A Funder Looking Out for Seniors in Boston and Beyond, With an Eye on Diversity

Photo:  8th.creator/shutterstock

Photo:  8th.creator/shutterstock

In our recent article, "It's a Coming Tsunami. Which Funders Are Confronting an Aging America?," we pointed out that philanthropic interest in this still remains small despite the ever-growing elderly population in the U.S. In fact, only about two percent of total philanthropic dollars in the U.S. provide support for aging. The Hartford Foundation, the Archstone Foundation in Long Beach and the Gary and Mary West Foundation in San Diego were highlighted in that article for their exclusive focus on aging issues and elder care.

One interesting funder that’s taking a long-term and forward-thinking approach to the aging population in its own region is the Tufts Health Plan Foundation in Watertown, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Equity and diversity have been big grantmaking themes across the giving spectrum lately, from housing to education and beyond. These themes haven't touched elder care funding as much as other issue areas, but perhaps this is changing.

A few months ago, Tufts was recognized for its efforts to promote equality and embrace the diversity of local aging populations. The foundation received the 2017 Grantmakers in Aging Diversity Award at GIA’s 35th anniversary annual conference in Boston, an award that’s actually been around since 2003 to recognize individuals, organizations, and programs for aging in diversity work. One Tufts grantee that made the funder stand out for its diversity commitment was the Age Friendly Boston Initiative, which involved collecting surveys from over 4,000 elderly adults from each and every community in the city.

In addition to equity and diversity, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation is paying attention to policy through its grantmaking. This makes sense when you think about how important government funds are in meeting the needs of older Americans. Seniors don't just rely on big federal entitlement programs like Social Security, but also a range of state and local programs. Various other policies also impact older Americans, including decisions at the municipal level that affect transportation and quality of life—and can determine whether it's easier or harder for older people to live in a given community. 

Nora Moreno Cargie, foundation president, said:

Communities have greater interest in age-friendly initiatives. There's a growing understanding of the critical role older people play. They are an asset to community, and their voices and insights are invaluable to the public discourse on what communities need.

Related: A Health Foundation That’s Supporting the Age-Friendly Movement in New England

Tufts recently gave a two-year, $100,240 grant to Healthy Waltham to build momentum for a city-wide age-friendly initiative. Also in Massachusetts, the funder gave a one-year, $60,000 grant to the Boston-based Massachusetts Law Reform Institute for its Older Adult Nutrition Access Project and a two-year, $150,000 grant to Massachusetts Senior Action Council’s program to train diverse, low-income older adults to use their voices to influence public policy issues.

Before the close of 2017, Tufts announced a total of $1.1 million in new grants to eight New England groups. What’s interesting about this grant cycle is that Tufts focused on fewer grantees and gave them more money, rather than spreading it around to as many nonprofits as possible. This cycle brought Tufts' overall grantmaking for 2017 to $3.15 million.

It’s also worth noting that Tufts has been venturing into more multi-year initiatives. In the recent giving cycle, 30 grants were for ongoing support for more than a one-year period.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year that more funders take notice of elder issues, or at least shift their focus from short-term elder needs to long-term plans. We'll see. Tufts is a regional funder not a national one, largely serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But it’s still a good example of how philanthropy can support older adults in a variety of ways that go beyond donations to Meals on Wheels and the local senior citizen center in town.