Ayrshire Foundation: Grants for Theater

OVERVIEW: The Ayrshire Foundation views philanthropy as investment in world betterment, and spreads its wealth across a wide range of opportunities to support change: youth, the elderly and disabled, science and the environment, healthcare, and community culture.

IP TAKE: Besides its geographic preferences, the Ayrshire Foundation has very few hard-and-fast rules for its giving. The bottom line is it gives a lot of money each year in a wide range of amounts to a wide range of avenues for investing in opportunities for a better world. The foundation sees “community culture” as a vital aspect of positive change, and theater as a component of community culture.

PROFILE: The Ayrshire Foundation was founded in 1998 by James N. Gamble (the great grandson of the founder of Procter & Gamble) and his family in order to broaden the scope of their already-established personal philanthropy.

The foundation sees its grants as an “investment in the possibility of change and a better world.” To that end, its giving is broad in scope, although, interestingly, its website frames its current focus as actually narrowing from its original mission to now concentrate in these five areas: Youth Opportunities, Science & Environment, Healthcare, Services for the Elderly and Disabled, and Community Culture.

Support of theater falls under the Ayrshire Foundation’s Community Culture giving, which the foundation prioritizes with a mission of "supporting local arts and historical institutions to enhance the vibrancy of our communities.”

Though you are ultimately looking for support for your theater program, and therefore are focusing on the foundation’s community culture giving, it’s important to be aware of its other four areas of focus as well. Whenever possible, this is a foundation that likes to serve cross purposes, particularly when it comes to its community culture giving (see examples of recent grants below). 

Before we go any further, an important declaration about the Ayrshire Foundation’s geographic priorities: The foundation gives “preference” to several locations. They are the Bay Area of California, Pasadena, California, Sonoma, California, and Little Traverse, Michigan—these are areas where James Gamble and his family have community ties. The foundation uses the word “preference,” suggestive of some flexibility beyond this geographic scope. In practice, support of anything outside of these locations is very minimal, and is best reflected in programs that might be broader in scope (regional or national) but are still headquartered or linked to one of these three geographic areas.

If you can tie your theater project to one of these locations, there is a wealth of possibility available to you with this foundation. That starts with the foundation’s literal wealth. The Ayrshire Foundation distributes approximately $1 million each year, with most grants falling between $10,000 to $100,000. This wide range reflects the fact that for the Ayrshire Foundation it’s about “strategic philanthropy,” and it looks to tailor support to any given program’s needs—again, the end-game here is investment. The foundation describes itself as “effective seeders.”

Grants from the Ayrshire Foundation may be one-shot deals or extend several years. The Ayrshire Foundation also likes the prospect of partnering with other foundations and/or serving as a matching grant incentive for other givers. Regardless of the partnerships or incentives, because this is a foundation that is looking to invest, it is not keen to allocate grants for general operating support. As the foundation states, it instead seeks to support “other than usual operations—i.e. providing seed money for new programs or agencies designed to meet unfilled needs in the communities involved.”

This is an important piece of the puzzle to keep in mind should you present your theater project to the Ayrshire Foundation. For this foundation, support of community culture is about fulfilling community need, which speaks to the value it places on the arts in general, but also speaks to the type of programming it looks to support.

Some recent examples of Ayrshire Foundation support of theater includes:

  • $50,000 to Magic Theatre in San Francisco, CA for its New Works Initiative;
  • $5,000 to Theatre 360 for theater equipment (also considered a Youth Opportunities grant);
  • $40,000 to the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA for a solar-ray canopy (also considered a Science & Environment grant);
  • $100,000 to Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, CA to support its capital campaign.

    The Ayrshire Foundation requires potential grantees to first fill out a brief online form. If you’ve piqued the foundation’s interest, it will invite you to submit a full proposal.


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