New York Foundation: New York City Grants

OVERVIEW: Throughout more than 100 years of grantmaking, the New York Foundation has remained relevant and evolved with the changing needs of the city. The average grant comes out to $40,000 per year, but the foundation renews grants for up to three years for most grantees.

FUNDING AREAS: Community organizing and advocacy, housing, youth causes, civil rights, human services

IP TAKE: The New York Foundation places a priority on community organizing and advocacy organizations, and all grantees share a common commitment to inspire New Yorkers to become informed and active participants in city life. Pitch a proposal that doesn’t simply draw public attention to social justice issues, but sparks action and gets people fired up.

PROFILE: Why should a century-old legacy of grantmaking still matter?

That’s one of the questions author Steve Barboza posed in his 2009 publication, “Celebrating 100 Years: Taking Risks That Matter,” to trace the history of the New York Foundation. Established in 1909, the New York Foundation was born from an economic crisis and celebrated its centennial during another one.

Louis A. Heinsheimer, a partner in banking firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co., died in 1909 and left $1 million to Jewish charities in New York, under the condition that they would federate within the next year. That didn’t happen, so his brother, Alfred, turned the money over to the New York Foundation. The foundation’s first grants provided hospital beds to low-income families, established a protective league for girls working in factories, offices, and shops, and funded an investigation of black public schools in America.

"The early trustees saw the benefits of being small and local—they could get the support to groups in their earliest stages when their ideas were new and untested, said Executive Director Maria Mottola. “They trusted that people on the ground had valid ideas about how to tackle the problems their communities faced. These are the values that defined high-risk grantmaking then and shape our work still."

This funder supports grantees through core grants to start-ups, new projects, and general support. It also has a capacity building program that gives nonprofits access to a small grants pool. The New York Foundation has a summer internship in community organizing and a strategic opportunity fund as well. A list of past grants can be found here.

In the recent past, nearly a quarter of NYF’s grants have been going to civil rights, human rights, and social action organizations in recent years . Community improvement and human services causes came in second and third place. NYF concentrates a sizable portion of its grantmaking on Brooklyn, but it doesn’t forget about Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, either. NYF is led by a small staff under the leadership of Executive Director Maria Mottola. She’s been in charge since 2003, after serving as a program officer from 1994 to 2002.

Unlike some other foundations in the city, NYF hasn't historically been hung up on metrics. “We value good data but we know that data provide only a rough picture of the complexity of people’s lives and communities and what it takes to make them better," said foundation trustee Keith Hefner. “To really know a place or understand a problem, we believe you have to listen carefully to the people who experience it every day. Close listening helps us learn, and it often helps grantees clarify their thinking and find or strengthen their voices.”

For grantseekers, regardless of what your program or strategy is, here’s what NYF is looking for:

  • Involve New York City or a particular neighborhood of the city;

  • Address a critical or emerging need, particularly involving youth or the elderly; and

  • Articulate how a grant from the Foundation would advance their work.

The average NYF grant is between $40,000 and $45,000 per year, and once a grant is approved, grantees have the opportunity to work with nonprofit management organizations, like Social Justice Leadership and the Lawyers Alliance for New York to build capacity. Some past grantees include Advocates for Children of New York, Churches United for Fair Housing, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, and South Asian Youth Action.

The foundation places a priority on community organizing and advocacy organizations, and all grantees share a common commitment to inspire New Yorkers to become informed and active participants in city life. Keep in mind that the foundation has a policy of renewing grants up to three years for most grantees, so very few new grants are made each year. Regardless, NYF is open to unsolicited grant requests. Complete the Initial Funding Request via postal service or email. The Board of Trustees meets three times per year, so funding requests must be received by November 1 for the February meeting, March 1 for the June meeting, or July 1 for the October meeting.

According to author Steve Barboza, NYF grantmaking still matters after 100 years because the foundation's most important work has been for the city’s lesser-known residents. It is the scholars, the restaurant workers, the civil rights lawyers, and the political agitators who give New York City its diversity and the foundation its purpose. To get in touch with general questions, email or call 212-594-8009.


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