Fidelity Foundation: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: The Fidelity Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Fidelity Investments, the multinational financial services corporation. Its philanthropic grantmaking is large-scale and prioritizes two categories: Arts & Culture and Community Development & Social Services.

IP TAKE: The Fidelity Foundation views arts and culture, including the visual arts (and especially support of museums), as a primary focus of its philanthropic pursuits. In line with its corporate ethos, it takes a rigorous business-model approach to the types of projects it funds, even in this realm. However, it typically only funds organizations with operating budgets of $1,000,000 or more, and projects budgeted at $100,000 or more (though they do not necessary offer this much). It also restricts its grantmaking to twelve metropolitan areas in the US and Canada.

PROFILE: The Fidelity Foundation was established in 1965 as the philanthropic arm of Fidelity Investments, the U.S.-based multinational financial services corporation. The foundation seeks “projects from organizations of regional or national importance throughout the United States. High-impact projects with potential to inform or influence the nonprofit sector are of particular interest.” The Fidelity Foundation focuses on two areas of giving: Arts & Culture and Community Development & Social Services.

As befits the philanthropic arm of an investment firm, the Fidelity Foundation adopts a rigorous business-model approach as its granting criteria. It even applies this approach to its arts and culture funding. Indeed, the foundation looks for “strategic, transformative projects that have the potential to substantially increase the grantee's impact, efficiency or long-term sustainability.” Within those constructs, it seeks to invest grant money in projects that are:

  • Planning Initiatives, such as funding for “project consultants to develop strategic, business, technology and other types of plans;”

  • Organizational Development, meaning “projects that involve the recruitment and development of senior management and operating staff.”

  • Capital Improvements, “such as new construction, renovations, expansions and other initiatives that support the organization's strategic vision;”

  • High-Impact Technology Projects “that can substantially increase an organization's efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability;”

In other words, the Fidelity Foundation seeks to support projects that are big in scope and rigorously planned.

Additionally, the foundation does not distribute grants for general operating support. However, it prefers initiatives where its giving incentives other donors (through matching gift challenges, for example). In fact, it does not want to be the sole funder of any arts and culture project, as it considers “an organization's ability to attract a broad range of support as key to its strength and sustainability.”

It all amounts to a business-oriented approach to arts and culture giving, and that makes the Fidelity Foundation a unique funder.

Another aspect that sets the foundation apart: It accepts an online LOI from anyone, as long as the visual arts project is part of a 501(c)(3) operating in the U.S. or Canada.

Less unique, but still important, the Fidelity Foundation seeks to back projects that show a “commitment to excellence and innovation.” In the world of visual arts, this speaks to the end product and the visitor/engager’s experience, but what the foundation also means by this is that it especially seeks projects that find “creative and innovative means of advancing an organization or nonprofit sector and strive to remain flexible and opportunistic through a competitive selection process.”

The Fidelity Foundation funds generously to back-up its big pursuits and ideals and has distributed more than $300 million in the foundation’s lifetime. Past visual arts grants from the Fidelity Foundation reflect a wide variety of geography locations and commitment to supporting a diversity of expression: the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA; National Arts Strategies in Alexandria, VA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York NY; the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, DE; the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, FL; the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, CA; and Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami, FL, among many others.

The Fidelity Foundation accepts LOIs on a rolling basis. It generally only funds organizations with operating budgets of $1,000,000 or more, and projects budgeted at $100,000 or more. It also restricts its grantmaking to these twelve metropolitan areas in the US and Canada where it has offices: Albuquerque, NM; Boston, MA; Cincinnati, OH/Covington, KY; Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX; Denver, CO; Jacksonville, FL; Merrimack, NH; New York, NY/New Jersey; Raleigh/Durham, NC; Smithfield, RI; Salt Lake City, UT; Toronto, ON.

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