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March 7, 2016 / Ciara Myers, Editor

The penny isn’t always shiny and new

by Tamara Lucas Copeland
President
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

On Friday, the Washington City Paper featured a major article on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the District of Columbia. It highlighted several excellent programs, such as the Washington AIDS Partnership’s Positive Pathways’ community health workers, celebrated the leadership of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and very candidly reminded us all of what happens when a funder – be it the federal government, a national funder, or a local grantmaker – stops funding in a given area; successful programs are put in jeopardy.

We – social profit organizations – always know that such a reality is possible, but we continue to believe, as the funding community often tells us to, that if we just show impact, if the evaluation data reflects positive outcomes, the financial support will remain. But that is not always true. As Channing Wickham, executive director of the Washington AIDS Partnership, an initiative of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, pointed out in the article, “It’s an unfortunate reality […] HIV  is no longer a new and exciting issue.” He continued by saying, “In this work, in year one a new program is exciting. By the fifth year, even if you have results … it’s not the latest thing on the block.” His remarks reflect the perception that some funders prioritize being on the cutting-edge, changing their goals as new research emerges or as new leadership takes the helm.

So what do we do?

To the social profit organizations, I say evaluation data is definitely a key part of the protective coating, but, as you know, it isn’t the only ingredient to safeguard continuing funding. You need visibility for your issue, like what HIV/AIDS received in that major article in Friday’s paper. You need a champion like Barbara Jordan was for funding for HIV/AIDS programs during her service on the Freddie Mac Foundation Board years ago and Mayor Bowser seems to be today. And, even with the data, the visibility, and the champion, your funder may still close his doors or decide to change funding priorities. It’s not a new story. You must continue to be nimble, telling all who will listen about the need and about your impact, be a visible advocate, and always work to broaden your base of support.

To the funding community, just a reminder: sometimes the right intervention isn’t new and flashy. It is grounded in research. It is making a difference. It is simply tried and true – the community health worker, the peer counselor, the mentor. Not the shiny new penny, but the value is the same.

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