Active Living by Design

Building and Sustaining a National Program

This commentary explores how Active Living by Design (ALbD), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), has evolved from a five-year individual grant program into a nationally recognized service organization with multiple clients and the capacity and expertise to address active living and healthy eating systems, policies and environmental change initiatives.

Philanthropic organizations use a variety of strategies to ensure the sustainability and impact of grantmaking beyond the funding period. From the outset the ALbD National Program Office (NPO), with the support of RWJF, thought strategically and proactively about how to leverage RWJF funding to help build on and sustain their efforts. Effective stewardship in the early years attracted new partners with related missions and led to the eventual rebranding of the grant program into an organization that fosters community-led change by working with local and national partners to build a culture of active living and healthy eating.

Key to the success of this transformation were:

  • a talented and committed staff;
  • grantee satisfaction with technical assistance;
  • excellent relationships with the funding partner; and
  • increased national attention to the obesity epidemic.

Challenges included managing growth and diversification and demonstrating quantifiable value through independent evaluation. As the mission of the organization expanded to include healthy eating, this goal had to be integrated within program operations.

By planning carefully, and capitalizing on strengths and opportunities, the NPO has transformed a five-year grant into a lasting legacy—a network of healthier communities resulting from policies and environmental changes that will endure for generations to come.