Duke Endowment aims for impact

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Duke Endowment approved more grants in 2005 than any other year in its history, and speeded up a shift to be more catalytic in its grantmaking.

Created in 1924 by industrialist James B. Duke, the foundation approved $125 million in grants in 2005.

That was up from the previous record of nearly $117 million approved in 2001.

The foundation makes grants to support selected programs in the Carolinas in higher education, health care, child care and rural churches.

The increase in grants was fueled by strong investment returns on the foundation’s assets, which grew to $2.5 billion from $2.2 billion at the end of 2004.

“It was a good market,” says Gene Cochrane, a 25-year veteran of the foundation who succeeded Betsy Locke as president on Jan. 1, 2005.

Cochrane says the Duke Endowment has accelerated a shift begun under Locke away from simply responding to grant requests and instead creating grant programs to address needs the foundation identifies.

The foundation then issues a request for proposals, or RFP, that invites nonprofits to develop projects and grant requests geared to meet those needs.

“We have probably moved more of our activities to larger programs that are a modified RFP approach rather than simply just waiting to see what comes in,” he says.

In 2005, the foundation for the first time made more than half its grants in both its health-care and child-care divisions through special programs.

Nearly three years ago, for example, the child-care division announced a new three-year grants program to promote physical activity and healthy eating in children’s homes.

Based on proposals they submitted in response to its RFP, the foundation selected 25 children’s homes for the program, which has been managed by the University of South Carolina.

In 2005, the final year of the program, the children’s homes received a total of $315,000, roughly the level of funding they received each of the first two years.

And last summer, the foundation’s health-care division announced a new program focusing on information technology.

Based on a survey of hospitals in both states by Computer Sciences Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., the foundation designed the new program, which will provide several million dollars in grants over three to four years.

The goals are to improve coordination of care, patient safety and provider productivity.

And the foundation’s rural church division is in the early stages of developing a program focused on leadership in churches.

If approved by the foundation’s board in 2006, the program likely would include six to eight elements of leadership that could include initiatives such as training ministers in rural communities or developing fellowship programs for seminary graduates.

By moving to big new grants programs and using requests for proposals to fund them, Cochrane says, the foundation wants to focus on critical needs, and spur and promote projects that are innovative and effective.

“If we see some projects that have worked well, it helps us encourage the spread of what works well,” he says. “It also calls attention to specific issues that are important to any of our divisions.”

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