How is this Foundation Funding Youth Research Changing its Focus?

Based in New York City, the William T. Grant Foundation is a huge supporter of research for improved youth outcomes. The foundation has been on the philanthropy scene since 1936 and has had a passion for research as a means to understand human behavior since the beginning.  

The foundation has made a name for itself by funding impartial research studies that produce reports on timely issues and synthesize evidence to improve the lives of children and youth. Typical grantees have been political scientists, economists, psychologists, and anthropologists working in this field of study.

However, the foundation recently made an announcement that it would be taking a new direction with its youth research funding. Essentially, the foundation’s focus is shifting from simply understanding how this type of research is used to actually creating the conditions for its use. Starting now, these are the things that the Grant Foundation is looking for in new grantees:

  • Studies that reveal the strategies, mechanisms, or conditions for improving research
  • Evaluations of efforts to increase routine and beneficial uses of research in deliberations and decisions that affect young people
  • Efforts to identify and test strategies to produce more useful research
  • Efforts to examine incentives, structures, and relationships that produce research and encourage collaboration to benefit youth
  • Projects that test the assumption that using high quality research in particular ways improves decision making and youth outcomes

If you're finding this shift a bit difficult to wrap your head around, let’s break it down in plain English with real examples. In general, the Grant Foundation is looking to support research that is relevant to the lives of young people between the ages of five and 25 in the U.S. This research should increase the understanding of programs and policies that reduce youth inequalities and use evidence to benefit youth nationwide.

Some of the key issues that interest the foundation include addressing inequities through housing assistance, middle school literacy among minority students, and math education. Studies in the areas of education, child welfare, and juvenile justice are the ones that catch this funder’s attention. Other issues that the foundation has supported include preventing the over-prescribing of antipsychotic medications for youth and educating state policymakers about mental health treatment options for youth in foster care.

Keep in mind that grants are made to organizations, not individual researchers. “Reducing inequality” grants will be in the $100,000 to $600,000 range for two to three years of support, and “improving the use of research” grants could reach up to $1 million. The foundation’s willingness to hit the million dollar mark is something new, and it's meant to really focus on large-scale studies that promise to advance the field. Letters of inquiry are accepted three times per year, and grantee capacity building is also a significant part of the foundation’s new strategy – something that we’ve been seeing a lot among funders lately.

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The foundation recently announced five new research grants: three to address youth inequalities, one about federal housing assistance and youth outcomes, and the last one about teacher quality gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. It also just awarded capacity-building and communications grants to the American Educational Research Association and National Public Radio.

Youth causes in New York City are always on the foundation’s radar, and it recently awarded $25,000 in grants to nine community-based organizations in New York City to improve the quality of their youth programs. Recent local grantees included the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Wave Hill, Pencil, the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House, Waterwell Productions, Chinatown Manpower Project, Girls Write Now, Epic Theatre Centre, and I Challenge Myself.

To learn more about how to get involved with this funder, read through the foundation’s Grants Application Guide and new document titled, “Improving the Use of Research Evidence: An Updated Statement of Research Interests and Applicant Guidance.” Senior Program Officer Kim DuMont’s “Leveraging Knowledge: Taking Stock of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Use of Research Evidence Grants Portfolio” is worth a read as well.