Milken Family Foundation: Los Angeles Grants

OVERVIEW: The Milken Family Foundation is well-known throughout the Los Angeles area because of its Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). It also regularly awards grants to epilepsy research and Jewish music organizations.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, Jewish education, math education, and Jewish music

IP TAKE: Although Milken's founder specialized in medical research, most of the foundation's grants to toward education. Pitch a short-term goal rather than a long-term commitment.

PROFILE: Some philanthropic foundations, such as the Leavey Foundation, like to grant funds to nonprofits quietly and anonymously. Others prefer to make headlines in Time and BusinessWeek. The Milken Family Foundation, which has adopted the latter philosophy, has received profound recognition for creating effective teachers and devising a business model for a new wave of philanthropy. Since 1982, the foundation has had the same objectives: developing individual self-sufficiency and strengthening human resources through education and medical research.

Brothers Lowell and Michael Milken started the Milken Family Foundation after navigating the California Public Schools system and graduating from the University of California at Berkley. The brothers collected a couple of graduate business and law degrees before founding Heron International, Knowledge Universe Inc., and LeapFrog and developing innovative models for other financing companies to spur economic growth.

Perhaps the best known of Milken's six grant programs is the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). The TAP program incorporates multiple career paths, market-driven compensation, performance-based accountability, ongoing professional growth, and expansion of the supply of high-quality teachers. Educators in Los Angeles should definitely familiarize themselves with Milken because the foundation gives out plenty of individual awards every year as well. With more than 2,600 awards of $25,000 given to date, the Milken Educator Awards is the most prominent teacher recognition program in the United States. As longtime supporters of Jewish causes, the Milken brothers also give out grants to K-12 educators in schools affiliated with the Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) in the Los Angeles area.

Although Milken's overwhelming focus is on education in Los Angeles, the foundation does fund organizations in a couple of areas. Milken Archive of Jewish Music was founded in 1990 to reveal the Jewish experience to people of all backgrounds through music and culture. The Milken Archive, which is a virtual museum with musical recordings, photographs, and memorabilia, works with organizations to increase awareness and present relevant material in creative ways. At this time, the only medical research program that Milken pursues is the Epilepsy Research Awards. Medical clinics and non-profit epilepsy centers receive grants to develop new epilepsy therapies in both academic and commercial settings around the world.

Some of Milken's past grants include $615,000 to the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, $225,000 to the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, $158,000 to the Los Angeles Ballet, and $475,000 to Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica. Although Mike Milken was pegged as "The Man Who Changed Medicine" on the cover of Forbes because of his role in turning the cancer research establishment upside down, very few Milken grants go to medical organizations these days. The Milken Family Foundation focuses on achieving missions much more than foundation longevity. With that said, you need a better short-term goal than a long-term strategy.

The Milken Family Foundation Educator Award ceremonies always draw a lot of media attention. These awards are given to early and mid-career teachers to applaud their work, with a $25,000 grant and a Hollywood-style gala in Los Angeles. 

Since the foundation doesn't accept unsolicited grant proposals, your best bet to get in on the action is to get on the good side of Milken's grantmaking program director, Dahlia Geilman. While Milken has a large board of directors, it has a small staff, so most of the grants flow through Geilman's fingertips. You can reach Geilman directly in her Santa Monica office at or 310-570-4756.


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