Philanthropy Fellows in the Field: Building new skills for a career in public health

By Jessica Finkel
Philanthropy Fellow at Kaiser Permanente 

Jessica is a Master’s student at the University of Maryland. She is working toward an MPP degree focused on nonprofit management and leadership.

As I entered my final year of grad school, I knew that now was my opportunity to further my professional development in a way that only a fellowship experience would provide. Along came the amazing opportunity to serve as a Philanthropy Fellow with Kaiser Permanente, working with the Community Benefit department. Prior to my fellowship, I only knew Kaiser as a healthcare organization, but I have learned there is much more to the organization. Kaiser works on the ground, creating educational programming and funding opportunities to improve total health for the communities it serves. It strives to find innovative ways to eliminate health disparities among groups.

I can tell in the past 5 months of my fellowship how much I have grown professionally and intellectually. Not only have I worked with incredible people, but I have been able to explore my interests within the public health realm to see how public policy and public health work together. From day one, I became part of the team and have benefited from the passion and excitement each person brings to their work. As part of my fellowship, I have worked on the creation of the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) with a team of consultants and KP staff. Using primary and secondary data analysis, and data triangulation, together we created a thorough process to identify top priority needs within the Mid-Atlantic States. Just recently, we presented our methods and findings to the rest of the Community Benefit team, and the response was overwhelming. It has been extraordinary to see how the CHNA has transformed from conversations and brainstorming into something that Kaiser is going to use to move forward in their strategic refresh and community planning.

My fellowship has been one of the most invaluable experiences I have had during my Master’s program. Not only have I gained a rich understanding of various methods of data analysis, but I have also found my passion in policy and public health: how health disparities within minority populations impact individuals and communities. I have also seen how a truly effective team operates, and learned how vital it is to ensure that everyone is at the decision-making table. I have seen first-hand how collective decisions positively shape Kaiser’s grant making and impact in the community. Looking forward into my own career, this experience has provided new insight into how a large organization operates, strengthened my data analysis abilities, and taught me the importance of making organizational decisions collaboratively.

The Philanthropy Fellows program is WRAG’s signature partnership with the University of Maryland’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. WRAG Members: Interested in hosting a Philanthropy Fellow? Contact Rebekah Seder to learn more about the program. Applications are due by May 13.

Veterans often faced with long waits for health care

A new audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that veterans enrolling in health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs are typically faced with months-long waits before ever being able to see a medical provider. Wait-time manipulation and scheduling errors were found to be significant factors in causing such delays. (WaPo, 4/19)

The average waiting time — as measured from the time veterans requested that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen — at the six medical centers GAO studied ranged from 22 to 71 days. Of the 180 veterans GAO tracked, 60 still hadn’t been seen by the time the auditors ended their review last month, in several cases because VA never followed up on their requests to be contacted or because of other administrative errors.

FOOD/ENVIRONMENT | Op-ed: Celeste James of Kaiser Permanente and Ryan Strode of Arabella Advisors discuss the importance of building a “Good Food” system that uses sustainable farming practices and protects the Chesapeake Bay by avoiding large-scale industrial agriculture and over-fishing in the area. (Baltimore Sun, 4/13)

COMMUNITY | Inter-American Development Bank has launched a newly revamped Improving Lives grants program, open to nonprofit organizations serving low-income Latin American and Caribbean communities in the Washington metropolitan area. The program will combine five grants of up to $50,000 each with skills-based volunteering, and is aimed at promoting innovative projects involving community and economic development, health and well-being, education or the arts. Eligible organizations in the region may apply for grants by submitting proposals before 6 pm (EST) May 19, 2016. For more information, please read the requirements or write to

MARYLAND/ECONOMY | In a recent State of the Economy address, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker spoke on his vision for making the jurisdiction a high-demand area for business. (WBJ, 4/13)

– How can organizations in the social sector work to build more diverse workplaces and address persistent institutional biases? Here are three key tools that may lead to success. (SSIR, 4/14)

– Feds urged to fight ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring and promotions (WaPo, 4/14)

TRANSIT | Bikeshare services, convenient and healthy, have long been a great option for those who can afford their annual memberships. Now, one service is expanding its reach to lower-income District residents by implementing need-based annual membership fees. (DCist, 4/13)

Washington AIDS Partnership, an initiative of WRAG that invests more than $1 million annually in local organizations to improve HIV/AIDS and health-related services, seeks a program associate.

– All Ages Read Together seeks an executive director.

New Majority Labs, an organization dedicated to empowering communities of color to identify and build solutions to their own challenges using data and community engagement tools, recently tasked seven black youth from the District’s Ivy City neighborhood with conducting a survey of their neighbors, then used their findings to develop a hip hop song about the evolving community.

– Ciara

Meet the 2015-2016 Philanthropy Fellows

(Back row: Catherine Oidtman, Rebecca Kates, Sarah Gordon; Front row: Hannah Davis, Dominique Covelli, Jessica Finkel)

The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers is excited to welcome the 2015-2016 Philanthropy Fellows! Nine students from the University of Maryland’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership are working at WRAG member organizations this year:

  • Alex Gabriel is undertaking research for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s foundation assessment initiative, Philamplify, with Lisa Ranghelli.
  • Catherine Oidtman is working with Crystal Townsend of the Healthcare Initiative Foundation, assisting with grants administration and the implementation of the HIF Scholars professional mentoring program.
  • Dominique Covelli is strengthening Grantmakers in Health’s communications and marketing efforts with Leila Polintan.
  • Hannah Davis is supporting the development and administration of WRAG’s Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility with Katy Moore.
  • Jessica Finkel is assisting with the design of Kaiser Permanente’s philanthropic strategy, working with Tanya Edelin.
  • Mary Kolar is supporting the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’s Safety Net Initiative and Philanthropic Services grantmaking programs with Silvana Straw.
  • Rebecca Kates is supporting grantmaking, communications, and donor services with Amina Anderson at the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.
  • Sarah Gordon is working with Phyllis Kaye and WRAG’s Healthy Communities Working Group on developing effective communications about the social determinants of health to reach a wider funder audience.
  • Shaundra Patterson is researching potential national funding partners with Nicky Goren in support of the Meyer Foundation’s new strategic plan.

These students are gaining valuable professional experience in philanthropy, making new connections in the community, and bringing fresh ideas and energy to their host organizations. To learn more about each fellow, click here. Check out our website to learn more about WRAG’s Philanthropy Fellows program.

Housing tops reason for moving out of the District

New data from the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer examines why people opt to move in and out of the District. For many, the choice to leave comes directly down to housing (WSJ, 6/9):

Between 2000 and 2014, about 165,500 people moved into the District either because of a new job or a job transfer. Attending college and wanting an easier commute are also top reasons for moving into the District.

By contrast, nearly 494,000 people moved out of the District between 2000 and 2014 for housing reasons, like better housing or a better neighborhood, to buy a home, or for cheaper housing expenses.

Of those who moved out of the District between 2000 and 2014, 42 percent moved to Maryland or Virginia.

– In many areas, Housing Choice Vouchers – meant, in part, to break up concentrations of poverty and create more mixed-income neighborhoods – have yet to diversify neighborhoods as intended. (Atlantic, 6/8)

Popped: D.C. Restricts Pop-Ups, Condo Conversions In Residential Neighborhoods (WAMU, 6/9)

COMMUNITY/CSR | Congratulations to WRAG members Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One, and Kaiser Permanente for being named finalists in this year’s Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Corporate Citizenship Awards in the category of Outstanding Corporate Citizen of the Year (Large Business). Booz Allen Hamilton took home the honor at last week’s ceremony.

AGING/LGBT | Many LGBT seniors face uncertainty over housing when it comes to finding safe, supportive options. Soon, a nonprofit in D.C. will provide just that with a new development. Very few like it exist in the country. (Elevation, 6/8)

Opinion: With no shortage of shocking new data in the media about the plight of black families in America, one long-running narrative is that black fathers are more than likely absent from the lives of their children. In this op-ed, one writer seeks to break down the common rhetoric with a different take on the numbers. (NYT, 6/8)

How to Tell a Lie With Numbers: Racial Mythologies (NPQ, 6/8)

PHILANTHROPY/NONPROFITS | After launching an initiative that sought to shift relationships between foundations and nonprofits, The Chronicle of Philanthropy shares some of the challenges involved in that project, and provides recommendations for each group to undertake in order to further improve communications. (Chronicle, 6/8)

MARYLAND | Montgomery County’s Unemployment Rate Drops to Lowest Point in Seven Years (Bethesda Beat, 5/8)

In Virginia, an unintentional monument, you can’t visit just yet

– Ciara

Health care systems ramp up efforts to assist hardest-to-help patients

For many Americans, health issues are further complicated by the effects of addiction, homelessness, and poverty. For that reason, a number of health systems across the country – including Kaiser Permanentehave begun experiments in providing more comprehensive care for those in poverty, in an effort to curb the high costs of care. (NYT, 3/22)

What is [the health care system’s] role in tackling problems of poverty? And will addressing those problems save money?

“We had this forehead-smacking realization that poverty has all of these expensive consequences in health care,” said Ross Owen, a county health official who helps run the experiment here [in Hennepin County, Minnesota]. “We’d pay to amputate a diabetic’s foot, but not for a warm pair of winter boots.”

Now health systems around the nation are trying to buy the boots, metaphorically speaking. In Portland, Ore., health outreach workers help patients get driver’s licenses and give them essentials, such as bus tickets, blankets, calendars and adult diapers. In New York, medical teams are trained to handle eviction notices like medical emergencies. In Philadelphia, community health workers shop for groceries with diabetic patients

– Foundations of every size are “getting on the map!” Lori Jackson, executive manager at the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust, shares why they’re joining a growing list of funders in e-reporting their grants data to the Foundation Center. (Daily, 3/23)

What becomes of an initiative once funders have ended support and hand the program over to the community? Results may vary greatly, but there are ways to continue moving forward and increase the odds of sustainability. (SSIR, 3/13)

Urban Institute Gets $8.4 Million to Help Measure Pay-for-Success Programs (Chronicle, 3/18)

CSR | On April 1, 2014, the India Companies Act went into effect. The new law requires companies meeting certain criteria to spend 2 percent of rolling average net profits from the past three financial years on specific CSR activities. WRAG member and 2015 Institute for CSR class member, Anita Whitehead, from KPMG LLP gives a succinct overview of the new rule and how it affects companies working in the country. (TCB Blogs, 3/3)

VIRGINIAAttorney General appoints NOVA community outreach coordinator (Fairfax Times, 3/20)

DISTRICT | Ahead of Mayor Bowser’s first State of the District speech and budget proposal, this week will be dedicated to offering a preview of key themes that are expected to be discussed as part of the “Pathways to the Middle Class” agenda. (WaPo, 3/23)

ARTS | Brentwood Arts Exchange looks to move beyond walls in next five years (Gazette, 3/19)

FOOD | Both Parties Agree The Food Stamp Program Needs to Change. But How? (NPR, 3/20)

A beautiful, extraordinary, and priceless work of art…or just a generic print from Ikea?

– Ciara

Regional cooperation needed for future of Metro

Washington City Paper has an extensive look at the current state of the beleaguered Metro system and asks the question on many rider’s minds: will it ever get better? The outlook is bleak without a regional vision for the future of transit in the area. (WCP, 2/4)

The trouble […] is that there are considerable structural impediments to expanding the Metro system in step with the District’s needs. No matter how big the city gets, how maxed out its roads, how high the demand, how keen the desire for expansion to underserved neighborhoods, Metro won’t be able to keep up.

Partly, it’s the unwillingness of suburban jurisdictions to sign on to (and help pay for) any new stations or lines. If they’re getting grumpy about funding the operating expenses needed to maintain the meager status quo, good luck getting a green light for expanded service in the District.

COMMUNITY | Today WRAG announced the launch of Get on the Map, a major new initiative to improve the quality, timeliness, and availability of data for and about funders in the Greater Washington region. By e-reporting grants data to the Foundation Center, funders will populate a custom version of Foundation Maps, a highly interactive, searchable mapping platform that will visualize grantmaking in the Greater Washington region. WRAG members, click here to learn more.

HEALTH | Brian Castrucci of the de Beaumont Foundation delves deep into the similarities between our nation’s bridges and the public health system. They’re more alike than you may think! (HuffPo, 2/3)

ARTS |  A plan for a contemporary art museum at the District’s Franklin School building, that would be known as the Institute for Contemporary Expression, may be put on hold as officials and proponents clash over fundraising and timelines. (WaPo, 2/5)

POVERTY | A writer shares his experience going through a memorable poverty simulation exercise supported by Kaiser Permanente during the recent New Partners for Smart Growth conference that proved to be – in a word – sobering. (City Lab, 2/5)

FOOD/AGING | With many older adults in the District living in poverty and on their own, nonprofits and officials in the area are working together to find unique ways to fight against senior hunger. (WaPo, 2/4)

DISTRICT | D.C., where blacks are no longer a majority, has a new African American affairs director (WaPo, 2/4)

HOMELESSNESS | Giving housing to the homeless is three times cheaper than leaving them on the streets (Vox, 2/4)

From now on, I will think of Lulea, Sweden every time I’m about to complain about winter weather.

– Ciara

A difficult recovery of wealth for once thriving black families in Prince George’s County

The Washington Post presents a multi-part series (part 1 and part 2) on the rise and fall of Prince George’s County’s black middle class. The community’s residents, once a majority of affluent black families, experienced a great deal of loss as a result of the housing crisis fueled by subprime loans – losses that have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to recover from. (WaPo, 1/24 and 1/25)

African Americans for decades flocked to Prince George’s County to be part of a phenomenon that has been rare in American history: a community that grew more upscale as it became more black.


But today, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county stands out for a different reason — its residents have lost far more wealth than families in neighboring, majority-white suburbs. And while every one of these surrounding counties is enjoying a strong rebound in housing prices and their economies, Prince George’s is lagging far behind, and local economists say a full recovery appears unlikely anytime soon.

REGION | Lately, our region has been challenged with urgent calls to action from leaders concerned about the area economy. In this letter to the editor printed in The Washington Business Journal, WRAG president, Tamara Copeland, writes about why she applauds this call, and pledged philanthropy’s support of their effort. (WRAG, 1/26)

WRAG | Community service is often handed out by judges in a court of law as punishment, but shouldn’t it be viewed as a high calling? WRAG board member Wilton Corkern, trustee of the Corina Higginson Trust, recently wrote a letter to the editor printed in The Washington Post, where he shares his thoughts on the heels of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s sentencing. (WaPo, 1/8)

– Today, the Washington Regional Food Funders (WRFF) publish their policy brief, An Equitable Regional Food System For Greater Washington: The Imperative and Opportunity for Change. In this high-level overview of the range of work underway to transform our region’s food system, WRFF urges our region’s political leaders to become more deeply engaged in ensuring that everyone in our region has equitable access to good food.

– On Wednesday, January 28th, WRAG members Celeste A. James (Kaiser Permanente) and Yanique Redwood (Consumer Health Foundation) will be leading panels at the New Partners for Smart Growth preconference workshop entitled, Healthy Food Systems: Opportunities to Grow Resilient, Equitable Communities 2.0. Information on registration for this workshop at the Baltimore Hilton Hotel can be found here.

– Amid news of the upcoming Dupont underground arts space, The Kojo Nnamdi Show explores what it takes to create more development for the arts in the region. (WAMU, 1/22)

– Though there are hubs for art in a number of areas across the District, one area lacking space for artists is Ward 7. There, some artists are looking to change that. (East City Art, 1/22)

DISTRICT | 3 Ways DC Could Be a Very Different Place by 2030 (DCInno, 1/23)

– Facing a steadily rising population boom, Arlington officials grapple with how to accommodate an unprecedented rise in the student population – and quickly. (WaPo, 1/23)

Full day kindergarten, specialty busing, all on chopping block at Prince William schools (Potomac Local, 1/23)

POVERTY | Study: Poor Boys Are More Likely to Fight, Lie, and Steal if They Live in Mixed-Income Housing (New Republic, 1/22)

Forget player stats and averages…let’s breakdown Super Bowl Sunday by the numbers that really matter – like how many chicken wings will people eat?

– Ciara