Connecting "21st Century Skills" to Conservancy at the Best Buy Foundation

The Best Buy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the consumer electronics big-box store, so it’s no surprise that the foundation focuses on technology and 21st-century skills. What distinguishes this funder is its narrow student age-group focus, which is limited to teenagers 13 to 18, in concert with its broad scope of how and why to engage this population.

The Best Buy Foundation defines “21st-century skills” as “innovative skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” that rigorously utilize technology. So it’s no surprise that STEM education programs receive a lot of support. But these STEM programs aren’t of the academic “desk-work” variety: rather, they engage students in hands-on experience—without sacrificing the academic rigor.

That's where environmental conservation comes in. The Best Buy Foundation's recent giving history shows that it will fund this topic area, so long as a program connects the dots in its overall strategy.

Funding flows through two grant programs. National Grants provide awards in the $100,000 to $200,000 range to organizations whose work spans multiple cities. The foundation prefers that those cities include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Jersey City/NYC, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Antonio, San Francisco/Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C., because those are the locations of the foundation’s Teen Tech Centers. Other locations should be within 50 miles of a Best Buy location. Eligible are 501(c)(3) organizations with established out-of-school time programming, or programming with a “proven track record” of serving teenagers. Funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.

Community Grants go to nonprofits working locally and regionally. Amounts are much smaller: The foundation states that the average grant size, here, is $5,000, with a maximum of $10,000. Eligible organizations must be a public or nonprofit community-based organization. (The foundation cites community centers, schools and libraries as examples.) But here, too, an organization and its program work must occur within 50 miles of a Best Buy location. Likewise, funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.

Though the scopes of geography and dollar amounts differ between the two granting programs, the focus of the giving is the same. In the belief that “access to technology creates access to opportunity,” the Best Buy Foundation focuses on providing underserved student populations with “hands-on access” to technology education and tools with a vision of inspiring and preparing “a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and dreamers.” In that vision is a good blueprint for how to pitch your environmental program.

The foundation provides a lengthy list of examples of the activites it supports, but also says that these examples are just a starting point. They include computer programming, digital imaging (photography, graphic design, filmmaking), music production, robotics, gaming and mobile app development, maker fairs/hackathons, and website design. All of these can apply to environmental programming for the teenage set.

Recent Community Grant recipients that deeply engage environmental programming include Great River Greening in Saint Paul, MN (for $7,000) and Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, CA (for $3,000).

Of course, environmental environmental programs can also be driven by science museums, schools, youth development clubs, and libraries—all of which are funded by the Best Buy Foundation as well.

All of the Best Buy Foundation's grant opportunities are open to all who wish to apply. National Grant applications are due early October. Community Grant applications are due early July. If you happen to be a Twin Cities-based organization, then a special pot called the Twin Cities Fund gives you the opportunity to apply four times per year.


Best Buy Foundation: Grants for Science Education