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Duke Endowment aims to share knowledge

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wanting to help children’s homes retool their programs and equip their staffs to provide more physical activity and better diets for residents, The Duke Endowment in 2003 launched an effort that has invested $800,000 in 25 children’s homes in the Carolinas.

In 2005, recognizing that hospitals faced challenges in improving  patient safety, the Endowment made the first of five annual grants of $1 million each to the North Carolina Hospital Association to test national patient-safety standards at 100 hospitals.

Also in 2005, after receiving grant requests from many nonprofits for a broad range of information-technology needs, the Endowment contracted with a consulting firm to study how to most effectively address those needs, an effort that resulted in $7 million in grants to 27 projects.

All those initiatives reflect a continuing shift in the Endowment’s grantmaking strategy.

Moving beyond support that responds to funding requests from individual organizations, the Endowment wants to make grants to groups of organizations that can test promising approaches to widespread problems.

The $2.8 billion-asset Endowment, the largest charitable foundation in North Carolina, also has worked to improve communication among groups it supports.

And now it wants to provide easy access to the results of its funding initiatives with groups that do not receive its support.

“I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of spreading that information past just those organizations that are eligible for financial assistance,” says Gene Cochrane, the Endowment’s president. “We’d like to get a lot better at doing that.”

Founded in 1924 by industrialist James B. Duke, the Endowment makes grants to four colleges and universities and to hospitals and children’s homes, all in the Carolinas, and to United Methodist churches and retired United Methodist ministers in North Carolina.

Since 1924, the Endowment has made over $2.2 billion in grants, including over $138 million in 2006, exceeding the record-high $125 million it awarded a year earlier.

While it continues to make grants to individual organizations in response to unsolicited funding requests, the Endowment increasingly has issued “requests for proposals” to address broad problems it has identified, often by recognizing common needs among grant proposals from different groups.

And in the case of hospitals’ information-technology needs, because it could not see a common thread among the grant requests, Cochrane says, the Endowment hired the consulting firm to help assess those needs.

The Endowment also has been working to help groups that participate in its joint funding initiatives share information and learn from one another.

A password-protected website, for example, serves as a resource for hospitals participating in the information-technology initiative, letting them submit their own outcomes, track one another’s outcomes, and stay connected with each other.

The Endowment also plans to retool its own website to better tell its story and share knowledge developed through its grantmaking.

“We want to be sure that we can share the information that is developed or learned to those in the Carolinas that may not have participated in the specific programs,” Cochrane says.

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