Funders Every Liberal Arts College Should Know

With the proliferation of occupation-specific degrees and the emphasis placed on STEM fields, it's easy to forget that in some colleges, students read the great books, study the great thinkers, and spend their first two years exploring a range of subjects before choosing a major. And when they do, that major often is in such fields as history, philosophy, or literature.

It may sound out of date, but this approach to higher education is alive and well at the nation's private liberal arts colleges. At these small, residential colleges, students can pursue studies in literature, philosophy, the humanities, and the sciences while receiving the individualized attention from faculty that's often absent in large universities. Liberal arts schools such as Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard College are recognized as some of the finest institutions of higher education in the United States.

But that respected education doesn't come cheap. Because these private institutions do not have the access to state and federal higher education funding that their larger public counterparts have, they often rely on donors to help fund delivery of the high-quality education for which they are known. In addition to wealthy alumni, who often step up with generous gifts to their alma maters, a number of foundations across the country have directed some of their grantmaking to benefit private liberal arts colleges. Leading funders in this area include the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, the New York Community Trust, and the James S. Kemper Foundation. These funders may not be household names in the world of higher education philanthropy, but fundraisers at private liberal arts colleges should keep them on contact lists.

The Davis Foundation steers its higher education grantmaking almost exclusively to private liberal arts colleges, in amounts averaging $250,000. And these grants will fund just about anything a school needs — new buildings, facility renovations, program expansions, faculty support, you name it.

During her lifetime, Jessie Ball duPont was a generous supporter of liberal arts colleges across the country. If you were one of those schools fortunate enough to receive Mrs. duPont's support, you have a shot at a grant from the duPont Fund. The fund carries on her philanthropy by giving to institutions and other causes that received support from duPont during her lifetime. Before it awards a grant, the fund examines duPont's records and other sources to ensure the grantseeker has been supported by duPont. So if you can prove your institution received such support, you should include it in your proposal.

While the New York Community Trust's primary focus is on projects and organizations in New York City, when it comes to higher education, this funder goes nationwide. Liberal arts colleges that have received NYCT support in the past include not only New York institutions such as Barnard and Elmira colleges but also Middlebury College in Vermont, Augsburg College in Minnesota, and Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

Because of a loss in assets resulting from the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the Kemper Foundation has suspended its grantmaking activities. But fundraisers at private liberal arts colleges should keep tabs on this foundation because of its generous support of such schools in the past. Founder James S. Kemper was a firm believer in the value of a traditional liberal arts education as preparation for a career in business and for success in life. This funder has given past support to liberal arts institutions across the country.