How Boston Funders Handled a Harsh Winter

Many parts of the country have experienced an uncommonly long, cold, snowy, and miserable winter this year. I'm looking at you, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. To my knowledge, there haven't been any “official” studies conducted about the effects of weather on philanthropy. But a definite connection has surfaced over the past few months.

During the 2013 to 2014 winter season, the Boston Foundation awarded $392,000 in grants to provide food, housing, fuel, and warmth to struggling local residents. This represents a $37,000 increase in this type of grant funding over last year and a $52,000 increase from two winters ago. Grants of this nature are made through the Boston Foundation's Food and Fuel Fund to nonprofit organizations that meet basic and emergency needs during winter months (Read Boston Foundation: Boston Area Grants).

Although some of these grants are made with money from the foundation itself, most of the Food and Fuel Fund money comes from donor-advised funds managed by the Boston Foundation. These are one-time, unsolicited grants aimed at providing both short-term and long-term assistance to diminish shortages in food, heat, and shelter needs. Recent grantees include Project Bread, Citizens Energy Corporation, Pine Street Inn, and Operation Warm. The average Food and Fuel grant is between $1,000 and $5,000.

Massachusetts is no stranger to miserable winters, of course. The Boston Foundation established the Food and Fuel Fund in 2008 after the economic downturn hit the area hard. Since this fund is just one of more than a dozen grantmaking initiatives at the foundation, funds are limited. To leverage these limited dollars, the foundation partners up with 51 other area foundations to tackle winter-related challenges through a program called Mass Needs. Other local foundations that we've covered recently, including the Yawkey Foundations, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Linde Family Foundation, and the State Street Foundation, are part of this effort, too. Collectively, this group has kicked in $13 million this winter.

The calendar may indicate that it's springtime, but lots of Boston residents are still struggling with winter-related health and housing issues. General questions about the Boston Foundation's Food and Fuel Fund or any of the grantmaking initiatives can be directed to