Hellman Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder supports local Bay Area organizations in the areas of education and youth development, health access and basic needs. The arts (music and dance in particular) were passions of the founders and still receive some support today.

FUNDING AREAS: Education and youth development, health access, and basic needs 

IP TAKE: This is a locally focused funder overseen by a family but managed by a company of philanthropic advisors. Make the advisors your first point of contact for any questions about grantmaking, but know that unsolicited proposals are not welcome.

PROFILE: The Hellman Foundation calls the San Francisco Bay Area home and is committed to local grantmaking here. This foundation was established in 2011 and awarded over $25 million in grants in its first few years. It all began with Warren and Chris Hellman, who were known for their eclectic generosity and committment to causes they cared about.

Warren was born into a prominent family in California: he found success establishing two premier private equity firms and helping to create several other alternative investment management firms. He was always passionate about Bay Area causes and has served as chairman of the San Francisco Foundation, trustee of the UC Berkeley Foundation, and as a member of the Jewish Community Federation. An enthusiastic banjo player, he also inspired the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, a free annual music event in Golden Gate Park.

Chris Hellman was a ballerina who danced with London’s Festival Ballet. Later in life, she developed Alzheimer’s disease but was always passionate about supporting the arts through philanthropy. She was a member of the board and chair of the board of trustees for the San Francisco Ballet for many years. The foundation was established when Warren passed away in 2011, and the Hellman Family Foundation merged with the Hellman Foundation in 2013.

Today, Tricia Hellman Gibbs serves as the president of the board of directors for the Hellman Foundation and oversees the family philanthropy with her siblings. The foundation’s current grantmaking focus is on education and youth development, health access, and basic needs.

In a recent year, the foundation awarded about $13 million in grants to over 130 organizations. Grantmkaing is on the rise because it awarded just over $5 million in grants to 70 organizations just before that. Past grantees have included the Bay Area Discovery Museum for Children’s Creativity, the San Francisco Education Fund, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. More recent grantees can be viewed on the funder's website.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, the Hellman Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. An interesting initiative for community organizations is Hellman’s Collaborative Change Initiative, which is all about boosting collaborative ventures to solve community problems. Collaborations in San Francisco and Alameda Counties were awarded grants to pilot this program, including Children’s Oral Health Collaborative, Oakland Starting Smart and Strong Initiative, and EatSF Fruit and Vegetable Voucher Program. Check the initiative’s Application Process page for the most up-to-date information on dates and deadlines.

The Hellman Fellows program has actually been around longer than the foundation, since 1994. This program provides grants to colleges and universities to support junior faculty research. However, this is a separate funding entity and does not receive funding from the Hellman Foundation.

The Hellman Foundation does not have its own staff but is managed by Hirsch & Associates, LLC, Philanthropic Advisors. To get in touch with the three-member team at Hirsch in charge of Hellman programs and operations, call 415-837-5408 or submit an inquiry via the online form.

PEOPLE:

  • Susan Mayer Hirsch, Executive Director
  • Betsy Merzenich, Director of Programs and Deputy Director
  • Laurel Severt, Grants & Program Associate

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