Union Pacific Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: Union Pacific Foundation is the philanthropic offshoot of Union Pacific Corporation and Union Pacific Railroad. It focuses on improving and enriching health, human services, and the overall quality of life for the 50-plus regions on the Union Pacific railway line. Its education giving generally tends to range in the low tens of thousands of dollars or less. Universities receive consistent support; primary and secondary schools are not eligible for funding.

IP TAKE: Union Pacific Foundation places a consistent emphasis on higher ed through its directive to “improve and enrich the general quality of life in the community” - so long as you’re in a community that is “reasonably close” to one of its railroad lines.

PROFILE: Originally established in 1959, Union Pacific Foundation is the philanthropic offspring of Union Pacific Corporation and Union Pacific Railroad. Its core functionality is the same today as it was then: to distribute funds to “organizations in communities served by Union Pacific.”

Who are those “communities served?” There are a lot of them—radiating out from more than 50 cities and regions across the country If you’re located in or west of the vertical geographic line of Minneapolis-Memphis-New Orleans, there’s a good likelihood you’re on Union Pacific’s radar. Take a look at their map to find out.

The funds that Union Pacific Foundation distribute flow through its Community-Based Grant Program, which regularly distributes several million dollars to hundreds of nonprofit organizations per year.

Union Pacific Foundation seeks to promote “program effectiveness,” and therefore particularly likes its grants to go capacity building, which it describes as “helping new or existing programs reach more people or reach them effectively.” This means that UPF will not serve as the “sole funder” for your project - you will need to have additional funding lined up as well.

That said, UPF’s priorities open up a range of opportunities for a college or university seeking support. Union Pacific also states specifically that it does not provide funding for primary or secondary schools, further bolstering colleges and universities’ odds when seeking funds.

By Union Pacific Foundation’s own assessment, the average grant amount for its recipients over the past few years is “less than $10,000.” This is true, but there is also the possibility for far more significant amounts if the partnership is right.

Recent giving in the postsecondary realm reflects this range in dollar amount, as well as a range of distribution across its geographic areas of focus. A sampling of recent dance grantees can be reviewed in its Community News Releases, though these releases provide little information about specific grants beyond the names and locations of its grantees.

Applications are an open, online process with a mid-August deadline. Union Pacific Foundation points out that it funds its grants with operating profits from its corporate side, not through an endowment, so this might also be a reminder to consider using a train for your next travel adventure.

Keep in mind that grants are not available for athletic facilities, fellowships, or research.

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