PolicyWorks Spotlight: Kim VanPelt, Arizona Health Futures, St. Luke’s Health Initiative


Kim VanPelt is is the director of Arizona Health Futures at St. Luke’s Health Initiatives in Phoenix, Arizona and a member of the Arizona Grantmakers Forum board.

This interview was conducted over the phone by Dan Brady at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers as part of our PolicyWorks for Philanthropy interview series.

How does collaborating with Arizona Grantmakers Forum improve your own organization’s work around public policy issues?

Arizona Grantmakers Forum (AGF) provides a conduit for funders to not only understand important policy issues but also to understand how their own existing contributions or potential contributions in the realm of public policy might connect with the work of other funders or other work that’s happening in the community.

We know that systems change of any sort requires a broad array of approaches with a number of different partners. The more we can use AGF as a forum to develop better shared understanding about not only the issues but the work, the better.

Did AGF approach your foundation about getting involved in policy work or was it the other way around?

AGF’s Executive Director Marissa Theisen was very much aware of what was going on in the national scene. Her understanding of the opportunities of PolicyWorks helped prompt greater discussion among funders about how we connect our work to what’s happening on the national level.

Why is it important for funding organizations to take an active role in public policy?

To me, it’s really about leverage and making sustainable change. For most foundations, our resources are limited. Simply funding programs or nonprofits often doesn’t lead to the kind of change that is long-term in nature. That coupled with the reality that more and more we’re seeing changes made at a policy level that affect our investments suggests that there needs to be a sincere look at the opportunities to invest in public policy in order to realize a good return on investment.

Is there a particular public policy issue that your organization is interested in?

One of the strong interests among AGF members is how do we find issues in which we want to collaborate at the policy level. AGF represents the interests of a wide variety of funders who work on a wide variety of issues, so more and more the work is coming down to work around specific issues, such as funders who fund education or health-related issues, and how we can collaborate on important public policy issues.

That said, I think there’s also interest among in some of the broader concerns that are public policy related, that essentially help support good public policy, for example voter engagement, voter registration, issues around budget. But that’s really just beginning to be an area of interest among funders.

What is an interesting public policy issue you are engaged in through Arizona Grantmakers Forum right now or a recent success you are particularly proud of?

One of the fascinating things has been to develop a better understanding of who’s doing what in the area of public policy. Often times we keep our work to ourselves and we don’t share how our work is connecting with one another. One small example about how sharing our work can help make us more effective is in the area of health. We came to learn through our work with AGF that another funder was working on a very similar issue related to creating more residencies for physicians in Arizona to help grow the healthcare workforce. Just understanding that helped us engage in better conversation about how two funders could work together collaboratively and share some of their thinking about how to move this issue forward. There’s also a lot of work being done right now in the education arena looking at how a variety of funders are working on early literacy efforts. By those funders collaborating, we are definitely seeing some real systems change.

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