Community in Action
Examples of programs, policies, and tools in action.

Finding Funding for Smoke-free Efforts in NC

February 24, 2014

The North Carolina Alliance for Health’s mission is to advocate for policies that promote wellness and to reduce the state’s incidence of tobacco use and obesity. It was one of the driving forces behind the passage of North Carolina’s smoke-free bars and restaurants law. Pam Seamans jumped on board as the coalition coordinator at the very beginning in 2002. She said, “We spent the first few years focusing on tobacco tax policy, building a broad coalition, and scraping together small grants and donations, fueled mostly by passion.” 

In 2008, the Alliance expanded its focus to include obesity prevention. This gave it an opportunity to broaden and diversify its partnership, and also its funding. It was able to build relationships with state foundations that were not funding tobacco work but were interested in fighting obesity. 

These two factors – working to build a coalition even without significant funding, and expanding work to include obesity prevention - allowed the Alliance to be poised to apply in 2008 for a large grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to work on both issues:  tobacco use and obesity. The grant required matching funds, which pushed the Alliance to think more strategically about local funding. It was able to secure some money from North Carolina foundations and also institute a membership dues structure. Fees were based on the overall budget of each member organization. Alternative arrangements, e.g., in kind donations, were worked out for organizations without the financial ability to pay the fee. The membership fee has continued to provide some stable funding for the Alliance to run on when grants have not been available. For the past few years, grant funding has not been easy to find.

The Alliance has learned that grant funding for policy change work can be hard to come by. But Seamans and the Alliance knew that just because grant makers were not funding work in their focus area that it was no less important. Seamans cut her salary at various times, despite a full work load. “It needed to be done,” she explained. “It was just worth it to me. It takes some flexibility to make a coalition work. We all come to this work with a passion for what we do, and that gets us through even when we don’t have funding.” But it’s hard, like a never ending treadmill, always trying to keep your head above water. “I guess it keeps us scrappy, but it can also lead to burnout.” 

Seamans has thought about walking away a few times, tired of the grind, but for now, her passion keeps her going. That and the addition of a new full-time staff member. With the funding they have been able to scrape together, the Alliance was able to hire a full-time managing director. Part of his role includes a focus on fund-raising. 

Now, after years of limited grant funding, another opportunity recently came along. The Alliance was notified of a grant opportunity through the American Heart Association with a very quick turnaround time. Because it had been plugging along even in lean times, it was ready to pull together what turned out to be a successful application in a very short amount of time.  

Seamans says she’s lucky – she has the ability to reduce her pay if necessary to keep the Alliance going, and she is passionate about what she does. That doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it doable. 

To reach the NC Alliance for Health, email [email protected], or call 919-463-8329. As of February 2017, the executive director is Morgan Wittman Gramann.

Communities in Action provide examples of strategies or tools in action. Their purpose is to connect like-minded communities in their implementation efforts, giving insight into how others are tackling key challenges and what they've accomplished.

Date added: March 26, 2014