OVERVIEW: Of three umbrella programs at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, education-related grants have accounted for a significant majority of its more than $1 billion in total giving. That makes Dell one of the largest charter funders in the country. Its focus is on urban schools in the U.S., but Dell also has a presence in South Africa and India. K-12 education grants are awarded out of its Urban Education program.
IP TAKE: Dell emphasizes metrics-based and data-driven research not only to identify where its funding can be most effective, but also to ensure that the efforts it supports can be systemic, sustainable, and expandable. This is a funder that emphasizes work in urban communities, collaborates with other foundations, maintains a close working relationship with its grantees, and stands out in that it accepts unsolicited proposals.
PROFILE: Founded in 1999 with a focus on Central Texas children's education and health, today the Dell Foundation is "working in major urban communities" with a "focus on opportunities with the greatest potential to directly and measurably transform the lifelong outcomes of impoverished urban children around the globe." Its three main programs are Childhood Health, Family Economic Stability, and - most relevant for K-12 fundseekers - Urban Education.
While it does not have a dedicated K-12 program, education accounts (by the foundation’s record) for two thirds of its giving. A big part of the foundation's focus has been on charter nonprofits — growing networks, suppirting high-performing charter schools, and supporting educator and leader development nonprofits, or advocacy groups.
Dell's U.S. Urban Education program supports efforts in this area through a variety of initiatives:
- Performance-Driven Education emphasizes "the systematic use of data at all levels of educational administration" to identify best practices, assess student performance, improve instruction, increase accountability, and modify strategies when necessary;
- College Preparation and Completion looks to curriculum development and reducing financial barriers to "empower more high-need students to graduate high school college-ready and obtain a bachelor’s degree";
- Human Capital in Schools seeks to support programs that will "increase the number of exceptional educators, administrators and specialized district support staff";
- Quality School Options focuses on "growing the footprint of great school operators, reinventing the role of government to focus on school portfolio management, and support [of] education reform organizations";
- The Dell Scholars Program is a scholarship program that offers financial aid and a number of additional areas of support for low-income students who demonstrate "grit, potential, and ambition";
- A series of after-school programs that support the growing number of students in Central Texas "who face significant socioeconomic and personal challenges"; and
- Funding a small number of blended learning school models and closely studying their effectiveness in order to "jump-start a conversation" about blended learning.
Though it does not set a specific yearly giving amount, Dell reports that it has awarded tens of millions of dollars in annual K-12 funding in the U.S., India, and South Africa in recent years. The sizes of individual awards have ranged, by the foundation's account, from "$500 to several million dollars."
The foundation also funds teacher training programs. In essence, the foundation funds programs that "attract, develop, attain and maintain" high-quality teachers in public education. As explained in more detail this IP article, Dell has in the past pursued this goal through funding for teacher training through charter organizations such as the Boston-based charter management organization Match Education.
As with its approach to improving student outcomes and school performance, Dell expects its grantees to produce data proving that their projects have a "measurable impact on children's outcomes," and that stakeholders will draw on data to make “better data driven decisions.” Dell highlights current education issues and success stories on its blog, and past grantees can be searched by year, program, location, and keyword on the foundation's master grant list.
Although Dell currently has an open proposal policy, it does not give to individuals, lobbyists, or endowments. The foundation also notes that it "generally will not fund more than 25 percent of a project's budget or more than 10 percent of an organization's total annual operating expenses,"limits funding to projects in urban areas, and asks that proposals be as specific as possible about what problems applicants want to solve and how they plan to solve them.
Because Dell has a large number of program officers whose geographic and programmatic responsibilities vary significantly, fundraisers would do well to review the Education portions of the foundation's staff page.
- Kevin Byrne, Managing Director, United States
- Joe Siedlecki, Program and Policy Officer, U.S. Education