William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation: Bay Area Gra

OVERVIEW: Although the Bowes Foundation's primary focus areas are higher education and medical research, the yearly grantmaking budget is rounded out with a couple of donations to the arts. Unsolicited proposals aren't accepted at the foundation, but you can easily get in touch with the program officer and grants manager to introduce yourself.

FUNDING AREAS: Medical research, access to college, higher education, and the arts

IP TAKE: Your best chance at catching the Bowes Foundation's attention is to propose a program that gets kids and teenagers interested in science. Since the foundation won't touch your unsolicited grant request, standard, run-of-the-mill research proposals simply won't make the cut.

PROFILE: Even if you live in the Bay Area, you probably don't hear much from William K. Bowes, ad that's how he likes it. Bowes isn't involved in the philanthropy business for the recognition or the praise. Even so, his foundation's grants are making waves throughout San Francisco. He's been one of the city's biggest venture capitalists for 50 years, and he devotes a lot of his time now to medical research. While most of his investment career was built in medical and scientific industries, his philanthropic reach extends to the arts, architecture, music, and the environment. As shown in his recent interview with the Nob Hill Gazette, Bowes is a humble guy who has a good handle on how to get projects moving around the city.

The donor established the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation in 1991, and it's managed by Pacific Foundation Services, LLC. Although the foundation's primary focus areas are higher education and medical research, the yearly grantmaking budget is rounded out with a couple of donations to the arts. Bowes has served on boards and committees for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, The Exploratorium, Grace Cathedral, the UCSF Foundation, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Asian Art Museum, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Hoover Institution. Unlike the workings of some comparable private foundations in the city, Bowes's wife has little to no involvement in the philanthropy dealings.

Most of the Bowes grant money goes toward annual campaigns, building renovations, capital campaigns, general operating support, and scholarship funds each year. The Bowes Foundation awards about $25 million to $30 million in grants each year, and many them cross into million-dollar territory. Representative Bowes grants in the Bay Area include: 

  • $1.9 million for Exploratorium's capital campaign
  • $1.56 million to Stanford University's Bio-X Fellowship Fund
  • $1 million to the Canary Foundation's early cancer detection program at Stanford
  • $600,000 to Grace Cathedral's centennial campaign

The foundation does not make grants to individuals, but pretty much everything else is on the table. At the end of a recent year, the foundation reported over $456 million in assets and over $50 million in total giving.

Unfortunately, the Bowes Foundation isn't willing to accept unsolicited grant proposals, so there are no published guidelines for grantseekers. The foundation is run by a very small staff, consisting of only a senior program officer and a grants manager. The best way to get in touch with the foundation is through the senior program officer, Mary Gregory, at mgregory@pfs-llc.net or the program coordinator, Fiona Barrett, at fbarrett@pfs-llc.net.

Even though the foundation only commits to funding pre-selected organizations, it doesn't hurt to send out an email to introduce yourself and what your nonprofit is doing. Your best chance at catching Bowes's attention is to propose a program that gets kids and teenagers interested in science. Bowes might be a private guy, but he still wants his legacy to live on in the youth of San Francisco.

PEOPLE:

  • Mary L. Gregory, Senior Program Officer
  • Fiona Barrett, Program Coordinator

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