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Funders Meet with SAMHSA Official; Explain How Foundations Can Work with Government

March 17th, 2011

The Grantmakers in Health (GIH) Behavioral Health Funders Network caught the Hollywood bug at the annual meeting of GIH, held in Los Angeles in early March. At a breakfast meeting with John O’Brien, senior advisor on health care financing at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the network presented its Top-Ten Things Foundations Can Bring to Partnerships with Government list.

At the meeting, O’Brien shared SAMHSA’s strategic plan for 2011-2014 with the network, which is a special interest group within GIH that has almost seventy members. SAMHSA’s message includes the following: behavioral health is essential for health; prevention works; treatment is effective; and people recover from mental and substance use disorders. SAMHSA also promotes integrated care (behavioral health and primary care), parity in insurance coverage, and participant-directed care (in which individuals determine what mix of services and supports works best for them). The network supports these principles.

Most governments—local, state, and national—often do not realize what terrific partners foundations can be. And, honestly, sometimes foundations forget what great partners governments can be. Public-private partnerships can greatly enhance the work of both sectors by aligning, supporting, and enriching each other’s work. To that end, here’s the list we presented to O’Brien:

1. Knowledge and experience to help inform efforts. Foundations have been supporting projects that integrate behavioral health and primary care for some time. We can share what we’ve learned with government to inform public efforts.

2. Nonpartisan analysis and study. Foundations can provide an independent, objective view and bring in perspectives from health care providers, businesses, community leaders, and the person on the street.

3. Financial resources to leverage greater impact. Foundations and government entities can coordinate their giving to fund new projects, which would enhance the chances of those projects succeeding. This could occur by co-funding projects or by offering matching grants.

4. Common strategies to reduce duplication and conflict. Foundations have their goals and objectives, and so do government entities. Sometimes, trying to meet those divergent missions pulls grantees in different directions or leads to duplication of efforts. When possible, foundations and government entities should work together on common strategies; this would produce better results.

5. Neutral conveners. Foundations are usually seen as unbiased and can convene disparate stakeholders to discuss hot issues on neutral ground.

6. Technical assistance. Foundations can provide advice and training to enhance government initiatives. For example, foundations can fund training to develop skills in current and future public-sector leaders, fund planning grants to assist health providers in obtaining government grants, or fund consultants to lend expertise to local, state, or federal projects.

7. Program evaluation. Foundations have developed ways to evaluate the effectiveness of programs they’ve funded. We can support nonprofits as they evaluate their government-funded projects and share with government what we’ve learned about evaluation.

8. Support of local work to complement new government initiatives. Not every worthy program will receive state or federal grants to get started. Foundations can provide start-up funding for local programs that parallel government initiatives to broaden the impact on the community.

9. Jump-start government priorities. Some practices are encouraged by the government but not funded. For example, the federal government encourages using evidence-based treatments in health care but doesn’t always provide money to bring these treatments into nonprofit provider agencies. Foundations can provide start-up funding to jump-start these kinds of efforts.

10. Being a testing ground for innovative programs. Foundations can play a role in funding cutting-edge ideas and determining what it would take to scale up the successful practices.

At the end of the meeting, O’Brien said he would serve as the contact person for the developing relationship between the network and SAMHSA. He also promised to make sure that foundations are at the table for upcoming discussions at SAMSHA. He kept to his word: Thomas Adams from the Missouri Foundation for Health, a member of the network, participated in SAMHSA’s national dialogue regarding the role of behavioral health in public life; the event was held on Mar. 15, only eleven days after the breakfast meeting.

The Behavioral Health Funders Network hopes to keep this momentum going. If you’re interested in learning more about the network, please contact Emily Art, program associate at GIH. She can be reached at or 202-452-8331.

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1 Response to “Funders Meet with SAMHSA Official; Explain How Foundations Can Work with Government”

  1. Paul Gionfriddo Says:

    This is an excellent and timely entry. States around the country are making people with behavioral health problems pay for tax cuts and budget deficitsthrough deep cuts to mental health budgets. In this environment, foundations will be needed more than ever both to help inform policy leaders about the significant needs of people with mental illness and to invest in some of the strategies that will make a positive difference in their lives. Primary, chronic disease, and behavioral health care integration is a most promising strategy, and the foundations who have invested in this have led the way for what may be some of the most progressive health policy initiatives of the coming decade or two. Janice Bogner, Thomas Adams, Emily Art, and other leaders in philanthropy are to be commended for their work in the area.

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