Spotlight: A Foundation That Supports Housing for Four Populations in Need

Housing issues are much on the minds of nonprofit leaders these days, amid a historic affordability crisis that is putting pressure on a great many vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough funders in the housing space, given the scale of this problem. And among those funders that do work this beat, not many make grants outside their own narrow local areas.

That's why we're spotlighting the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, which was established in 1989 to carry on the giving legacy of May and Stanley Smith, who made their fortune primarily in the world of iron ore mining in Malaysia. The mission of the trust is to support “organizations that offer opportunities to children and youth; adults and families; elders; and people with disabilities that enrich the quality of life, promote self-sufficiency, and assist individuals in achieving their highest potential."

This funder does have a geographic focus, but it's huge, covering the whole western United States.

From the foundation's mission, it's easy to see where housing security comes into play, and it's a high priority, evident in the fact that it specifically intersects with all four of the trust's giving areas: Foster Youth, Elders, Veterans, and People with Disabilities. This means that your program must address the needs of one of these specific populations.

The trust has dug deeply into the needs of these populations, and offers a detailed discussion of its goals in each area—as well as helpful analysis of what it's looking for in grantees. (If only every foundation's website was so useful!) Be sure to do your homework before attacking the trust’s application.

And attack it you must, because while it begins with an LOI open to all, it is a rigorous one, requiring specific outcomes past and future, as well as comprehensive financial reporting. The trust explicitly states that start-ups, emerging organizations, and new programs are not eligible for its support, and this makes perfect sense once you delve into the LOI. There is no way a new organization or program therein could discuss financials and recent outcomes with the rigor this funder requires. Even if you have been around long enough, be aware that the trust ideally looks for organizations with yearly operating budgets of at least $250,000 and those with less than 70 percent of costs supported by government funding. (The application provides a notably thoughtful section in which to discuss your organization’s relationship with government funding, and why private support is important to your program/organization.)

The good news if you check all the right boxes: The May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust makes healthy-sized grants typically ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 per year, and will give multi-year gifts for both program and general operating costs.

As for those geographic restrictions, the trust's definition of the West is broad, defining it as Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. (For the record, the trust also gives to British Columbia, Canada.) While the executed work must be done in these states, the trust’s giving history shows that the organization itself can potentially be based elsewhere (with work that is then targeted in the trust’s focused states).

Recent housing and homelessness grantees working with foster youth include Social Advocates for Youth (Santa Rosa, California) "to provide housing and supportive services to homeless and former foster youth" with $190,000 over two years. The trust also granted $35,000 to the Youth and Family Services YMCA (Santa Barbara, California) "to provide supportive transitional housing to former foster and homeless youth."

Recent housing and homelessness grantees working with the elderly population include PATH Ventures (Los Angeles, California) "to provide supportive housing for low-income and/or formerly homeless elders" with $40,000. It also gave $25,000 to the Pike Market Senior Center (Seattle, Washington) "to offer food, housing placement and retention support, and social programs for older adults."

In the trust's Veterans sector, recent grantees focused on housing and homelessnes include Volunteers of America Northern Rockies (Sheridan, Wyoming) "to provide services and housing to homeless veterans in northern Wyoming" with $40,000. It also recently granted $80,000 to Habitat for Humanity San Fernando/Santa Clarita Valleys (Woodland Hills, California) "to provide supportive services for veterans and families transitioning into permanent housing."

Recently granted programs focused on People with Disabilities include Noah Homes (Spring Valley, California) "to provide residential and support services for adults with developmental disabilities" with $500,000. The trust also gave $80,000 over two years to The Lighthouse for the Blind (Seattle, Washington) "to provide independent living support and servicces for adults who are deaf-blind."

The May and Stanley Smith’s Charitable Trust’s LOI is rolling; if you’re ready for its rigor, you can apply at any time.