Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder supports causes in the areas of environment, human health, education, and music. Letters of inquiry are accepted at any time. California nonprofits are given priority.

FUNDING AREAS: Environment and health, education, music

IP TAKE: California-based arts and environment initiatives are the two biggest causes for this funder. Even if your organization is more tied to education or health, make sure arts and environment (as they directly impact residents) are somehow intertwined.

PROFILE: The Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation was established in 1982 to support nonprofits that aligned with the foundation’s broad philanthropic pursuits. In the beginning, Clarence and his brother and sister served as trustees of the foundation. After he passed away in 1988, the foundation filled the board with members of the Heller and Mandell families, hired a staff, and began full-time operations in 1990.

The Foundation accepts grant applications in three program areas: environment and health, education, and music. There are two rounds of funding each year in May or June and November, and the Foundation gives priority to proposals from organizations in California.

Heller lumps education and health causes into one category and looks for programs that prevent harm to human health from environmental hazards. This program supports planning and development projects that advance environmental and social goals with good environmental practices. It also supports sustainable agricultural and food systems.

For its music funding, Heller prefers to support programs that encourage the pursuit and accessibility of chamber and symphonic music. It funds community-based ensembles, community music center, schools, and institutes to increase and diversify audiences.

The Foundation’s education program priorities are supporting educators to improve their teaching skills and also supporting environmental and arts education programs. As you can see, the education program is closely tied to the other two funding areas, but targeted specifically at children and youth. The Foundation trustees occasionally recommend special projects for funding, but these typically fall outside of the three focus areas. Organizations cannot apply directly for these grants. 

Recent grant recipients include the following: Heart of Los Angeles, Education Outside, and Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

The application process begins with a letter of inquiry submitted through the foundation’s online application system. After creating an account, you’ll need to provide a description of your organization, purpose and scope of your project, and projected project budget. LOIs are accepted at any time. Watch the video tutorial for using the online application system before getting started. The staff may request a meeting with potential grantees to learn more about a project, and they will also grant access to the full application process if interested.

Based in San Francisco, the foundation is led by a staff of three and nine officers and directors. Executive Director Bruce Hirsch is your best point of contact for the environment and health programs, and Senior Program Office Stan Hutton is the best contact person of the music and education program areas. To get in touch with general questions, send an email to or call 415-989-9839.


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