Key Points

Foundation practice — how a foundation goes about its work — plays a significant role in determining the results of the work, particularly for foundations that take on roles that position them as part of the action rather than solely as sources of funds.

This article aims to build upon the lessons from past place-based work by examining the practices of The California Endowment as it designed and implemented Building Healthy Communities, a 10-year initiative to promote health equity. The initiative combined intensive investment in 14 historically disinvested communities with sophisticated state- and regional-level policy campaigns and coalition-building strategies to shift the public narrative toward a deeper understanding of systemic inequities and the potential of people power to transform them.

More specifically, the article focuses on how the Foundation’s board was recruited, managed, nurtured, and leveraged to ensure support for the initiative over 10 years. Longterm community and systems-change work is notoriously challenging for foundation boards. The article suggests seven strategies that appeared key to effective board governance of Building Healthy Communities, and ends with some reflections on what it takes for a private foundation to succeed in such a complex and long-term enterprise.

Open Access Sponsor

Support for this open access article was provided by The California Endowment.

Open Access