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 focus on “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.” That, plus an open application process and its commitment to offering general support to arts organizations are compelling reasons to introduce your film program to them—as long as you your organization is located and operating in one of the geographic regions of the foundation's offices.

PROFILE: The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney, which is based in Minneapolis, MN, with offices throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Location matters. The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation only gives to nonprofit organizations—including those in the arts sector—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).

Since the foundation was formed in 1982, it has been “an enthusiastic supporter of cultural programs and initiatives.” More generally speaking, the foundation zeroes in on “organizations, programs and projects that contribute to the cultural, civic, educational and general welfare of each community as a whole.” (And, apropos of its corporate side, it also makes special efforts to provide legal access to underserved communities.)

This leaves open a wide range of opportunity for support of your film program, so long as you're a 501(c)(3). And with an ongoing, open application process, you have every opportunity to introduce yourself to the foundation. Do keep in mind, however, that the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation prioritizes organizations in which its attorneys are actively involved. Specifically speaking to arts organizations, it ups the ante by stating that “special consideration” is given to those where one of its attorneys serves as a board member or officer.

So while the application process is wonderfully open-ended, it would still suit you to do some preliminary networking. The good news is that Dorsey & Whitney has more than 500 attorneys (it’s one of the 100 biggest U.S. law firms), so there are many opportunities to make a meaningful connection.

Though the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation unquestionably gives a lot—around $2.2 million in 2013, for example—it is conspicuously publicly discreet about the recipients of its charitable giving. There are no press releases stemming from the foundation or law firm to be found, and press releases from the receiving organizations are few and far between. This is even more notable given that the final question on the foundation’s grant application is, “What type of recognition will the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation receive?”

Nevertheless, the foundation’s tax returns shed light on its grant recipients, all of them receiving $5,000 or more from the foundation and all for general support. In this way the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation uniquely positions itself, as general operating support is more challenging to find in the arts world.

The Dorsey & Whitney Foundation's recent history of funding film programs is slim, but it exists, providing you with an incentive to keep pursuing the possibility. 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.

For instance, in 2010, the foundation provided the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival in Cupertino, CA with $5,000 in general operating support. The foundation also consistently gives to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN (including $10,000 in 2012), 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." The foundation also consistently supports ARTSFUND in Seattle, WA (including $5,000 in 2012), which in turn supports filmmaking programs and initiatives.

    Many of the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation's grantees are also recipients of additional matching gifts funds (including ARTSFUND and the Walker Art Center). The foundation matches individual charitable contributions made the firm’s lawyers—yet another recent to reach out and network.

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