The Helen Diller Family Foundation: Bay Area Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder supports education, science, and the arts largely in the Bay Area, but also in Israel. Jewish causes are very important to this foundation, and today it’s best known for its teen fellows program.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, science, the arts

IP TAKE:  Education is the number one cause for this funder in the Bay Area. Most grants go to big name institutions, and nonprofit letters of inquiry don’t appear to be accepted.

PROFILE: The Helen Diller Family Foundation is largely committed to giving in the Bay Area with a focus on education, science and the arts. Sanford and Helen Diller established a family foundation in 1999. It's best known for its contributions for university facilities, many in the Bay Area but some also in Israel. Sanford and Helen Diller are San Francisco natives who made their fortune in the Prometheus Real Estate Group, developing mostly apartments in the Bay Area and along the West Coast since 1980.

The Dillers really made waves on the local philanthropy scene when they gave $35 million to University of California San Francisco to establish the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Care Center in 2003. Upon that gift announcement, Helen Diller said that she and her husband were interested in building a new community in San Francisco and a facility that would bring scientists from all around the world to improve lives.

"I wanted to do something for cancer and do something that would be the finest in the world when it came to research," Helen Diller said. "I was born in San Francisco at Mount Zion hospital. UCSF is known to have the finest scientists and doctors."

Other Diller support in San Francisco includes major grants to UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, the De Young Museum, and renovations to the Julius Kahn Playground and Mission Dolores Park. Staying true to its commitment to education, the foundation also sponsors the Diller Family Award for Excellence in Education, which recognizes top educators. Diller programs have identified exceptional teachers in religious schools, often ones associated with Jewish temples, and awarded $10,000 supplemental income grants.

A large part of the Diller’s philanthropic mission is promoting Jewish life and causes. The Diller Teen Fellows program, which is affiliated with the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco. The Dillers believe that supporting the growth of Jewish teens will create the next generation of strong Jewish leaders, and this has been a big priority area for the founders for about 20 years. This fellowship is an international leadership program for Jewish teens and works with alumni to form an international network of Jewish leaders. Questions can be directed to the staff at (415) 512-6436 or

Although the Foundation has awarded well over $200 million to organizations, it does not appear to accept unsolicited inquiries for grants.

“I wanted a hands-on approach, where I just don’t give out funds,” Helen Diller said. “I wanted to have my own programs, where I could originate the ideas — it’s challenging to come up with the ideas.”


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