The Bernard Osher Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder provides scholarships and grants for integrative medicine, continuing education for people over 50, and local arts and education groups. Arts and education in San Francisco and Alameda Counties is a big local focus.

FUNDING AREAS: Scholarships, higher education, education for adults 50+, integrative medicine, local arts, local education

IP TAKE: The best opportunities for Bay Area groups is in arts and education. But don’t forget that BOF also gives priority to this region for scholarships, integrative medicine, and continuing education for retirees.

PROFILE: The Bernard Osher Foundation was established in 1977 in San Francisco. Osher was a local businessman and community leader who became a founding director of World Savings, which was the second largest savings institution in the U.S. when it was purchased by Wachovia in 2006. The foundation supports post-secondary scholarships, lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults, select integrative medicine programs, and arts and educational organizations. Osher was a native of Maine, so much of the foundation’s grantmaking is focused on Northern California and Maine.

One particularly interesting aspect of BOF’s funding is its Lifelong Learning Institutes, which exist on the campuses of at least 119 higher education institutions in the U.S. This effort began back in 2000 to benefit older adults, many of whom have retired but still find joy in learning. One of the first examples of a successful program was at the Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of San Francisco; following soon after were Sonoma State University, the California State University, and the University of California systems. This is what BOF looks for in lifelong learning programs: non-credit educational programs specifically designed for seasoned adults aged 50 and older; strong support from the leadership of the university or college; a diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating courses; robust volunteer leadership; established mechanisms for evaluating participant satisfaction with educational offerings; and sound organizational structure.

For younger students, BOF supports scholarship programs at over 250 colleges and universities. Most of these are located in California and Maine.

There are also five integrative medicine programs that receive BOF support, including one at the University of California, San Francisco. BOF uses the terms integrative medicine and complementary medicine somewhat interchangeably, and these grants go toward research, education and clinical care. Unlike most health funders, BOF chooses to support non-traditional fields, such as acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies, yoga, massage, guided imagery and mindfulness-based meditation. The foundation’s integrative medicine program is not open to new proposals at this time, but it does welcome two- or three-page descriptions of activities in this field to stay up with current developments in the field and revisit them if it decides to expand grantmaking.

BOF is particularly partial to the San Francisco Bay Area and the state of Maine when it comes to funding local arts and education programs. New grantseekers can submit unsolicited letters of inquiry in less than two pages by mail or email. Returning grantees can submit a report describing how the previous BOF funds were used and a proposal for a new grant. Grantees over the years have included performing arts groups, literary programs, educational and environmental groups, and social service organizations. The foundation increasingly emphasizes assisting arts and educational organizations in Maine and San Francisco and Alameda Counties.

You can reach the foundation’s corporate secretary and program director, Jeanie Hirokane, at 415-861-5587 or She’s your best point of contact for all grantseeking matters. Otherwise, the foundation is made up of nine board members and five staff members.


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