Discretionary Grants Program Updates: The Equity Effect

Discretionary Grants Program Updates: The Equity Effect

As we share in our 2017 Annual Report, we spent much of the past year learning more about equity.  One of my many takeaways from this journey is that efforts to increase equity can have results that are better for everyone.  A wonderful article that illustrates this point well is The Curb-Cut Effect by Angela Glover Blackwell. The first “curb cuts,” installed in Berkeley in 1972, were intended to benefit people in wheelchairs, but also ended up helping people pushing carts to/from grocery stores or laundromats, travelers wheeling luggage, and parents pushing strollers.  This concept applies to some of the changes we have recently made in our Discretionary Grants program, inspired by our organizational equity assessment in 2017.  They are intended to make our processes easier to navigate, our applications easier to complete, and our decisions easier to understand… for everyone. 

We took a small step in this direction when we published a blog post in May 2017, which focused on de-mystifying the Discretionary Grants program.  All of the characteristics of “fundable” projects that were named in this post are now reflected in our updated program guidelines.  In the spirit of one of the program goals, “to build relationships with and support the work of a wider variety of health-focused organizations,” we have reduced the list of project types MeHAF will not fund, moving others to a frequently asked questions page.  This allows for greater program flexibility and opens the door to a conversation with the Program Officer for further consideration and discussion.  

Applicants will now able to submit their letter of inquiry (LOI) through our online grantmaking portal.  This change allows us to better track and analyze which applications are being funded and which are not.  This may help us identify and address unintended barriers to successfully competing for funding.  The move to make the process fully online will also reduce the time it takes to prepare an application because invited applicants will be able to access and review/edit their original online LOI responses rather than having to recreate them. 

The intent of our Discretionary Grants program is to provide an accessible, low barrier, quick turnaround funding opportunity for our nonprofit partners.  With this in mind, we did a critical review of our Discretionary Grant application and reporting requirements.  The revised application has two primary questions.  The first is: “how will your proposed project focus on groups or populations that face disproportionate barriers to accessing health services and achieving the best possible health?”  The second provides an opportunity for applicants to tell us how their proposed project exemplifies one or more key characteristics (e.g., responds to an emerging issue, pilots a new or creative approach, supports the work of smaller organizations).

Similarly, we re-evaluated the final narrative report template to pare it back to a few key questions, essentially: what did you do, why did you do it, and what was the outcome? Because we still want to know how the project furthered your mission and priorities; what, if anything, you learned from the project that will inform your future work; and what, if any, aspect(s) of the project you plan to continue, Discretionary Grant recipients will also be asked to participate in a short, 30-minute debrief call with the Program Officer.  The following considerations factored into this change: often we schedule follow up calls with grantees anyway, debrief calls provide an additional opportunity for relationship building with the Program Officer, and debrief calls may be preferable for organizations whose leadership speaks English as a second language. 

As we pilot this new approach to our Discretionary Grants program, we invite and encourage you to share candid feedback with Program Officer Kathryn Rouillard at or by phone, (207) 620-8266 x 118.


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