OVERVIEW: The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) makes the majority of its NYC grants to arts and culture organizations, but the foundation also funds work to promote democratic practice, peacebuilding, and sustainable development.
IP TAKE: This is a broad-minded funder that stipulates clear grantmaking guidelines but, in practice, is open to lots of ideas for making New York City a better place.
PROFILE: The majority of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's local grantmaking comes from its New York arts grantmaking. The New York City pivotal place program was concluded in 2015 and addressed the themes of sustainable development and democratic practice. These issues continue within those program portfolios in New York City.
Created by the sons of John D. Rockefeller Jr. — John D. III, Nelson, Winthrop, Laurance, and David — RBF has been around since 1940. The brothers branched out to include non-family members in 1952, and the fund has been building up and scaling back programs to evolve with the times ever since.
RBF has three focus regions: New York City, Southern China, and the Western Balkans. Fortunately for local nonprofits, each of these regions exists in a separate funding category, so you'll only be competing against your neighbors. The New York budget tends to be slightly larger than those of the international regions.
Each year, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund provides roughly $4 million to local non-profit organizations, with more than half of that going to arts and culture grants. The Charles E. Culpeper Arts and Culture Grants aim to provide equity in the arts, helping to expand the reach of arts programs to diverse audiences. Two goals drive the arts funding: supporting the creative process and building the capacity of small and midsize cultural organizations.
Historically, RBF has devoted most of its New York City budget to arts and culture (more than 50%), with the remaining portion split between advancing immigrant populations and building sustainable communities. Immigrant communities are no longer in focus; however, support sustainable development has been on the rise. In a recent year, the established program budget allowed for the most grants in democratic practice and sustainable development (over $5 million for each).
The fund typically awards about 300 grants each year. Search for recent grants on the Grant Search page to get a better idea of what RBF funds.
Not too long ago, the Rockefeller RBF announced that it revised its New York City program guidelines and phased out its local immigration funding. This type of funding was supporting immigration forums, academic research, policy advocacy and tools for dissemination of best practices. But now, RBF thinks the immigration debate has moved to a different place and it shifted the focus of its New York funding to other areas, with art and the environment moving to the forefront.
For New York City organizations, you'll want to make sure that your sustainable development proposal has "go-green" initiatives and gets low-income communities interested in preserving the environment. The arts and culture program is broad, and it seems that your proposal can be for pretty much anything as long as you're running a small or midsize institution that fosters cultural creativity.
Fundraisers will find that RBF is accessible, and interested organizations can apply online. The fund's Before You Apply page will help get applicants started, and it's important to note that the process begins with an online eligibility quiz. Then, RBF's Apply for a Grant page will likely answer any other questions you may have. The whole process is pretty straightforward, and you can subscribe to the foundation's newsletter to keep up with recent news and giving trends. General inquiries about grants should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-812-4200.
- Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, Program Director of Culpeper Arts & Culture (formerly the New York City Program Director)
- Keesha Gaskins, Program Director, Democratic Practice - United States
- Michael Northrop, Program Director, Sustainable Development