Doris Duke Charitable Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: Colleges and universities consistently receive a share of grants made by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). The foundation supports higher ed through its initiatives in the arts (including performing arts), environment, child well-being, and medical research programs, as well as through its African Health Initiative. Eligibility and openness vary by program.

IP TAKE: True, the Duke Foundation's higher ed support through some of its programs is fairly limited, but the foundation can come through with major funding, offers some open competitive grants, invites LOI's, and accepts applications from both individuals and organizations.

PROFILE: The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people's lives through support for the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and "through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties.”

Within that context, the Arts program supports artists with the creation and public performance of their work, mainly through grants administered by intermediary organizations.

The Performing Arts program is subdivided into four initiatives and strategies: Artistic Creation and Distribution, Support for Organizations, National Sector Building, and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Initiative. Of these, higher ed institutions have the best chance for funding through the Performing Artists Initiative, which launched in 2012. Partnerships between colleges and artists have received a few different grants, including support for technological innovations, to promote interest in dance, and to integrate art with social services. 

The Duke Foundation also supports colleges and universities through its three core arts programs: Artistic Creation and Distribution, National Sector Building, and Organizational Transformation. DDCF does not have a grantmaking program dedicated specifically to college performing arts, so its overall focus in that area is more limited than other foundations whose performing arts giving is more directly tied to higher education.

Higher education has also found a friend in Duke through its Environmental program, with its mission "to enable communities to protect and manage wildlife habitat and create efficient built environments." The program has four sub-strategies: Land Conservation, Wildlife & Energy Development, Strengthening the Conservation Field, and Environmental Stewardship in the Tri-State Area. Awards have been distributed to postsecondary institutions nationwide and ranged from tens of thousands into the millions of dollars, supporting efforts such as scholars programs, conferences, urban agriculture, energy efficiency, and studies related to the effects of climate change.

The Child Well-Being program is particularly significant to the foundation in light of its founder's noted dedication to children. The focus here is on early childhood health and development (as opposed to early childhood education). In the last several years, an average of one or two education institutions, including a number of high-profile universities, have received hefty grants to support work such as community outreach, involvement of parents and doctors, and studies of child abuse and neglect.

During her lifetime, Doris Duke was a big medical research supporter, so it is no surprise that Medical Research is another big grant area. With a focus on "prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease by strengthening and supporting clinical research," this program has bankrolled several rounds of clinical mentorships and research awards at various colleges and universities, as well as smaller amounts of funding for initiatives such as a "summer program for underrepresented students."

A more sporadic but still important higher ed funding area for Duke is its African Health Initiative, which strives "to improve health and strengthen health systems in sub-Saharan Africa." In some instances, years have gone by without postsecondary institutions gaining funding for this program, but throughout the program's history, universities both in the U.S. and abroad have received awards ranging from $25,000 to nearly $15 million (over five years) to support conferences, as well as implementation and training efforts in this area.

Lastly, the foundation also has a program designed to improve relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, but thus far this is not an area in which higher ed institutions have played a role at DDCF.

As is increasingly typical of larger grantmakers, the Duke Foundation hosts a grants database of past awards. This particular source is unique in that it goes back all the way to 1997, so fundraisers can get a much broader picture of the trends in the foundation’s funding over the years. Duke also features a Grantee Spotlight blog that can give further insight into its priorities, as well as an Open Competitions & Funding Opportunities page that may be worth the occasional review.

In terms of getting your foot in the door, it might be a little tricky. Depending on the program or initiative, funding may be available via "foundation-initiated invitations to apply, re-granting competitions that are administered by service organizations and competitions that are run using request-for-proposal processes." The foundation welcomes letters of inquiry, but be sure to review the foundation's program-specific grantmaking strategy to make sure your initiative is eligible.

Because each program has its own dedicated staff and director, it is best to review the foundation's staff page to determine the best staff member to reach out to.


  • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)