Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) believes that a healthy mouth leads to a healthy life. Over the past few years, DDCOF has evolved and shifted from being directive in our work to prioritizing partnership and learning in all that we do. Measuring the impact of our philanthropic investments continues to be of the utmost importance. However, now we implement our efforts by sitting alongside community organizations to learn from their expertise.
Our efforts include continuous feedback loops and our evolution includes three big lessons:
Communities know best, not us. We conduct site visits with grant applicants and spend time in communities outside of grant review efforts. This is essential to understand the multitude of unique dynamics in communities. When we spend time in each community, talking with organizations and seeing the work they do, we make smarter investment decisions and are able to help connect organizations to one another. By deepening our knowledge of community health, culture, economics and priorities we can engage non-traditional partners in our work. As a result, we can have a larger impact on overall population health.
Shared learning leads to improved outcomes. Not only do we learn from our grantees; we foster opportunities for them to learn from one another. Through learning circles, informational webinars and evaluation of DDCOF’s efforts, which we share publicly, we find that the level of collective knowledge increases. This has caused us to shift processes, create community collaborations and elevate the connection of oral health to other community efforts. Learning together is an essential piece of sharing power, and it certainly leads to a wider collective impact.
Trust is humbling. We work to build trust with our partners so that they feel comfortable being honest with us. As an oral health equity foundation, we appreciate when our community partners point out language or processes we use that reinforce inequity. When we trust our partners to be experts in their work, they trust us to openly receive their feedback. This keeps us true to our mission and fosters important, open dialog in times of uncertainty. Really listening and being open to their constructive feedback is humbling and helps us become better as a foundation.
When funders intentionally shift the power dynamic, we all benefit. We achieve our missions in far more impactful a manner than we could ever do on our own. We all learn far more than we would individually, and communities benefit. By using systems that promote equity, spending learning time in communities and having feedback loops, we are better as a funder and our partners are more authentically valued for their expertise.
At DDCOF, we’ve seen the power of this shift recently with the COVID-19 pandemic. The trust and partnership we’ve built with our partners allows them to proactively outreach to us to share their struggles. While some are asking for specific help, others are letting us know they won’t meet grant deliverables or timelines. They share these updates not from a place of concern for retribution or reduced funding in the future, but from a place of transparency. In turn, we commit to on-going support of their success, whatever that may look like.
Megan leads Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s philanthropic and policy efforts. She is responsible for focusing the foundation to expand access, increase prevention and facilitate the connection between oral and overall health across Colorado. Most recently, she was the executive director of Reach Out and Read Colorado. She has spent her career working in the nonprofit sector focused on family support and advocacy and has extensive experience leading teams and developing programs. She has a master’s degree in public service management from DePaul University. She serves on the board of Parent Possible.