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Designing a Signature Initiative

FSG reviewed Aetna Foundation’s existing grantmaking portfolio, identified priority focus areas, and designed a signature initiative to build on the foundation’s strengths while positioning it for greater regional and national impact and thought leadership in the health care space.

Aetna Foundation had a strong, 40-year track record as an altruistic organization when external and internal changes began prompting questions about its vision and strategy. Health care reform, competitive pressures, and new trends in corporate philanthropy were changing the external landscape. Meanwhile, new leaders sought new ways to catalyze greater impact in the health care space, advance knowledge in the field, and do a better job communicating the foundation’s work to internal and external stakeholders.

Aetna Foundation turned to FSG to refresh its vision for giving, enhance the clarity of its portfolio, and design a bold new signature initiative to increase the foundation’s impact, visibility, and thought leadership.

The engagement started with deep reflection on the foundation’s goals, experience, and expertise. FSG gathered input from staff, foundation and business leaders, and others through interviews and surveys. It then analyzed past grants and facilitated a visioning workshop. The team researched U.S. health needs and benchmarked the activities of peer foundations to identify areas that would benefit from Aetna Foundation’s investment.

Obesity, non-communicable diseases, technological innovations, and health equity emerged as areas that aligned with the existing strengths of the foundation and the corporation and were areas of high social need nationally. FSG collaborated with the foundation to develop customized criteria and prioritize these issues. It then designed several options to help the foundation make progress on its priority issue areas. Ultimately the foundation decided on a prize-based signature initiative that captured its aspiration for social impact, innovation, visibility, and thought leadership. FSG prepared a landscape of potential partners and a roadmap for implementing the strategy.

In December 2014, Aetna Foundation announced its refined focus areas of healthy eating and active living, health care equity, and health care innovations. Additionally, it launched the Healthier World Innovation Challenge with up to $4.5 million for up to six winners. The challenge aims to accelerate innovation in technology to raise awareness and improve the health of underserved populations with chronic diseases. The first round of awards is planned for June 2015.    

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About Aetna Foundation
Founded in 1972, the mission of Aetna Foundation is “to promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone, while supporting the communities we serve.” In partnership with Aetna, Inc., the foundation has contributed more than $445 million in grants and sponsorships since 1980.