It’s the most charitable time of the year. Known as National Giving Month in the United States, nearly one-third of American donations occur in December. Historically, most philanthropy has focused on providing goods and services to people in need, but more recent efforts have aimed to target communities’ holistic needs—providing resources and infrastructure to address local social and economic issues. This kind of giving—known as place-based philanthropy—often relies on close coordination with local organizations and residents who best know the most pressing needs and the strategies to address them.
NYU Steinhardt professor Beth Weitzman has evaluated a range of philanthropic programs designed to meet people's health, social service, housing, and educational needs. Most recently, she and co-authors from NYU Steinhardt, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and two New York-based foundations published Exploring Flexibility in Philanthropic Funding for Place-Based Efforts to Improve Community Health: Reflections on a New York State Multisite Initiative, discussing their findings from an evaluation of the $22 million Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative. The initiative, a six-year effort in nine geographically and demographically diverse communities across New York State, aimed to facilitate healthy living through environmental and policy changes that enhance access to nourishing, affordable food and effective spaces for physical activity. The initiative was a collaborative effort between the New York Health Foundation’s Healthy Neighborhoods Fund Initiative and The New York Community Trust’s South Bronx Healthy and Livable Neighborhoods initiative.
In her report, Weitzman and her co-authors evaluated unique successes and pitfalls that offered valuable lessons for future place-based philanthropy.
Local vs Foundation Priorities
When governmental or philanthropic organizations fund a prescribed model for making change in a community, local needs, strengths, and experiences might not be sufficiently considered. The Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative was designed to build on local knowledge to enhance the likelihood of success, even as the funders had specific goals. Ongoing and respectful communication proved key to balancing these perspectives.