A New Generation of Foundations

July-August 2000


Today's Catholic Foundations, Increasingly Active and Collaborative, Are Extending the Ministry's Influence

Hospital and local institutional foundations have traditionally raised funds in order to acquire capital equipment, construct new buildings, and pay for special projects. Over time, such foundations have developed a remarkable track record. They have both furthered the mission of individual organizations and strengthened their connections to their communities.

Today, however, a new breed of Catholic foundations is bringing fresh vitality to the healthcare ministry. These new foundations and funds often originate in the transfer of healthcare assets or as the result of a designation of particular assets by a healthcare system. (The recently formed Christus Fund, Houston, which provides resources specifically for the promotion of community health, is an example of a fund, as opposed to a foundation.) Some foundations are sponsored by religious congregations and contribute to the support of ministries outside healthcare. Others are under the direction of Catholic healthcare systems and are dedicated primarily to providing resources to those systems. These foundations encourage projects and initiatives that, in the pioneering and creative spirit of the founding congregations, support outreach efforts.

Several of these foundations restrict the scope of their grant making to the specific geographic areas in which their sponsored institutions are located. Others have national and international connections. Some foundations make healthcare their primary focus, whereas others support a broad range of ministerial endeavors. Some foundations award grants to local not-for-profit groups whose activities range from direct healthcare service, on one hand, to advocacy and the promotion of healthy communities, on the other.

Although they vary in the resources they have available for funding and in the types of ministry they fund, the new foundations are congruent in their missions. Each intends its grants to:

  • Extend the healing ministry of Christ
  • Serve the poor through health, education, and social services
  • Promote healthy communities
  • Address populations at risk
  • Improve community health status
  • Promote direct service, advocacy, and systemic change

The populations targeted by these grant makers include the poor and underserved, women, children, and the elderly. Some funded activities try to improve access to healthcare, working for reform at the state and national levels. Others address health and wellness education, spiritual healthcare, or grassroots organizing, thereby enabling the sponsoring foundations to participate in outreach and community development.

The Catholic Foundations Network
In March 1998, SC Ministry Foundation, based in Cincinnati, brought 15 Catholic foundations together for a conference in that city. Among other topics, the participants discussed grant application management, criteria for funding, and evaluation processes. They also identified several collaborative activities that they hoped would support and strengthen their individual efforts. The participants agreed to:

  • Establish an Internet connection among grant recipients
  • Share research, projects, and expertise
  • Archive successful projects for modeling and replication
  • Share training materials helpful to grant seekers

At the most recent gathering, hosted this March by the Allegany Franciscan Foundation in Clearwater, FL, the participants focused on the changing face of poverty, discussing both current realities and systemic causes. With input from Network: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Washington, DC, they talked about the problems faced today by African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, and children. The participants put special emphasis on such topics as:

  • The growing gap between the poor and the rich
  • People who have neither jobs nor government assistance
  • The changing social and ethnic composition of those who depend for nourishment on soup kitchens
  • The growing white underclass
  • The experience of Native Americans

The participants agreed that foundations have, first, a mission to address such problems, and, second, the resources needed to do so. They decided to consider trying to maximize resources by collaborating on an advocacy initiative that would address the systemic causes of poverty.

This kind of consensus indicates that Catholic foundations have now adopted a transformational approach in their role as grant makers. For example, they now support innovative initiatives that extend the present areas of service and offer alternative or integrated approaches. And moving beyond their traditional, rather passive but responsive role—funding the best proposals brought to them—the new foundations are, through the funding of planning and demonstration projects, becoming active initiators of social change.

Today the new foundations are shifting their attention from specific projects that involve a limited population to projects that involve systemic processes. They look to collaborative partnerships and community involvement to address endemic, multifaceted problems, knowing that collaboration will increase the resources available and make a greater impact on the problems.

Examples of Collaboration
Complex social problems cannot be effectively addressed by individual organizations. The collaboration of multiple stakeholders is needed for systemic change. For example, the Hilton Fund for Sisters, Los Angeles, gives funding to several projects supported by the SC Ministry Foundation: La Clinica Guadalupana in El Paso, TX, and SET Ministries in Colorado and New Mexico. For its part, the SC Ministry Foundation has, in collaboration with CHA and the Campaign for Human Development, provided financial support for the Welfare to Work project.

The Incarnate Word Foundation, St. Louis This foundation collaborates with the St. Louis Health Funders, a group of hospital conversion foundations and other foundations interested in community health. The group is currently funding a maternal/child health initiative and, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, cofunding a new approach to the training of in-home child day care providers.

The Incarnate Word Foundation has also initiated a roundtable program that regularly brings grant-making and recipient organizations together to network and share insights. Through this program, the foundation has published a valuable report on various ways organizations can collaborate to improve community health and well-being.

The Mission and Ministry Fund of Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver When CHI was created in 1996, its dozen sponsoring congregations asked the system's leaders to establish a fund for the promotion of healthy communities. Since its inception, the CHI Mission and Ministry Fund has supported several collaborative projects, including the Pastoral Project on Domestic Violence in Omaha, a church-based coalition that works to prevent and respond to domestic violence (see "Community Networks," Health Progress, September-October 1999, p. 61). In this project, the Mission and Ministry Fund collaborates with Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of Omaha, and the Pastoral Awareness Network. The project's staff has developed a domestic violence workbook that will enable other communities to replicate the program.

We should note here that, when considering applications for financial support, foundations tend to look favorably on projects involving the collaboration of multiple organizations.

New Approaches to Funding
Catholic foundations today are trying new approaches to funding.

Planning Grants In 1998 the Daughters of Charity Healthcare Foundation, St. Louis, established what it calls "Healthy Communities Initiatives," a program intended to improve health in three St. Louis-area communities. Toward this end, Healthy Communities Initiatives has funded community-based planning in those neighborhoods. The foundation provides training, technical assistance, and meeting facilitation.

Technical Assistance Some foundations conduct training workshops for grant applicants and recipients. In these workshops, partnerships are formed and participants share insights with their peers. And the host foundations, by becoming better acquainted with both the projects and the personnel, are able to connect them with new projects.

Research and Advocacy The new foundations are also committing financial assets to research and advocacy. Recently, the Sisters of Charity Foundation, Canton, OH, published a booklet, Early Learning Is Forever, that emphasizes the importance of high-quality early education. The booklet gives organizations a tool with which they can be better advocates for children and more effective catalysts for change. In Stark County, OH, the foundation has made a five-year commitment to what it calls its "Quality Child Care Initiative," which it ultimately hopes to make a best-practices model for the nation.

The Incarnate Word Foundation has published a valuable reference for those providing services to children and adolescents. The booklet, Children of Promise, which suggests effective approaches to the myriad of problems facing youth, is the product of a series of roundtable discussions with social service providers that work with youth.

Healthy Communities The new Catholic foundations support a variety of new initiatives and ongoing projects in the healthcare ministry. Some, for example, fund parish nurse programs that touch the lives of people in multiple parishes. Others fund the school-based clinics and mobile clinics that enable hospitals to serve populations with limited access to basic healthcare.

The East Central Province of the Daughters of Charity, Evansville, IN, contributes to a regional Catholic Charities program that serves poor senior citizens and families at risk for child abuse in the South. The East Central Province also collaborates with Catholic Charities in the funding of a foster care treatment program for teens. St. Mary's Hospital, Saginaw, MI, a member of Ascension Health, works with Neighborhood Renewal Services of Saginaw, a local civic organization, in sponsoring a program to identify and train civic leaders. And it helps the St. Vincent de Paul Society pay for medication for the poor dispensed from St. Mary's outreach pharmacy.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation, Cleveland, devotes substantial funds to an affordable housing project. The foundation's strategic grants integrate advocacy, community awareness, predevelopment funding (money targeted for special needs populations), and capacity building (efforts to sustain and build upon successful models). This initiative promotes healthy communities by strengthening families and neighborhoods.

A More Active Role
The new Catholic foundations are stretching and reshaping traditional roles. Because they are more actively focused on community needs, the new foundations increasingly understand that they must address the root causes of societal problems and work for systemic change. Because they join collaborative partnerships with other organizations, the new foundations are seeing growth in their ability both to fund projects and to influence the larger community.

Collaboration also makes it possible for the new foundations to develop and replicate best practices and avoid duplication of effort. The foundations' willingness to monitor and train potential grant recipients teaches the latter skills with which they can seek funding from other sources. And the foundations' increasing tendency to commit themselves to long-term projects makes those projects more sustainable.

Finally, the new foundations' active relationship with the projects they fund and the people involved in them creates and strengthens a network dedicated to the perpetuation of the mission and values of Catholic healthcare.

Sr. Coyle is president, SC Ministry Foundation, Cincinnati, and chairperson, Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver.


In March a dozen Catholic foundations came together in Clearwater, FL, to discuss topics of mutual interest. The participants were:
  • Allegany Franciscan Foundation, Clearwater, FL
  • The Assisi Foundation, Memphis, TN
  • Christus Fund, Houston
  • Daughters of Charity Healthcare Foundation, St. Louis
  • East Central Province of the Daughters of Charity, Inc., Evansville, IN
  • Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Foundation, New York City
  • Incarnate Word Foundation, St. Louis
  • Mercy Health Services Foundation, Farmington Hills, MI
  • SC Ministry Foundation, Cincinnati
  • Sisters of Charity Foundation, Canton, OH
  • Sisters of Charity Foundation, Cleveland
  • Sisters of Charity Foundation, Charleston, SC


The Mission and Ministry Fund of Catholic Health Initiatives, Denver, has discovered that successful grant applications tend to contain the following elements:


  • Thorough understanding of community/client need
  • Identification of community/client expectations
  • Organizational readiness
  • Identification of existing resources and relationships


  • Measures of outcomes versus output (results rather than participation)
  • Identification of key indicators to be monitored and a clear process for monitoring and measuring
  • Clear, definitive relationship between stated objectives and evaluated outcomes
  • Relating the evaluation to the advancement of the organization's mission


  • Identification of specific plans for continuing the initiative beyond the funding period
  • Inclusion of appropriate partners and community/client stakeholders to sustain the initiative


Copyright © 2000 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

A New Generation of Foundations

Copyright © 2000 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.