Dorsey & Whitney Foundation: Grants for Film

OVERVIEW: The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Dorsey & Whitney, a U.S.-based corporate law firm. Its grants prioritize “organizations, programs and projects that contribute to the cultural, civic, educational and general welfare of each community as a whole, as well as nonprofits that provide legal services for people who cannot otherwise afford representation.”

IP TAKE: The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation describes itself as “an enthusiastic supporter of cultural programs and initiatives.” An open application process and its commitment to offering general support to arts organizations are compelling reasons for visual arts and film grant seekers to approach them—as long as the proposed project is near one of the firm’s U.S. locations.

PROFILE: Created in 1982, the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney, which is based in Minneapolis, MN and has offices throughout the U.S. and abroad. The foundation seeks to support “a wide variety of organizations, programs and projects that contribute to the cultural, civic, educational and social welfare of our communities, with particular emphasis on organizations that provide legal services to the disadvantaged and organizations in which Dorsey partners and other attorneys participate actively as board members and volunteers.” It makes about 200 direct grants a year and has an active attorney matching program.

Location matters for the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. It only supports non-profit organizations—including those in film—that are embedded in communities where the law firm is located. In the U.S. this includes Anchorage (AK), Denver (CO), Des Moines (IA), Fargo (ND), Minneapolis (MN), Missoula (MT), New York City, Palo Alto (CA), Salt Lake City (UT), Seattle (WA), Southern California, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington (DE).

The foundation is “an enthusiastic supporter of cultural programs and initiatives,” including visual arts and film programs. And with an ongoing, open application process, grant seekers have every opportunity to approach the foundation. Keep in mind, however, that the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation prioritizes organizations in which its attorneys are actively involved. Specifically speaking to arts organizations, it emphasizes that “special consideration” is given to those where one of its attorneys serves as a board member or officer.

While the application process is open-ended, it is a good idea for grant seekers to do some preliminary networking. The good news is that Dorsey & Whitney has more than 100 lawyers, so there are many opportunities to make meaningful connections.

And while the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation does not publicly announce the recipients of its grantmaking, the foundation’s tax returns reveal that its grant recipients all received $5,000 or more from the foundation and all for general support. In this way the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation uniquely positions itself, as general support is more challenging to find in the arts world.

The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation's history of funding film programs is slim, but it exists, providing grant seekers with an incentive to keep pursuing the possibility. And, grant seekers should note the use of the term "film programs," not film projects. This is because there is no evidence of the foundation supporting the creation of individual films. Rather, it supports the enterprise sharing the work and supporting that work in the context of collaboration with other art forms.

Grants are modest and number a few thousand dollars. Past visual arts and film recipients the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival in Cupertino, CA; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN, which is known for presenting "moving-image arts that define and influence our time," including "a vast collection of global and avant-garde films, documentaries, and video works"; and the ARTSFUND in Seattle, WA, which in turn supports filmmaking programs and initiatives, among many others. Many of these grantees are also recipients of additional matching gifts funds from the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. The foundation matches individual charitable contributions made the firm’s lawyers—yet another reason to reach out and network.

New grant seekers should look over the foundation’s application guidelines before applying.


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