The Best Buy Foundation Connects Creative Writing With "21st Century Skills"

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 more is its narrow student age-group focus, which is limited to teenagers 13 – 18, and its focus on building tech skills with explicit emphasis on arts and media production.

And while creative writing isn't first and foremost in Best Buy's giving strategy, there's potential for your program here if your processes, platforms and mindsets sync with this funder.

The Best Buy Foundation defines “21st-century skills” as “innovative skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” that rigorously utilize technology. It’s easy to see how those four attributes can apply to creative writing. The twist is its simultaneous focus on technology. And while you need not be an organization that solely educates or works with students, in terms of a funding partnership with this foundation, the key is to connect your work with rigorous hands-on experiences for teenagers.

Funding flows through two grant programs. National Grants provide awards typically in the $100,000 - $200,000 range to organizations whose work spans multiple cities. The foundation “prefers” those cities to 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. But even when you don’t include some of these locations, be sure the ones you do include are 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 gives 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 are different 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 that set them up for success—in high school, as a gateway to and through college, and for career preparation. In terms of those eventual careers, the foundation has a vision of inspiring and preparing “a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and dreamers.”

The foundation looks for programs that “transform underserved teens from consumers to creators.” While creative writing isn't explicitly on that list website design, mobile app development, and audio production—and all are connectors to creative writing. The foundation also states that its list is just a starting point for ideas.

A recent National Grant went to Common Sense Media ($150,000), whose programs include the rating of books and other written content for child/family appropriateness. More direct funding links can be found on the Community Grants side, with recent awards to VerbalEyze in Atlanta, GA ($5,000); the Shakespeare Society of America in Moss Landing, CA ($3,000); and WriteBoston in Roxbury, MA ($5,000).

Also don't discount the potential for 21st century skill-related creative writing projects that can take place at libraries, community centers, youth development organizations and schools. All of those types of entities are heavily funded by the Best Buy Foundation.

Best Buy Foundation 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.

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