A Blueprint of Hearst's Support of Literacy Programs

The goal of the Hearst Foundations, inspired by founder William Randolph Hearst, is to “ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive, and inspiring lives.”

First, to clear up why they are the Hearst Foundations, plural: Technically speaking, William Randolph Hearst established an east coast foundation in 1945 and a west coast foundation in 1948. Their missions were (and remain) the same, as are the granting stipulations. Whether your organization resides east or west of the Mississippi River is the only difference. Regardless of what side of the Mississippi you live on, these foundations create opportunities for literacy programs to find support.

The foundations regularly give both program and—more notably—capital support (and a limited amount of general and endowment support) to 501(c)3 organizations.

Officially, support for literacy flows through the foundations’ Social Service pot, where literacy is listed as a priority (along with housing, youth development, and workforce development). The foundations’ focus on Social Service is support of “direct-service organizations that tackle the roots of chronic poverty by applying effective solutions to the most challenging social and economic problems.” The Hearst Foundations look for these applications to facilitate economic independence and strengthening families—so think about literacy in that context.

Recent grantees receiving literacy program funding through this Social Service pot are the Parternship for After School Education (PASE) in New York City, which received $100,000 "to support summer programming that promotes literacy and builds interest in learning for low-income youth," as well as United Way of New York City, which received $150,000 for its ReadNYC initiative in the South Bronx. The foundations also support a wide array of academic readiness and enrichment programs that likely also address literacy needs.

Interestingly, the Hearst Foundations also recently gave $50,000 to Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program (New York, NY) for literacy work related to its arts programming. Because this literacy objective flowed through arts education, the Hearst support came from the Culture giving pot. It's something to keep in mind if your organization works significantly in either arts education/engagement or STEM learning, another giving area within the Culture pot.

The most recent literacy giving has flowed through the foundations' Education focus. While this might seem most intuitive, not only is it not a stated priority (it's only explicitly stated for Social Service), it could also theoretically take a back seat to the foundations' primary education target: post-secondary education. Neverthelees, recent giving shows that more literacy programs are funded through this arena than the others, in the vein of "innovative" early education and K-12 programs, as well as teacher training. Recently, Better Basics (Birmingham, AL) received $70,000 "to support literacy and reading programs for children" through this funding stream, as did Literacy, Inc. (New York, NY) for general support of $75,000. The foundations also gave $150,000 to the Boston Public Library to support Community Learning, "a new multi-faceted approach to adult learning statewide in Massachusetts," as well as to a handful more direct literacy programs and a variety of K-12 academic prep, enrichment, and support programs for underserved students.

While the opportunities are there, the financial qualifications for grantseekers are rigorous. You must have an annual operating budget of at least $1 million to be eligible; the foundations further state that 60 percent of nonprofits receiving their grants in the Social Service giving area actually have operating budgets greater than $5 million per year; that balloons to 60 percent with budgets over $10 million for Culture giving, and 80 percent with budgets of $10 million for Education giving. In other words, bigger is better.

As you might expect, given the operating budgets of eligible organizations, the Hearst Foundations look large in terms of populations served. They are also looking for organizations that engage with underserved populations, which of course makes sense for literacy needs.

Regardless of the funding stream, the Hearst Foundations want your literacy program to differentiate itself from your peers—not just in an approach to programming, but also in terms of results. The foundations also place importance on results by expecting “evidence of sustainability” for programs beyond their support; preference is also given “to programs with the potential to scale productive practices in order to reach more people in need.”

Remarkably for a funder working on such a large playing field, the Hearst Foundations has an open online application process. They do, however, warn new applicants that 80 percent of their funding goes to previous recipients. Don't be daunted: if you do make the cut for initial funding through the Hearst Foundations, the odds are in your favor that you’ll continue receiving it. But you’ll have to wait at least three years until that happens; the foundations stipulate that as the “waiting period” between grants.