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Chapter 2
Developing Your Strategies for Grantmaking in Aging

Published by Grantmakers in Aging (GIA), Chapter 2 of Funding Across the Ages, a 40-page tool kit for grantmakers who want to understand the trends and grantmaking opportunities resulting from the aging of our communities.

by: Barbara R. Greenberg
President, The Philanthropic Group

If you are interested in making grants related to aging, we suggest two approaches.

  1. Developing a New Strategy. To develop a whole new strategy you will probably want to conduct an "internal scan" of what your foundation already funds to see if there are logical ways to begin, as well as several "external scans" to better understand the needs and funding opportunities in your target community.
  2. Building Aging into Existing Strategies and More Modest Approaches. Other funders have begun their grantmaking in aging more modestly, or have built aging into their existing areas of focus. These smaller steps can give you a feel for the field and let you gain experience in aging.


Some of the suggested steps that follow will be more relevant to your situation than others. These steps are suggested For foundations interested in funding locally; however, you can easily adapt them for use with a regional or national target area.

Developing a strategy for funding usually involves a series of internal and external scans. This work will help you identify and recommend to your board areas where your foundation's interests and your target community's needs overlap.

Internal Scan

Step 1. What is your foundation's history?

If your foundation has a clearly stated mission and guidelines, you can quickly identify and understand your funding priorities and begin to seek ways to relate these priorities to older adults in your community. If there are no guidelines, begin your internal scan by reviewing the grants your foundation has made during the past few years. Look for patterns and trends in your foundation's giving. These questions can guide you:

  • Does your foundation fund programs for certain populations, like children, adolescents, older people, or minority populations?
  • Does your foundation tend to fund large institutions or small grassroots groups?
  • Does your foundation prefer to make grants for direct services, advocacy, public policy, or research?
  • Have you funded programs with an aging component?
  • How could some of the organizations you have funded include older people in their work?

Step 2. What are your foundation's strengths?

Assess your personal and professional strengths, interests, and connections within the community, as well as those of any other staff and the members of the board of directors. If you are connected with a business organization, also consider the talents and interests of its staff.

External Scan

Step 1. Consult with your grantmaker colleagues.

Find out who is funding what in aging by talking with a few other grantmakers. To identify foundation and corporate funders, contact your Regional Association of Grantmakers (RAG), or Grantmakers in Aging (GIA). See Chapter 7 of this Tool Kit (visit Grantmakers in Aging for contact information. Also, ask nonprofit organizations serving older people which foundations support them. National grantmaking organizations may be seeking local partners for aging-related initiatives in your community. Others will have information about effective methods for addressing the concerns and interests of older people.

In addition, government is a significant funder in aging. If you contact your Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and State department on aging, be sure to collect information about how government funds services for older people in your community. Learn from each funder why they fund what they fund, which aging experts and nonprofit organizations are respected, and who to contact to learn more.

Step 2. Benefit from other organizations' research.

Request copies of community assessments conducted in the past by organizations like United Way, faith-based associations of nonprofit agencies, the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA), and the state department on aging. Ask questions such as:

  • How many people of different age groups live in the community and what are the trends?
  • How many elderly are there in each 10-year age segment over 65?
  • What are the demographics of older people in your target community (income levels, ethnic backgrounds, living situations, health status, etc.)?
  • What skills, experience and time do these older people have?
  • What are the unmet needs of older people in the community?
  • Who are the key providers of services for older people?
  • How does public funding support older people in the community?

  View Area Agency on Aging -- A Good Place to Start,
  for an additional perspective.

Step 3. Consult with experts in aging.

Select three or four directors of nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about aging in your community such as a large senior center, the senior services department of a health care provider, or a family service agency that serves older people.

Meet with each. Let them know that you are not there to consider making a grant to them at this time, but rather want to learn from them about older people in your community so that you can help your foundation determine what types of programs you want to consider funding. Use these meetings as an opportunity to build relationships with the experts in aging in your community. They have the potential to help you stay alert to emerging issues and trends, and to identify pressing community needs and funding opportunities.

Ask questions:

  • What kinds of services or programs are offered, where, and for how many older people?
  • How big is the budget for their programs, what kinds of funding sources support the organization, and which foundations provide funds?
  • How many staff are employed and how are volunteers used?
  • What other needs of older people are they not able to meet?
  • What would make the organization more effective?
  • How are older adults a resource to the organization and to the community?
  • How does the organization collaborate or cooperate with other organizations? Which ones?
  • What other people and organizations do they recommend you talk with?
  • Which other foundations are funding what in aging in the community?
  • If the executive director could stand back from the organization and consider the big picture-what might the community as a whole do to better respond to older people's needs, as well as to older people's abilities to serve as resources to the community?

Area Agency on Aging-A Good Place to Start
If you fund locally, a good place to start your research is with your local Area Agency on Aging. Every community has an area agency on aging, sometimes called "triple A's, or "AAA's." The AAA is a local agency that receives federal funds from the U.S. Administration on Aging and funds from your State department for the aging. The AAA uses these funds to provide critical services for elderly people in your area, usually by passing on the funds to local nonprofit agencies.

Usually the director of the AAA is quite knowledgeable about who the elderly people are in your community, where they live, their needs, the names of nonprofit agencies serving older people in your community, and key contact people.

Your AAA is likely to be listed in your telephone book under city or county government-it might be called "office on aging," or "department on aging." If you can't find it there, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, and ask for the area agency on aging for the community of interest to you.

Meet with the AAA director if you can, or at minimum, have a telephone conversation. Explain that you want to learn about aging in your community because your foundation is considering funding programs for older people.

  • Ask the questions listed in this Chapter under the section called "Benefit from other organizations' research"'
  • Ask the director for copies of the most important resources s/he cites, or find out how you can get copies, so you can add them to your library.
  • Ask the director who s/he thinks are the next logical people for you to talk with to learn more about aging, or what other steps s/he thinks you should take.

Analysis and Recommendations

Step 1. Summarize and "hone in" on your special areas of interest.

After analyzing what you have learned, determine where the overlap is between the needs in your target community and the areas likely to be of greatest funding interest to your foundation. Visit a few of these types of programs to see them in action. For instance, if you are interested in supporting seniors as volunteers, meet with the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a senior center with a volunteer program, or a school that uses senior volunteers.

Or talk with university or college faculty with knowledge of the topic you have selected. Read books or search the Internet for additional information (see contact information in Chapter 7 of Funding Across the Ages, a 40-page tool kit for grantmakers published by Grantmakers in Aging).

Graph; Foundation Overlap

Step 2. Prepare to report to your board of directors.

Determine the best way to report to your board of directors what you have learned and what action you recommend. When presenting your strategic recommendations, consider how you can best:

  • Clearly state your recommended strategy for funding related to aging;
  • Provide the rationale for your recommendation;
  • Describe the process you used to arrive at your recommendation related to aging;
  • Explain the benefits to your community and to your foundation of this aging funding strategy;
  • Explain the risks, or disadvantages of your recommended strategy, if any; and
  • Obtain approval to move forward, or if not possible, learn what other information is needed by the board.


Step 1. Invite proposals.

If a set of recommendations is approved, modify your guidelines and/or invite organizations to submit proposals that relate to your new aging interests.

Step 2. Continue to learn about aging issues, trends, and programs that work.

  • Ask to be on the mailing lists for the newsletters and reports of organizations.
  • Stay in contact with other grantmakers and national and local experts who are good sources of aging-related information.
  • Join associations of grantmakers in aging and other professionals in aging, and/or subscribe to their newsletters and other publications.
  • Attend local and national conferences on aging topics of interest to you.
  • Keep talking with older people in your community.

  View Easy-to-use books on aging for an additional perspective.


Do you have established focus areas and priorities for funding? Are you a new funder? Are you unable to undertake an organized and strategic assessment of aging in your community? Do you want to "test the waters" in aging? If so, here are some quick and simple ways to begin to incorporate aging into your grantmaking:

  • As you review requests for funding, ask what it would take to include older people in the proposed activities.
  • Invite your existing grantees to think about ways older people might be involved in their work, either as resources, or as a population whose needs should be included in their work.
  • Revise your foundation's written guidelines and other communications tools to inform your current and potential grantees of your interest in aging as an enhancement within your existing funding priorities.
  • Review any proposals in aging that you receive more carefully than you might have in the past. Try funding a few select projects that make sense to you. Set aside time to make site visits to see these programs in action, and learn more about whom they serve and how they work.
  • Make a grant to a nonprofit agency or university center on aging (or hire a consultant) to conduct the External Scan that will tie aging to a current interest of your foundation. o Identify local and national funders in aging. Explain that you would like to learn more about aging and ask them to keep you in mind if they need funding partners.
  • Contact the development directors at the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging, which may be seeking local funding partners for aging-related initiatives in your community. (See page 37 for contact information in Funding Across the Ages, a 40-page tool kit for grantmakers published by Grantmakers in Aging)
  • Invite a colleague from another foundation to attend your board meeting and brief you about their foundation's funding in aging and how they got started.
  • Subscribe to newsletters and magazines of local and national aging organizations. Keep an eye out for articles about aging in your local newspaper. Send your board members copies of informative articles that will help them learn about aging too. The American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging have excellent publications on aging. (See page 37 for contact information in Funding Across the Ages, a 40-page tool kit for grantmakers published by Grantmakers in Aging)


Whether you start simply or develop a full-fledged strategy, you will be well on your way to understanding the challenges and opportunities older adults bring to your community. For those funders who have already identified specific areas of interest in children, youth and families, education, neighborhoods, or health, we invite you to explore the relevant sections of the following Chapters. Or, if you prefer, you can examine the helpful resource and contact information found in Chapter 7.

# # #

This chapter on developing strategies for grantmaking in aging was written by Barbara R. Greenberg, President of The Philanthropic Group, who served as acting executive director of Grantmakers in Aging. Funders interested in learning more about strategic grantmaking may contact The Philanthropic Group at bgreenberg@philanthropicgroup.com

Further Notations:
  • The Rapides Foundation in Louisiana, which funds chronic disease prevention programs, commissioned the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine to conduct a needs assessment focusing on older people, including such issues as chronic disease, caregiving, and access to medication. The Foundation incorporated the findings into its grantmaking strategy, adding health promotion for older people as one of its five areas of interest within health.

  • The VNA Foundation in Illinois, which funds community health and nursing programs, wanted to fund in aging, but did not have significant grant dollars or staff time available to plan a special grantmaking strategy. As a way "to get a foot in the water," the Foundation contacted several local grantmakers in aging and asked them to share good proposals it might help to fund. The VNA Foundation benefited from the expertise of colleagues from other foundations, and some valuable projects have been fully funded. Over time, the Foundation has strengthened its knowledge of aging, inviting its own proposals and funding more independently in aging.

  • For several years after the H.W. Durham Foundation was established, this Tennessee Foundation invited senior staff from other foundations to attend its annual retreats and brief the Board on their funding strategies in aging.


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