oriented and focused on new initiatives, with site visits and quarterly reports on 12 or more objectives—to an open application process beginning with an LOI, followed by a full proposal focused on no more than three objectives and no more than six pages long, with only an annual report required when a grant was made. Cutting down on the overall administrative burden may seem counterintuitive to those who think more monitoring leads to better outcomes, but through our evaluations, we actually found that the reverse was true, and that a more streamlined process led to better outcomes. Ultimately, "less is more."

"Based on our grantees' reports and independent evaluations we have funded, general operating support grants have had a greater impact on grantees' work than project-based grants, not only during the grant period but also afterward—the flexibility allowed them to use funds where they were most needed and accomplish goals more effectively. We found that the operating capital we provided was critical for building a stronger health and human services nonprofit sector in California."

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