It Gives Big to Brain Research, and You’ve Never Heard of It

We love foundations like this. And that’s lucky for us, because there are hundreds of them: those that stay out of the spotlight but do amazing work.

The F.M. Kirby Foundation of Morristown, NJ, was founded by one of the early players in the F.W. Woolworth Company in 1931. It gives to lots of different kinds of projects: episcopalian ministries, the American Diabetes Association Research Foundation, the New Jersey Audubon Society, the American Ballet Theatre. It gave out $6.8 million for a variety of education initiatives in 2013 alone, and $4.2 million for health. Much of its money stays local. 

But what’s catching our eye right now is the foundation's brain work. Not just for its scope, but for its intelligence.

See, a lot of small-time foundations like this just make blanket gifts. A few hundred thousand to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, say, or a token $50,000 each year to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. But not F.M. Kirby. No, this foundation gets specific. It wants its money to do quantifiable things, even when it’s reaching into a wonky grantspace like brain giving.

We respect the mindfulness and the intention. And we think it’s doing great things. It might not have the bucks of some other big brain givers, but it’s spending a lot of effort making sure the money it does give counts for as much as it can.

Related - IP's guide to Funding for Brain Research

In 2013, Kirby gave over $1 million to brain initiatives alone—and that’s not exactly peanuts, for a foundation whose usual health gifts hover around $150K.

On top of that, we were surprised to find foundation-led (and foundation-named) brain research programs on the list of grants. You expect that kind of thing from big-name players, but from these guys? It caught us off guard.

Let’s take a look at where the money went, and why, shall we?

First up, Kirby gifted the Children’s Hospital Corporation $350K to pad a recruitment package to attract a junior faculty member to the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center. That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about—the foundation has obviously been serious about neuroscience for a long time, long enough to fund a neurobiology center.

Along the same lines, there’s the F.M. Kirby Foundation Brain Tumor Research Fund at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, to which the foundation gives $250K each year. The money is used by the hospital to fund the most promising research proposals put forward by the school’s own faculty.

In 2013, the support funded ten projects, among them a study of glutamate metabolism in gliomas, and a project exploring the role of the PI(3)K pathway in tumor maintenance and therapy response in primary CNS lymphoma.

Moving on, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation received $250,000 for continuation funding of a collaboration between Drs. Sam Pfaff and Reggie Edgerton. The two researchers are working to characterize the role of key neurons in the human spinal cord, proving that Kirby's neuronal interests extend beyond the brain itself. Lastly, the New Jersey Health Foundation, received $225K to continue its research into the formation and plasticity of synaptic interactions.

We’re pretty impressed by the intentionality of Kirby’s brain giving. And now that it's made its way onto our radar, it certainly won’t be leaving anytime soon.