OVERVIEW: The Mertz Gilmore Foundation is a well-known national and global climate change grantmaker, but it has two local focus areas in New York City: community development and dance. Most foundation grants fall between $20,000 and $100,000.
FUNDING AREAS: Low-income communities in New York City, dance in New York City, climate change, democratic values
IP TAKE: This funder is a great resource for dance organizations and nonprofits that provide technical assistance to community groups; it's accessible, too.
PROFILE: The Mertz Gilmore Foundation may be best known for its climate change grants, but it also supports a lot of local causes in New York City. The foundation reported over $128 million in assets and has been focused on grantmaking for more than five decades.
The foundation was established in 1959 by Joyce Mertz and her parents, LuEsther and Harold. Peace and civil rights were early focus areas of the foundation and also passions of Joyce and her husband, Robert Wallace Gilmore. The couple’s support for the arts always had a local focus, but their interest in environmental issues turned national and even global.
Joyce passed away in 1974 and Robert in 1988, and Robert expanded the foundation’s board beyond the family before his death. These are Mertz Gilmore’s two current local priorities:
New York City Communities
Mertz’s NYC Communities program focuses on vibrancy of low-income local communities. It’s all about finding solutions to job loss, health care costs, home foreclosures, and affordable housing. Mertz Gimore supports grassroots organizing and advocacy groups that strengthen communities, address human needs, and connect with other nonprofits and city agencies.
The foundation provides three types of program support: grants to community-based organizations, technical assistance, and collaborative campaigns. However, it is not considering any more community-based organization grant requests until further notice.
Technical assistance is provided in the fields of law, analysis, advocacy, and planning to help neighborhood groups achieve their goals. Interested grantees should pitch programs that influence policy, scale up existing programs, and expand their activism reach. Economic and environmental justice groups fare particularly well with Mertz Gilmore. Past technical assistance grantees include the Center for Urban Pedagogy ($25,000), the Pratt Center for Community Development ($150,000), and the Hester Street Collaborative ($25,000). Many of these grants have gone toward educational materials, training, and research.
The foundation also funds a few collaborative campaigns for groups that can achieve their program goal in a year or two. The range of funding for these grants varies depending on the stage of the project. Priority is given to inquiries from networks uniting around a common problem or issue. Past grantees include Adihikar for Human Rights & Social Justice ($50,000), Chhaya Community Development Corporation ($50,000), and New Immigrant Community Empowerment ($75,000). Most of these grants go toward advancing policies and campaigns.
The NYC Communities program officer, Rachel Young, can be reached at email@example.com.
New York City Dance
Mertz’s NYC Dance program is very active in the city and draws a wide variety of audiences and artists. Joyce Mertz Gilmore was always very passionate about dance, and the foundation continues to honor her through dance grantmaking. This was one of the first foundations to recognize the role that presenters play in the dance industry. Presenters give artists technical and promotional support, commission pieces, stage works-in-progress, mount full performance seasons, host outreach programs, and build distribution networks.
The foundation supports small and mid-sized dance companies in the city, and considers “presenters” to be organizations or departments and programs of larger organizations that connect artists and audiences through performances. Only contemporary dance groups are considered for grants. Past “presenter” grants include $60,000 to Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage), $40,000 to BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and $50,000 to the Bronx Museum.
Mertz Gilmore also supports a limited number of advocacy and support services projects related to the dance field by improving conditions for individual artists. Leah Krauss is your best point of contact for the dance program, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested grantseekers need to contact Leah to discuss a proposed advocacy/support services project before submitting a letter of inquiry. Past grants in this category include $60,000 to Ballet Hispanico, $20,000 to the Center for Performance Research, and $15,000 to Dancing in the Streets (a performance series in five Bronx parks).
Since December 2015, this funder stopped accepting new climate change proposals from groups that is hasn't already supported. Democratic values is a priority area, but it is not accepting unsolicited proposals either. Therefore, NYC communities and dance have been getting the bulk of the funder's attention lately.
Letters of inquiry are accepted for these two programs, and the staff will request a full proposal if desired. The foundation does not provide funding for scholarships, film or media projects, publications, religious concerns, individuals, endowments, or conferences. In addition to grantmaking, the foundation also makes its conference rooms available for nonprofit group meetings, free of charge.
- Jay Beckner, President
- Rachael Young, Program Officer, NYC Communities and Program Associate, Climate Change Solutions
- Leah Krauss, Program Officer, NYC Dance