Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation: New York City Grants

OVERVIEW: The Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation was established to support scientific and educational causes, but today focuses on the environment, economic development, legal services, and reproductive rights. The foundation awards nearly 100 grants each year, most of which range between $50,000 and $100,000 each.

FUNDING AREAS: Economic development, civil legal services, criminal justice, reproductive rights, and the environment

IP TAKE: The Gimbel Foundation is a reliable ally of nonprofits working to promote greater equity in New York, supporting a large stable of organizations year after year. Newcomers may find it challenging to break in here, but Gimbel is definitely a good friend to have. 

PROFILE: Established in 1943, the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation was broadly defined to award grants for charitable scientific and educational purposes. But as control of the foundation passed through a few hands, Gimbel’s interest areas have narrowed. However, one factor has remained a constant: New York City is at the heart of foundation grantmaking.

Like many other successful businessmen in the 20th century, Bernard Gimbel’s fortune came from the department store industry. He was one of the founders of Gimbel’s, a major American department store in operation between 1887 and 1987. At one point, Gimbel’s was the largest department store chain in the country with 36 stores throughout the United States. Bernard, who passed away in 1966 at the age of 81, was the man responsible for opening a New York outlet for his family business and using his competitive spirit to compete against Macy’s, Saks, and other stores around New York's Herald Square. Today, the philanthropic foundation is run by Leslie Gimbal, granddaughter of Bernard and Alva and daughter of filmmaker and underwater photojournalist, Peter Gimbel.

Although education was one of the founding principles of the Gimbel Foundation, the staff no longer accepts requests for funding in the area of education. Instead, the foundation looks for economic development programs that increase the number of living wage jobs in New York City and ensuring low-income workers’ access to those jobs. Within the focus area of civil legal services, Gimbel supports programs that offer legal representation on a range of issues including education, employment and foster care.

Criminal justice support is focused on effective policies, reduced recidivism, and improved public safety. In addition to reproductive rights programs that protect women’s choice, Gimbel supports training programs for medical students, healthcare professionals, and public advocates.

Last but certainly not least, environmental issues are at the forefront of Gimbel’s grantmaking priorities. Although environmental funding has had a national focus in the past, local initiatives that increase the resiliency of New York City’s environment are also of interest. Specific environmental issues on Gimbel’s radar include carbon emissions, energy efficiency, ocean pollution, toxic chemicals in the air, and preserving marine ecosystems. Past grantees have pitched ideas ranging from public advocacy to grassroots campaigns and public education.

Some local grants have included $75,000 for general support to Advocates for Children of New York, $55,000 to Bronx Defenders to support its Reentry Net program, and $50,000 for general support to the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. Almost all of Gimbel's New York-area grants stay within the five boroughs, and most grants are in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. At the end of 2013, the foundation reported over $55 million in assets and more than $3.5 million in total giving split among 99 grants. A list of recent grants can be found on the foundation's Grants page.

This a transparent and accessible funder. To get your nonprofit involved with the Gimbel Foundation, you’ll first need to submit an initial letter of inquiry through Gimbel’s online system. These are accepted on an ongoing basis, and grant decisions are made in December and June each year. The best way to get in touch with the Gimbel Foundation is by phone at 212-684-9110.


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