2000 Conference Explores Where to Target Research on Older Americans

National research forum on strategic grantmaking opportunities of community services for older persons

Grantmakers in Aging, Dayton, Ohio, held its first National Research Forum, "Community Services: Strategic Grantmaking Opportunities for Research," April 13–14, 2000, in Chicago.

Grantmakers in Aging is an educational, nonprofit membership organization that focuses on promoting and strengthening grantmaking for an aging society.

Cosponsors of the meeting, attended by 41 participants from organizations with an interest in research on aging, included The National Institute on Aging, Grantmakers in Health and the Grantmakers Evaluation Network.

Key Results

    The meeting included six keynote presentations, one panel discussion and two workshops. (See the Bibliography for details). Grantmakers in Aging produced a conference summary, "Highlights of the Inaugural National Research Forum," which included recommendations in six key areas:

    1. Funding Research on Aging: Why and How to Do It.

    2. Workforce and the Elderly: Challenges in this Decade.3. Older Adults with a Developmental Disability: A Population at Risk.4. Linkages in Aging Services: Improvements in Efficacy and Effectiveness.5. Collaborative Opportunities and Approaches.6. Cross-Cutting Themes and Future Directions.

  • Grantmakers in Aging distributed the conference summary to approximately 1,500 foundations and other organizations working in aging, The summary is also available at Grantmakers in Aging's Web site.
    • Given that the population of older adults is expected to double by 2030, research at all levels — from expensive national probability studies and multisite clinical trials, to more modest focus groups and demonstration projects — is needed.
    • Not every foundation can or should fund "macro" projects, which are often the province of federal agencies. However funding less expensive research activities — such as pilot projects — can lay the groundwork for more significant projects in the future.
    • Options for risk management when funding research in aging include collaborating with service providers, academics, other funders and/or the federal government.
    • Funders can help to identify, test and replicate interventions to address the dramatic shortage of workers available to provide hands-on care to the increasing population of the "oldest old."
    • Additional research, funding and action are needed to confront the challenges of aging among individuals with such disabilities as mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Issues include family transition planning for those living with aging parents, as well as retirement and housing.
    • At least 27,000 organizations nationwide provide in-home or community-based services to older adults or their caregivers. Research to improve service integration should be directed at the individual, team and program levels:
      • Individual (for example, finding ways to coordinate services so that individuals have more control).
      • Team (for example, linking professionals from diverse fields to work with individuals to create and implement care plans).
      • Program (for example, when organizations design programs together to provide services for older people).
    • Foundations have numerous opportunities to collaborate with the federal National Institute on Aging, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of older Americans through research. This can include helping to set the research agenda, initiating new research and disseminating successful research findings.
    • To ensure that foundation dollars are spent wisely, grantmakers must include support for research as part of grants to implement or expand community services for older adults.
    • Research findings should be effectively communicated to a variety of audiences, including practitioners, policy makers, families and consumers. This means developing clear messages about the work and identifying people who can explain findings that are sometimes technical.
    • Communications need to be improved among researchers, evaluators, providers and funders, as well as between government and private funders and among foundations. To aid in disseminating successful programs and services, it is important to overcome a reluctance to test ideas that were "not invented here."


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $15,000 in partial support for the forum.

The Mather Foundation ($30,000); the AARP Andrus Foundation ($5,000); the Helen Bader Foundation ($15,000) and the Retirement Research Foundation ($15,000) provided additional funding.

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