Discretionary Grants Program De-Mystified

Discretionary Grants Program De-Mystified

It can be helpful every once in a while to review an existing program or process with a fresh set of eyes.  For the past several months, we have been transitioning the management of our Discretionary Grants program from Jake Grindle to Kathryn Rouillard.  In doing so, we have had a number of conversations about the intent of the program’s funding guidelines, what we look for in potential projects, and why.  

MeHAF has a set of guidelines for the Discretionary Grants program that is intended to help narrow the pool of applicants to those most aligned with the program’s intent.  We know that nonprofit organizations have to make tough decisions every day about how to spend precious time and, given that our budget allows for a limited number of grants per year, we want to avoid organizations expending resources preparing an application that might not be funded.

So, what is likely to be funded?  What follows are a few key characteristics and concrete examples intended to shed some light on this:

Through our Discretionary Grants program, we are looking to support projects that are closely related to our mission, but may fall outside our competitive grant program areas.

  • For example, under our Access for All priority, we do not have a program that is focused on transportation as it relates to health care.  Transportation, as you know, can be a significant barrier to accessing quality health care services.  Through our Discretionary Grants program, we recently approved a grant to support consulting services for the facilitation of a series of stakeholder meetings in a rural area of the state to troubleshoot transportation issues (including those issues related to health care) and develop a set of recommendations.

Rather than providing a narrowly defined set of activities that might not be the right approach for their projects, we invite interested applicants to come to us with creative ideas that are responsive to their needs.  

  • For example, we were recently approached by an organization that wanted to support an intern to collect data from a county jail to determine whether there was a correlation between budget cuts to jail-based services, availability of behavioral health services, and inmates’ behavioral health outcomes.  This organization proposed a policy research and analysis project that responded to a need they identified and aligned with our priority to promote better care for those who have behavioral health conditions.

Through our Discretionary Grants program, we are hoping to test innovative approaches that could shape the way organizations serve our priority population.  

  • For example, MeHAF has funded a number of projects to pilot a new approach to improve health outcomes for underserved people.  Pilot projects typically include a clear timeframe, a defined group of participants, a proposed method to assess impact, and a commitment to reflecting on lessons learned to inform future work.  

Discretionary grants are intended to meet short-term, immediate needs.  

  • For example, MeHAF has funded minor purchases of dental or medical equipment for clinics that serve uninsured people because the equipment can be used to immediately increase access and availability to needed services.  

The structure of our Discretionary Grants program allows us – and applicants –  to be reactive in a dynamic and highly changeable environment.   

  • Our discretionary grants entail less effort in development and administration than our competitive grant programs.  There is no competitive RFP process, there is a simple application process, and proposals are accepted and reviewed by a team of staff reviewers on a rolling basis.  Consequently, requests and awards are typically processed in a matter of weeks.

The program helps us to build relationships with and support the work of a wider variety of health-focused organizations.

  • Because the discretionary grant process is less time- and resource-intensive for applicants than our competitive grant programs, the program is more accessible to smaller organizations that may have limited capacity to apply for other types of MeHAF funding.  

Our use of the word “discretionary” to describe our grants program is actually a fairly literal one – the program is for “discrete” projects that have a clear start and end date and will be completed within one year.  It also gives us some “discretion” to consider projects from lesser-known organizations, try new ways to address complex issues, and address our mission from different vantage points.  On this last point, interested applicants often have the opportunity to talk through their proposed project with MeHAF program staff.  

We would welcome a conversation with you to learn more about your proposed project:

Kathryn Rouillard, Program Officer,, (207) 620-8266 x118
Jake Grindle, Program Officer,, (207) 620-8266 x107


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