Revson Foundation: New York City Grants

OVERVIEW: The Revson Foundation is a very accessible foundation that awards grants almost exclusively to New York City organizations. Although education and biomedical research are the favorite program areas, anything with a Jewish overtone gets considered more seriously.

IP TAKE: It's incredibly easy to submit a letter of inquiry with Revson, so every education, research, and civic nonprofit in the city should do it. The staff here is really small, though, so you may not get a response back if your proposal isn't accepted. Don't burn your bridges by resubmitting the same proposal within one year and annoying them.

PROFILE: Most of us don't think of old white men when we think of cosmetics, but Charles H. Revson made a fortune out of the business. Revson founded the cosmetic company Revlon, Inc. in New York City and developed a single product line into a major corporation. He established his own foundation, the Revson Foundation, in 1956 to channel his charitable giving to Jewish causes, medical institutions, and universities in New York. Although he was born in New Hampshire, he always considered New York City to be his home and made sure his money went to causes in the city too.

People during Revson's time described him as creative and a perfectionist, and he gave his foundation's board of directors a mandate based upon these qualities. The Revson grantmaking program revolves around urban affairs, Jewish life, biomedical research, and education. A summary of these areas:

  • The urban affairs program is entirely devoted to enhancing civic, cultural, and local government non-profit organizations in New York City. This broad category covers everything from public libraries to affordable housing developments to local public affairs journalism.
  • Revson's education program also is focused on New York City and likes to see proposals for public library online materials, ethnic news publications, and public interest career development.
  • The Jewish life program is a bit broader, supporting organizations around the United States and in Israel. The focus is on young adults, Jewish women, and science education.
  • The biomedical research program is twofold. Revson awards grants to postdoctoral biomedical researchers in their third or fourth year of study at New York City institutions, and it also supports the Weizmann Institute of Science's Postdoctoral Program for Advancing Women in Science throughout North America.

The Revson Foundation usually awards $5 million to $10 million in grants each year, almost all of which stays right here in the city. A few past local grants included $395,000 to the Weizman Institute of Science, $400,000 to Macaulay Honors College, $350,000 to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, and $225,000 to the Rashi Foundation (formerly known as the PEF Israel Endowment Fund). You can view more recent foundation grants by category on the foundation's Grants page.

In recent times, Revson has been particularly passionate about libraries in New York City. The foundation has cited budget challenges, dysfunctional funding processes, and overall mismanagement as the roots of the city's library problem. Despite Revson's help, including a $10,000 grant to the Sheepshead Bay Library, libraries are struggling and immigrants are being affected. Immigrants depend upon the city's libraries to assimilate into American culture, but without them, cultural divides will deepen. 

Revson makes very involved grantmaking decisions and favors specific and unique programs over general operating support. This is a great foundation for lesser-known nonprofits operating in Revson's program areas. Revson doesn't just pick the well-established big names in the service industry. Instead, this foundation takes its time to consider the little guy who needs an extra boost to keep doing good.

Revson is also a very accessible foundation for grantseekers, which must come as a relief for organizations being turned down by many of the city's foundations that don't accept unsolicited proposals. All you have to do to submit a letter of inquiry is log on to the foundation's website and fill out a form. If Revson's staff likes what they see, they'll contact you within two weeks. If not, you might not hear anything from them at all. Revson does not want you to contact its staff to follow up, so be patient and wait to hear something back.

The foundation will consider multiyear funding requests, but it will not fund film projects, endowments, capital campaigns, fundraisers, health appeals, individual scholarships, or any cause that's not based in the United States or Israel. You're more than welcome to contact the foundation directly with inquires at 212-935-3340 or via email at info@revsonfoundation.org.

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