Bothin Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Bothin Foundation supports social services, education, the arts and environmental causes in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and San Mateo counties.

IP TAKE: By solely providing capital grants that build capacity, the Bothin Foundation takes a refreshingly different—and enormously useful—take on how it supports direct service nonprofits in the Bay Area.

PROFILE: The Bothin Foundation is a long-standing institution, established back in 1917 by Henry E. Bothin, a San Francisco-based “Philanthropist of Steel.”  

These days, the Bothin Foundation (pronounced "bo-THEEN") still focuses on the Bay Area—specifically San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and San Mateo counties—providing support for social services, education, the arts and environmental programs that engage with low-income families, youth (which the foundation defines as up to age 24) or individuals with disabilities.

While the Bothin Foundation has broad interests, it has a refreshingly narrow way of supporting them: the foundation only provides capital investment grants intended to build the capacity of its nonprofit grantees. Examples of capacity-building for the foundation include building improvements, vehicles, equipment and technology infrastructure (especially if it’s directly used by program participants). Back in a 1999 interview, Lyman Casey, the foundation’s media-shy President of the Board of Trustees, noted, “We give some of the least sexy grants probably ever done.” He cited septic tanks as an example, and added, “We're probably the only foundation to ever do that!”

That point of pride for being unsexy is because the Bothin Foundation understands need. It is looking to fund “durable” investments that “directly impact clients,” and projects that are immediately necessary or time-sensitive.

So, Bothin fills an important niche, but keep in mind what they won't fund. The foundation doesn’t give cash for website development or computer software. It “generally” does not fund hospitals (some exceptions are made for public hospitals and community clinics). And the foundation only gives grants to K-12 schools that exclusively service children with learning differences and developmental disabilities.

Grants from the Bothin Foundation generally fall into the fairly wide range of $7,500 to $40,000. A sampling of recent recipients includes:

The Bothin Foundation has an open application process, and since it will only fund an organization every four years, there is real opportunity to receive its attention. There are three deadlines per year that coincide with board meetings/decision-making. (The board is comprised in part of Bothin Family generations later, as well as employees of Pacific Foundation Services, which operates the nonprofit.) The foundation expects proposed capital project to be completed within 12 months of receiving funding, and therefore urges applicants to time their submissions accordingly.


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