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Always a bridesmaid, never the bride

October 11, 2010
by Lindsay Barba
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For those readers who don’t know, which is probably most of you, I’m currently working toward my master’s in public administration and nonprofit management. Normally this wouldn’t have much to do with community mental health centers as a whole, but last week during a discussion on funding, a classmate of mine said something that caught my attention: When it comes to grant funding, behavioral healthcare is always a bridesmaid, but never the bride.

Let me explain: My Nonprofit Management instructor had brought in a local private community foundation officer to discuss the grant seeking process. After her presentation on what her foundation looks for in a grant proposal and how they select organizations to be funded, which was much more interactive than any other grant process I’d ever heard of, we were asked to share our own experiences with the grant seeking process.

My classmate, who works for a community mental health center in Northeast Ohio, put it out there, plain and simple. Behavioral health proposals are typically overlooked by foundations or sources who are not exclusive funders of behavioral health organizations, such as SAMHSA.

Our speaker was a bit taken aback. But she agreed that, yes, funders are usually hesitant to fund behavioral health organizations. Her reasoning was that most see it as an “adoption” of sorts. Because behavioral health receives so little funding from any other sources, it’s unlikely that whatever one-, two-, or three-year grant a private foundation can offer will help to sustain the organization’s programs over time. This is a problem for private foundations that look to diversify and spread their resources across the community year after year, but also want to see their past investments succeed.

Our speaker left my classmate a bit of advice: Have a plan. If you know that a funder is going to ask “How are you going to sustain this program in the long run?—know the answer. Or, at least have some good ideas on hand.

As the leaders of CMHCs across the nation, have you seen the same circumstances surrounding your own grant seeking efforts? If so, how have you helped to overcome this perception?


Lindsay Barba

Lindsay Barba was associate editor of Behavioral Healthcare from 2009 to 2010.

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