A group of foundations in Kansas finds working together valuable.

As the health issues facing our nation become more complex, grantmakers will need to continually look for more innovative and strategic ways to tackle these challenges.

The leading health foundations in Kansas are collaborating in an effort called Kansas Grantmakers in Health (KGIH). From sharing information to pooling resources, KGIH members work together to benefit people in the Sunflower State in ways that the funders might not be able to do working alone.

Now, more than six years after the collaboration was born, a track record of achievement has been established, and Kansans are starting to see the benefits.

A Path to Shared Work

The KGIH collaborative was born out of informal discussions at a meeting in 2007. KGIH is made up of the state’s major health-related grantmakers: the Kansas Health Foundation, based in Wichita; Sunflower Foundation, located in Topeka; United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, located in Hutchinson; and REACH Healthcare Foundation, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, and Wyandotte Health Foundation, all based in the Kansas City area.

Though the organizations share the common lineage of being conversion foundations, they vary in terms of size and mission. Endowments range from $40 million to $475 million, and coverage areas range from statewide to specific parts of Kansas.

But despite the differences in such elements, a shared commitment to health links the work and allows for collaboration.

One of KGIH’s first collaborative efforts was helping establish the Dental Hubs and Spokes program, a response to the shortage of dental care in Kansas. The program placed dental staff at existing safety-net clinics throughout the state-—the “hubs.” Those staffs also took mobile equipment to “spokes”—such as schools and nursing homes—throughout the surrounding region to provide oral health screenings and care.

From 2007 to 2011, four KGIH members provided a majority of the $6.1 million needed for the program, in partnership with the state and several other nonprofits. Hubs were created in eight counties, with spokes providing service to a total of seventy-four counties. The hubs led to a 200 percent increase in the number of dental exams by safety-net clinics, and spokes became financially self-sustaining by receiving payments from Medicaid as well as the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, which offers affordable, low-cost health insurance for Kansas children whose family incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Action on the Affordable Care Act

KGIH members have also taken several steps to address challenges and opportunities presented by passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010. One was creating the Affordable Care Act Opportunity Fund. Since its establishment, the $450,000 fund has awarded eighteen grants of up to $30,000 each to nonprofits and other organizations around the state, which have in turn used the money for feasibility studies, building plans, and other items necessary to secure federal grants under the ACA.

The results of this leveraging strategy have been positive, with a 45 to 1 return on investment. Kansas hasn’t historically fared well in national competitions for federal grant money. But, as a result of the seed money, more than $20 million in federal health grants and programs have been brought to the state, with applications pending that could account for another $70 million to $80 million in federal funds.

KGIH used money from the Opportunity Fund to fund a study to determine the feasibility of a statewide health insurance cooperative (or “co-op”) in Kansas. The co-op would serve individuals and small businesses that have had trouble getting coverage in the past. With that study in hand, the state applied for a start-up loan, under the ACA, for the Kansas Health Cooperative. These loans, however, were eliminated as part of the congressional budget deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” The Kansas Health Cooperative subsequently has had discussions with co-ops in other states regarding possible collaborations.

Looking to the Future

Beyond the large-scale projects or big vision, sometimes the strength of the collaboration can be as simple as making funding of any nature more accessible or sharing ideas for the betterment of the state.

Recently, KGIH’s member foundations developed a uniform grant application to make it easier for organizations seeking funding from more than one member. It was a matter of reducing the burden for grantseekers.

Kansas Action for Children, a nonprofit that seeks to influence public policy to improve the health, education, and economic stability of children, was one of the first organizations to use the new application—successfully, as it turned out.

“From my perspective, it opens the doors to some other philanthropies for grantees and gives [KGIH members] the opportunity to respond in a collective way,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, executive director of Kansas Action for Children. “Not to mention, it’s just efficient.”

It is these types of discussions and strategies that will allow this unique collaboration to continue to grow, develop, and work for the benefit of Kansans.

“We’ve become folks who trust each other, argue with each other, seek out each other’s advice,” said Steve Roling, president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. “It’s just become a safe place where we can have good, enlightened discussions—all for the purpose of improving the health of the people we serve.”

Read more about KGIH’s efforts in this white paper.

Editor’s Note:

Read about KGIH’s Affordable Care Act Opportunity Fund grant to the Kansas Health Institute “to assess public knowledge about the health reform law and to develop effective ways to communicate about it” in the GrantWatch column in the February 2012 issue of Health Affairs.