These Donors Dig Dads: How Fatherhood is Getting Attention from Philanthropy

There's lots happening in philanthropy these days around fatherhood, and with Father's Day just around the corner, we figured it was a good time to survey some of more innovative and promising fatherhood-fostering initiatives out there.

But first, a quick review of where we are in time on the role of fathers. Those of us who were fortunate enough to benefit from a positive fathering relationship understand its massive value. But having a nurturing and involved father was not always the norm, and in different times in America's history, father involvement in the family has come in and out of fashion. Fathers in Colonial times were more involved with children since religious beliefs dictated that work and home duties be closely aligned, whereas 19th-century industrialization required men to work away from home and resulted in women's relegation as sole caretakers of the home and children as well as "dependents" of the husband "provider."

Starting in the 1970s, social scientists and feminists increasingly challenged gendered arrangements of work and care. And since the 1990s, a growing body of social science research has pointed to the problems of father absence at a time in which record numbers of children are living in homes without fathers. Social science data has made it increasingly clear that these children are more likely than their peers in two-parent homes to suffer a number of negative outcomes across every measure of child well-being. 

Foundations have been interested in fatherhood issues for at least two decades. (See, for example, this 2000 overview of "donors and the burgeoning fatherhood movement" by the Philanthropy Roundtable.) Today, a number of funders that address human services, criminal justice, and economic development, invest to shape the role of fatherhood in these issues.

Lately, the Kellogg Foundation has been a major leader in this work, as longtime sponsors of large-scale initiatives that highlight and enhance the role of fathering in family life. 

Kellogg starts from the beginning by involving fathers in supporting breastfeeding, and has funded research to identify ways to help men take that supportive role for the "First Food" initiative of the foundation.

Kellogg is also a longtime and substantial supporter of the Center for Urban Families in Maryland, one of the largest fatherhood-focused family projects in the country. See our recent reporting on this collaboration.

And Kellogg money has supported fatherhood work in other ways, too. For example, it gave $100,000 to Family Service of Greater New Orleans in July of 2014, a one-year grant to "intervene in the cycle of disengaged families by encouraging and supporting young men to have an active and effective role in parenting their children."

We should also mention Kellogg's gantmaking aimed at stopping young men of color from getting caught up early the criminal justice system, as well as fostering positive male identity. While this work is not explicitly about fatherhood, it's closely related, since young men embroiled in that system have a harder time fulfilling their responsibilities as fathers. Kellogg made a $15 million three-year commitment that started in September of 2014 through the New Venture Fund to "create healthy living and learning environments for young men of color, ending harsh disciplinary practices and the school-to-prison pipeline, through support of the School Discipline and Environment Initiative." This program is nationwide, with focal points in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and Washington D.C. 

For many years, the Annie E. Casey foundation was major funder on fatherhood issues, but phased out its big initiative in this area, called Responsible Fatherhood and Marriage, a few years back. (You can read all about that pioneering effort here.) That said, Casey money has continued to reach groups engaged in fatherhood work. 

As for other national foundations that work to support fatherhood initiatives, one that stands out is the F. M. Kirby Foundation, which granted the National Fatherhood Initiative $65,000 in 2013 and another $50,000 in 2014. The Kirby Foundation, a family foundation born of Woolworth money in 1931, gives for a range of services and programs and seems to have a particular interest in developing the role of fatherhood in healthy families. 

The National Fatherhood Initiative has also drawn support from a range of other funders over the years. These include Casey, the Bradley Foundation, and the Anschutz Foundation. Casey is another big supporter of the Center for Urban Families. That organization has also pulled in serious money from the Weinberg Foundation, which has a major focus on Baltimore, and the Open Society Foundations, which also has long worked in that city. 

Meanwhile, throughout the U.S., community foundations play a large role in funding fatherhood initiatives. In Texas, for example, the Communities Foundation of Texas, funded High Adventure Treks for Dads and Daughters with $22,484 in 2014 and another $28,142 in 2015 for the purpose of developing father-daughter relationships through outdoor camping and survival skills as well as relationship-building experiences. 

The California Endowment has taken an interest in funding fatherhood initiatives in that state, including the Marcus A. Foster Educational Institute, which received $20,000 to in 2014 for the purpose of "train[ing] fathers to provide social and emotional supports to boys and young men in Oakland schools in order to improve their health and academic outcomes." 

For corporate foundations focused on fatherhood, the 3M Foundation has been a supporter of Dads Make a Difference, a national organization working to promote father involvement, with satellite organizations throughout the country. Since 2009, 3M has given this organization five small grants ($2,500 to $5,000) though we couldn't find evidence that they have given them money more recently. This organization has also received past support from the McKnight Foundation, with its last donation on record being $60,000 in 2009, and the Otto Bremer Foundation, which provided grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 in recent years.

Digging a little deeper into the issue of seeding fatherhood in positive male identity, some of the largest grants going out in this arena come from the California Endowment and W.K. Kellogg, and go to the National Compadres Network. In 2013, Kellogg gave $450,000 to this organization to "enhance the success of men and boys of color by engaging them in proven strategies that prevent recidivism in juvenile justice systems and nurture their integration into communities as productive citizens."

In 2014, the California Endowment gave $491,000 to National Compadres Network to form the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute, for the purpose of supporting health and wellness in boys and men of color "by providing training and technical assistance on trauma and healing-informed practices." These grants are not explicitly for fatherhood, but are very much aligned with the agenda of bringing men and boys into a strong sense of positive identity early in life which will help establish good roots for fathering relationships in the future.

And while we're at it, we don't usually get into the government grantmaking at IP, but it's significant to note that the Obama Administration is taking fatherhood perhaps more seriously than any prior administration, and has a lot going on for fathers facing reentry after imprisonment.  

Surely, we've missed some other interesting things going on, so feel free to chime in below in the comments section with efforts worth flagging.