O’Donnell Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education


OVERVIEW: In K-12 education, O'Donnell has a fairly pronounced focus — with several longtime partners — but there is room for nonprofits working to improve science, math, and arts learning in elementary and secondary schools. The foundation’s focus is largely on the state of Texas.

IP TAKE: O'Donnell seeks to be a low-profile funder (even its web site is no longer active). This can be challenging for first-time grantseekers, yet O'Donnell has shown a willingness to give big and develop partnerships with nonprofits that provide well-aligned solutions in its giving areas.

PROFILE: Founded in 1957, the Dallas-based O'Donnell Foundation is well-known in Texas as an education grantmaker, whether the foundation's benefactor, Peter O'Donnell Jr., likes it or not. He's always kept an extremely low profile — so low, in fact, that the University of Texas at Austin dubbed him “Mr. Anonymous” before he was revealed to be the source of more than $135 million in gifts to the school.

One thing is clear in O'Donnell’s K-12 giving strategy. As the Foundation Center reports, the foundation is a consistent supporter of Texas-based science, math, English, and arts education groups, as well as those providing support for Advanced Placement courses. For example, the Advanced Placement Incentive Program — which is offered through Austin-based nonprofit Advanced Placement Strategies — has been a major focus of O'Donnell's giving.

In addition, O'Donnell was instrumental in forming Laying the Foundation (LTF), a nonprofit that provides teacher professional development for the AP program. In 2012, LTF merged with the National Math and Science Initiative, and O'Donnell Executive Director Carolyn Dickson sits on the board at the initiative.

Those are just a few examples of O'Donnell's longtime partners in K-12 education. But the foundation has also shown a willingness to work with Texas education nonprofits well-aligned with its focus in English, math, science, and arts. For instance, the Dallas branch of Junior Achievement has received modest grant support from the foundation in the past.

Another O'Donnell grantee, Big Thought, is a unique example of an innovative education approach. The nonprofit provides creative learning opportunities for underserved youth throughout the state through public/private partnerships, research, and development services.

O'Donnell also has shown a preference for providing challenge-grant support, or funding that is being leveraged to drive additional fundraising. The majority of O'Donnell's grants to the University of Texas were designed to leverage support, and smaller matching grants are a common O'Donnell giving strategy.

As per the Foundation Center, begin your approach to this funder by sending a brief proposal letter.


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