Knight Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Knight Foundation's grants have supported a variety of organizations, from large arts institutions to individual artists. Colleges and universities have received awards for diverse initiatives through Knight's journalism, media, community and arts programs. It's worth noting, however, that some programs and initiatives are targeted exclusively at communities in specific cities.

IP TAKE: Across the board at Knight, innovation—interpreted very broadly—is the key. Fundraisers at colleges and universities shouldn't be afraid to submit a short letter of inquiry for a project that pushes the boundaries of traditional funding.

PROFILE: The Knight Foundation’s giving is based in a strong faith in the importance of “informed and engaged” people and communities. To that end, the foundation “supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.” For higher ed performing arts grantseekers, this last program area will be interesting.

Art grants are awarded through Knight's Fostering the Arts program, but grantseekers should keep in mind that the Knight Foundation does not have a specific college arts program. Grants are available through four initiatives: creative place-making, making art general, institutional reform, and spurring innovation. Colleges and universities certainly play an important role in the arts landscape of many communities, and small general support grants are available through the program to engage citizens of these resident communities in the arts—again, with an emphasis on creativity and innovation.

Recently, the Knight Arts Challenge has taken center stage in the foundation's approach, and colleges and universities have played a part in this program. The Arts Challenge is open in eight resident communities throughout the United States. Once Knight Arts Challenge grants have been awarded in the cities mentioned above, it's not exactly clear how the foundation will pivot, so keep a close eye on Knight's arts strategy, which you can do by signing up for its weekly newsletter

Knight's Communities program is also receptive to higher ed organizations, supporting "civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement." Universities have received awards and collaborated with organizations in this initiative through various types of projects, including the creation of outdoor art spaces, civic education projects, a film festival, and an initiative to strengthen the pipeline between university STEM students and their post-secondary career opportunities.

Knight's third programmatic area, Journalism, works to bolster "people and organizations committed to advancing excellence in journalism and informing people in communities of all sizes through experimentation, innovation and leadership." Universities and colleges have benefited from Knight patronage in this area to support research projects and centers, collaboration with public broadcasting stations, funding for leadership and fellowship programs, and diversity initiatives, just to name a few.

Finally, Knight's Media Innovation interests fund "projects that seek to improve how we create, share and use information essential to communities by providing early-stage funding for experimentation and growth." As centers of knowledge and discovery, higher ed institutions are primed to take advantage of the opportunities present in this program. One major initiative within this program is the Knight News Challenge, which accepted proposals from individuals of any age and institutions of any size to support "breakthrough ideas in news and information." Higher ed grantees in this area have created innovative tools such as searchable databases of political ads and state assembly sessions, as well as the development of a real-time fact checker to help journalists verify politicians' assertions.

To get a clearer sense of Knight's funding tendencies, review the foundation's database, searchable by year, program area, keyword, and other criteria (note that several of Knight's grants do not fit neatly or exclusively into a single funding category).

If the strategy and goals of your project fit Knight’s bill, you can start the application process by submitting a letter of inquiry through the foundation’s Apply for Funding page (applications to some initiatives such as the the Knight Arts Challenge may require a separate process).


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