The Best Buy Foundation Buys In to Girls Engaged in 21st Century Skills

The Best Buy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the consumer electronics big box store, so it’s no surprise that the foundation focuses on “21st-century skills.” What distinguishes this funder more is its narrow focus on age group, which is limited to teens aged 13 to 18.

The Best Buy Foundation defines “21st-century skills” as “innovative skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” that rigorously utilize technology. This obviously lends itself to education programs, but the giving history of this foundation clearly shows that it sees how organizations and programs that are more focused on youth development and support also have the opportunity to successfully pursue this work.

This funder focuses on underserved populations, so within the context of technology, programs that empower and educate teenage girls come to the forefront.

Funding flows through two grant programs. National Grants provide awards typically in the $100,000 - $200,000 range to organizations whose work spans multiple cities. The foundation “prefers” those cities to include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Jersey City/NYC, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Antonio, San Francisco/Bay area, Seattle and Washington D.C., because those are the locations of the foundation’s Teen Tech Centers. But even when you don’t include some of these locations, be sure the ones you do include are within 50 miles of a Best Buy location. Eligible organizations are 501(c)(3)s with established out-of-school time programming, or programming with a “proven track record” of service to teenagers. Funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.

Community Grants go to nonprofits working locally and regionally. Amounts are much smaller, averaging $5,000, with a maximum of $10,000. Eligible organizations must be a public or nonprofit community-based organization. (The foundation cites community centers, schools and libraries as examples.) But here too, an organization and its program work must occur within 50 miles of a Best Buy location. Likewise, funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.

Though the scopes of geography and dollar amounts are different between the two granting programs, the focus of the giving is the same. Following the credo that “access to technology creates access to opportunity,” the Best Buy Foundation focuses on providing underserved student populations with “hands-on access” to technology education and tools that set them up for success—in high school, as a gateway to and through college, and in careers. In terms of those eventual careers, the foundation has a vision of inspiring and preparing “a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and dreamers.”

So what types of programs rise to the top? The Best Buy Foundation looks for those that “transform underserved teens from consumers to creators.” It provides a healthy list of examples, but also makes clear that these examples are just a starting point. They include program activities such as computer programming, digital imaging (photography, graphic design, filmmaking), music production, robotics, gaming and mobile app development, computer maintenance and repair, maker fairs/hackathons, and website design.

A recent National Grant recipient with a focus on teenage girls is Black Girls Code, which received $100,000. 

Recent Community Grant recipients include an enormous list of chapters of Girl Scouts of America and Girls Incorporated, along with other community organizations, including $10,000 to the PACE Center for Girls in Winter Park, FL; $6,000 to Reel Grrls in Seattle, WA; and $5,000 to She Rock She Rock (Minneapolis, MN).

All grant opportunities are open to all who wish to apply. National Grant applications are due early October. Community Grant applications are due early July. If you happen to be a Twin Cities-based organization, then a special pot called the Twin Cities Fund gives you the opportunity to apply four times per year.

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