OVERVIEW: The Walton Family Foundations is one of the biggest foundations in the education world today. Walton does not have a program focused specifically on higher ed, but the foundation's past funding clearly shows that postsecondary organizations have a role to play in pursuing its goals. Higher ed institutions have consistently received support through its programs in K-12 Education, support for the Waltons' Home Region, and protection of the environment.
IP TAKE: Many Walton grants are by invitation only, and there are geographic restrictions for the foundation's Environment and Home Region programs. But if your higher ed initiative or research project is connected to K-12 education reform or the charter movement, it's certainly worth looking into this major funder.
PROFILE: Started by Wal-Mart founders Sam and Helen Walton and currently run by their grandchildren, the Walton Family Foundation is rooted in the “belief in the power of individuals to transform their lives” and focuses on large-scale “transformative” grants to realize that possibility. Within that broad context, the foundation has three main funding areas: K-12 education improvement, thriving environments and prosperous communities, and “giving back” to the family’s “home region” of “northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta.”
In terms of K-12, the Walton Family Foundation is heavily invested in school reform in general and the founding of new charter schools in particular. The foundation also uses its grantmaking to influence the policy debate over education reform, and has invested heavily to support advocacy groups favoring charter schools, private school vouchers, district open-enrollment programs, and other school choice initiatives.
Other K-12 priorities include attracting and retaining a diverse pool of quality teachers as well as fostering reciprocal communication between policymakers and parents “to create a policy environment that supports reform.” According to the foundation’s website, only a handful of K-12 grants went to colleges, universities and college prep organizations in one recent year, but dollar amounts usually ranged from $35,000 to around $250,000, with one award coming in at over $900,000.
Another key area for Walton is its Environment program, which supports initiatives “that pursue lasting conservation solutions for oceans and rivers while also recognizing the role these waters play in the livelihoods of those who live and work nearby.” The two initiatives it utilizes for this program are Freshwater Conservation, directed at efforts specific to “the Colorado and Mississippi River Basins,” and Marine Conservation, which gives grants that foster “economic incentives for sustainable resource management in some of the world’s most ecologically rich ocean areas.” In one recent year, the foundation gave over $100 million in the Environment program alone, with awards ranging from about $40,000 to just over $250,000 going to about a dozen different universities.
The Walton foundation is also financially committed to the region in which Wal-Mart was founded. To that end, its Home Region program works “to invest in programs and initiatives that enhance the quality of life for people living in Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta Region.” In Arkansas, funding priorities include Pre-K Education, Arts and Culture, Economic Development, and “Preserv[ing] a Sense of Place.” In the Mississippi Delta, the focus is on Pre-K-12 education, Public Safety, Youth Engagement, and Job Creation. The broad scope of this program certainly leaves the door open for regional postsecondary institutions. While it is not clear whether the funding came through this program, in one recent year several Arkansas colleges and universities received varying levels of Walton support, including awards to several branches of the University of Arkansas. In addition, Walton’s 2020 Home Region Plan “includes an anticipated investment of more than $302 million in the region,” so significant funding opportunities are likely to continue for several years to come.
For more information on highlighted grantees, articles are available on the foundation’s Grantee Stories page. Awards for the most recent year can be viewed (divided by region) on the foundation’s program-specific grant pages (click here for Education, Environment, and Home Region). While these pages list dollar amounts, more investigation will be necessary if you want more specifics on what the money was specifically allocated for.
For higher ed grantseekers, the first step is to submit a letter of inquiry. Instructions and contact information for sending your letter are available here.
- Marc Sternberg, Director, K-12 Education Program
- Barry D. Gold, Director, Environment Program
- Karen Minkel, Director, Home Region Program
- The Walton Family Foundation K-12 Education Program
- Walton Family Foundation Environment Program
- The Walton Family Foundation Home Region Program