Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: This foundation was established in 1936 by Robert Wood Johnson, the name behind the Johnson & Johnson global provider of healthcare products. Today, it's one of the largest in the country, with grants mainly going to support healthcare initiatives. Most funding comes through the foundation's RFPs, but some awards are given for unsolicited proposals.

IP TAKE: Research-backed higher ed projects aligned with the foundation's programs are strong candidates for funding. Be sure to emphasize how your idea is innovative and has the potential to be "meaningful" and "transformative."  

PROFILE: Being the largest philanthropic foundation focusing on health, the overarching grantmaking principles at RWJF revolve around health care. This encompasses all corners of the field, from pediatric care to nursing and nutrition.

Although RWJF’s grantmaking focus may seem a bit narrow, program staff does award around $200 million in grants to higher education institutions across the country each year. For academics and higher learning institutions, the foundation's funding has gone to areas such as quality nursing programs, research studies, fellowships, and increasing the level of degrees and training nurses have. RWJF also funds health-related data collection, policy analysis, evaluations, and health services research — all activities of interest to universities and scholars.

The key to securing funding from RWJF lies in proposing “innovative projects that can have measurable impact and can create meaningful, transformative change.” Some key examples it gives are service demonstrations, gathering and monitoring of health-related statistics, public education, training and fellowship programs, policy analysis, health services research, technical assistance, communications activities, and evaluations.

Nearly all of the higher education grants the foundation awards go to health-related programs. Grantseekers should follow the public policy discussion of health issues. RWJF often funds projects related to public health issues that are high on the public agenda and lists its areas of focus on its Our Topics page.

In terms of size, the foundation reports that awards have recently ranged “from $3,000 to $23 million with time periods ranging from one month to five years,” but that “most grants are in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, and run from one to three years.”

Most awards are given in response to Johnson’s Requests for Proposals, each of which has a unique deadline (it is possible to simultaneously submit unique applications in response to separate RFP’s). A much smaller funding level is allocated for submitting unsolicited proposals, which must be “innovative” and “squarely aligned” with the foundation’s objectives. Be sure to also review the areas, organizations, and activities that RWJF does not fund.

As a massive foundation, Johnson can also be overwhelming to grant-seekers, especially when it comes to finding the right program officer, because there are tons of them. When you research their past grants, focus in on the program officers behind them.


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