What the Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation Looks for in Grantees

The Boston-based Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation has a very specific funding focus, and a targeted geographic focus, too. Concentrating grantmaking on Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, this is a supporter of social justice, community building, and civic engagement.

According to foundation administrator, Amy Shorey, the foundation accepts proposals by invitation only. That said, the foundation is always open to new grantseekers that fit within its guidelines and have the following common characteristics:

  • Deep roots and participation by members of the community that will benefit
  • Unflagging interest in creating change that will improve well-being, spirit and local control in urban neighborhoods in Greater Boston and other Massachusetts cities, especially communities of color
  • Connectedness and collaboration with other social justice organizations

The foundation is really looking for organizations and coalitions that are forging new approaches or working on emerging social justice or civic engagement issues. Potential applicants who fit this description should first contact the foundation’s staff as a first step. The foundation works through GMA Foundations for administration and operations, and the two administrators here to know are Amy Shorey (617-391-3072; ashorey@gmafoundations.com) and Prentice Zinn (617-391-3091; pzinn@gmafoundations.com).

The foundation’s theory of change is best summed up like this:

Disadvantaged communities are improved by empowerment and activation of residents starting from the grassroots and moving to significant policy change, as well as the development of strong neighborhood leaders. In order to encourage such change, the Miller Foundation funds community organizing, advocacy and empowerment organizations that build and activate a strong base of community support. In addition to funding community organizations—often for multiple years, and frequently with general operating grants—the Miller Foundation funds a few “infrastructure organizations.” The latter are social justice organizations or coalitions that provide data, capacity building, or financing to our community–based grantees. Our grants are strengthened by our strong relationships with other like-minded funders, and the fact that the majority of our grantees work in partnership with one another.

The Miller Foundation developed the Miller Innovation fund in 2011 to make yearly, short-term grants to organizations that work to improve social justice and empower the public. There’s an annual call for concept applications, and the fund defines “innovation” as a new approach to address a problem or need, or an approach used to address a new situation or context, which warrants experimental application, learning or development. Contact Administrators Shorey and Zinn before working up your 2-3 page concept paper, which must be submitted by April 1st using the GMA Foundations Online Application System. 

When asked about a piece of advice that the foundation would offer to prospective grantees, Ms. Shorey responded:

The Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation values and believes in strong direct services as part of vibrant communities, but does not fund those services. Instead, it chooses to occupy a part of philanthropy where there are fewer foundations:  supporting community organizing, empowerment and advocacy, based on its belief that advancing the well-being of disadvantaged communities is best achieved by empowering and supporting community members to generate and lead change. Potential applicants should first read the foundation’s guidelines, which are intentionally broad as to content area, and should look at our grants list. They may call staff to explore whether they might be invited to propose, but should be aware that ideas for services to individuals and families, such as those leading to employment, housing, or educational services, will not be invited to submit.

To learn more about this funder, check out IP's full profile of the Herman and Frieda L. Miller Foundation.