We recently profiled the San Francisco-based Morris Stulsaft Foundation, which is solely dedicated to Bay Area children and youth in need. So for a first-hand perspective on MSF grantmaking, I checked in with the foundation’s executive director, Mary Gregory, to learn about what she and her staff and board are looking for in new grantees. Ms. Gregory, as well as the foundation’s two program officers and grants manager, are contracted with Pacific Foundation Services to provide program and administrative services to the seven-member board of directors.
MSF has four funding areas, each with its own distinctive approach. One big funding area is foster children and youth, and the foundation has supported At the Crossroads, California Youth Connection, and First Place for Youth. The focus here is on getting foster kids to complete school. Foster youth organizations are also given priority for “pathways to work” grants, which help 15 to 24-year-olds learn job skills and secure jobs.
Early education is another priority, with support mostly going to teacher development programs, such as those at Coastside Children’s Programs, the East Bay Agency for Children, and Papermill Creek Children's Corner. MSF also believes in the power of parental involvement and supports programs accordingly. Finally, MSF engages in arts grantmaking, which is typically less than that in other funding areas and mostly goes to arts outreach and access programs for underserved youth. School art programs for elementary-age kids have been catching the board’s attention lately.
The foundation is looking for new grantees, but has a policy of providing up to three years of funding, which is renewed each year, followed by a break. According to Gregory, the board understands the importance of funding multiple years, but the foundation also wants to learn about new and promising organizations and to give other established organizations a chance to apply. Therefore, this is a great funder for new and small local organizations to get involved with.
These are the characteristics that MSF grantees tend to share:
They have great leadership, they run a compelling program or programs that the board believes can really help young people in important ways, they have convincingly demonstrated the need for MSF funding, and they are in selected areas in any of five Bay Area counties.
Five (Not Nine) Counties
Although some Bay Area funders support the nine-county Bay Area region with grants, MSF focuses on five counties, and only certain parts of some of them. Lately, the foundation awards the majority of grants to nonprofits in San Francisco and Oakland. However, MSF considers grant applications from groups in Alameda, Marin, northern San Mateo (extending south to Redwood City), San Francisco, and west Contra Costa Counties.
When I asked Gregory for one piece of advice that she’d offer prospective grantees, this is what she said:
Please look carefully at the guidelines for each of the four program areas in which the foundation grants. The MSF is relatively small (about $28 million in assets in the trust that was established in the 1950s specifically to fund the foundation, a structure that you don’t see today), so the board only makes about 12 grants in each program area. They are a knowledgeable board, and have thought very carefully about what to fund; their beliefs about how they can best help children are expressed through their guidelines.
Over the past 18 months, MSF has re-evaluated its program areas and made some changes that take effect in 2016. To learn more about the Morris Stulsaft Foundation, check out our full funder profile, call the staff at 415-561-6540, or email Ms. Gregory at firstname.lastname@example.org.