James Irvine Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The James Irvine Foundation tends to seek out grantees directly, and it regularly gives to arts, youth, and democracy causes in California. The foundation has awarded more than $1.5 billion in grants to some 3,600 California organizations since it was established in 1937.

FUNDING AREAS: Art, California democracy, youth causes, economic and political opportunity, poverty

IP TAKE: A majority of organizations that get funded by Irvine are identified and contacted directly by the foundation staff. If you're sending in an unsolicited proposal, make sure it's for an arts program. Unsolicited arts proposals have had a 15 to 20% acceptance rate, compared with 1% for the foundation's other focus areas. What's more, is that you won't find a specific grantmaking program exclusive to the Bay Area. Currently, The Irvine's Focus on Local grantmaking program has its sights set on the counties of San Joaquin, Riverside and San Bernardino. 

PROFILE: Although the namesake founder of The James Irvine Foundation was a California agricultural pioneer, none of the foundation's grants go toward farming or the environment. Instead, The James Irvine Foundation is fixated on art, democracy, and the youth of the state. As a dedicated California resident, Irvine wanted all of his funds to stay within the state borders, and they do to this day. Since founded in 1937, the foundation has awarded more than $1.5 billion in grants to over 3,600 California organizations.

After James Irvine inherited an enormous ranch in Southern California in 1886, he cultivated crops such as grains, vegetables, and citrus with a keen business sense. He turned his ranch into a cash cow by reinvesting earnings in the enterprise. As the Orange County commercial and housing market boomed in the 1940s and 1950s, Irvine felt pressure to open his holdings to real estate development and eventually was forced to comply with federal legislation and sell the company. What does all this mean for the foundation? It has more assets available to nonprofits in the Bay Area.

The James Irvine Foundation was built upon four grantmaking principles: focus on place, invest in organizations, build leadership, and engage beyond grants. Its staff and board of directors tune in to the unique characteristics of workplaces and choose organizations that are already strong on their own. The Irvine is also looking for emerging leaders in the Bay Area, and it's not the type of foundation to wash its hands of your cause once a check has gone out. A majority of organizations that get funded are identified and contacted directly by the foundation staff. Although The Irvine does accept unsolicited grant proposals from organizations in California, very few of them actually receive funds.

It's important to note that the Irvine Foundation's grantmaking focus is evolving. It's big goal is to expand economic and political opportunity for working adults who are struggling with poverty. Grantmaking is now focused on three initiatives rather than separate programs, with a few speical projects on the side. However, it continues to support its current initiatives of arts, youth, and California democracy while this focus evolves.

Check out Irvine's blog for updates on its new directions for grantmaking. Ideas is has explored include career readiness, living-wage work, post-secondary success, and getting Californians involved in political decision-making.

In the past, the James Irvine arts program accepted grant proposals for three separate types of Exploring Engagement Funds: Organizations with budgets between $100,000 and $5 million, organizations with this budget range in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire area, and organizations with budgets over $5 million. However, Irvine stopped accepting these arts proposals in March 2016.

The foundation has tended to make more than 600 grants each year, with grants ranging from $500 to $4.5 million. Though the foundation has made a handful of larger grants in its average of $10 to $15 million in Bay Area annual grantmaking, realistically, most grants have fallen between $25,000 to $250,000. 

In 2017, the foundation will reveal more of its plans for grantmaking in regards to its planned initiatives. In the meantime, sign up for Irvine's email newsletter to keep up with how this foundation is transforming.

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