Greater Good Blog

Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Non-Traditional Actors to Solve Health Care Challenges

Faith Mitchell and Gwen Walden

The health care field and health philanthropy are navigating a rapidly changing landscape, one that puts strain on front-line service providers and nonprofits, requires innovative approaches to solve challenging problems, and makes strategic funders ever more crucial to improving Americans’ health. Grantmakers In Health (GIH) recognized these shifts and engaged Arabella Advisors to identify a new set of actors in the health field who bring unique skills, networks, and approaches to the issue. The resulting report outlines the attributes of these non-traditional actors and describes how building bridges between them and traditional health funders can magnify the impact of both sets of players. 

These new actors—corporations, community development financial institutions, venture philanthropists, high-tech start-ups, next-generation donors, and others—share an interest in improving America’s health care problems with traditional health funders. However, they bring new mindsets and methods to the field. They tend to prioritize results and impact over the approaches used to achieve them, to focus on capacity-building, to possess a greater risk tolerance, and to be motivated by cost savings and creating efficiencies. They also recognize that they may lack vital knowledge about the health field or their local communities, knowledge traditional funders have and can easily share. By working in partnership to supplement each others’ skills and strengths, both sets of actors can generate more value from their resources.

Some traditional funders have already partnered with non-traditional actors. Take the Kresge Foundation, for example. It has joined its resources and expertise with those of Morgan Stanley and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to launch the Healthy Futures Fund, a $100 million investment fund that links health care to affordable housing. We believe there is significant opportunity for other large foundations to take on this kind of work and for smaller foundations to work with non-traditional actors as well.

To see these partnerships expand and scale will require bridge builders. Organizations such as GIH and Arabella can help educate both types of funders on the potential impact partnerships may have, ease concerns by providing context and experience, make introductions, and most crucially, wade through different perspectives and styles to find a common mission and approach that benefits both actors.

Effective health funding is no longer limited to traditional funders. Nor can these traditional funders achieve their ambitious goals on their own. In turn, non-traditional actors can’t fully succeed without the knowledge and relationships traditional funders have built over time. But together they can make a significant and lasting impact on the field. To learn more, click here to download our report.


Faith Mitchell is president and CEO of GIH. Previously she served as vice president for program and strategy at the organization. Before joining GIH, she was senior program officer at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) where she was responsible for the health disparities portfolio. Faith spent 12 years at the National Academies, both at the IOM and as a center director in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Education. She has also held leadership positions at the US Department of State, the San Francisco Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Follow Faith on Twitter.

Gwen Walden is a managing director in Arabella’s San Francisco office, where she leads the firm’s West Coast practice. In this capacity, she engages with a range of clients on strategy, evaluation, and impact investing work, implementing programs and projects and managing donor collaboratives. She has expertise in the arts, health, early childhood, and education, and works to meet the needs of a range of philanthropic organizations, from small family foundations to large institutional donors. Follow Gwen on Twitter.



Back to Blog