OVERVIEW: The Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation funds largely in Connecticut and New York, but gives to education outfits around the country as well. Its education program gives major support to charter schools and advocacy, and to a lesser extent supports programs in areas like arts education, out-of-school education, and college prep. Most K-12 charter funding comes through the foundation’s Education program, but funding opportunities exist through its Arts program as well.
IP TAKE: With a vast fortune and a keen interest in education, the Cohens are funders to watch carefully in the charter school and education reform space. Their foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, but potentially leaves the door open for letters of inquiry.
PROFILE: Founded in 2001 “with a special interest in children’s health, education, veterans and the arts,” the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation states that it has since given “hundreds of millions of dollars” to organizations working in those areas.
A little background: Steve Cohen graduated from Wharton and got his start on Wall Street working for Gruntal & Co. He went on to start SAC Capital Advisors, which later pled guilty to insider trading and downsized to become a family office. Yet this does not seem to have much affected the philanthropy of Cohen and his wife, Alexandra. In recent years, the couple has been giving big in education through the Cohen Foundation.
The first stop for any K-12 education fundraiser is the foundation’s education focus. As per the foundation, Cohen “has a longstanding commitment to educational reforms, particularly through the charter school movement.” The Cohens have been strong supporters of charter schools and networks like Achievement First, Excel Bridgeport, ConnCAN, Connecticut Charter School Network, Harlem Children's Zone, Teach for America, and The Equity Project charter school. Each of these recipients has received funding in the six-to-seven figures over the last several years.
In terms of education reform advocacy, the foundation has supported former Washington, D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee's group, StudentsFirst, as well as the “action tank” group Education Reform Now.
Aside from its primary charter school focus, the foundation also has given on a smaller scale to a number of different college preparatory outfits like Prep For Prep, College Summit and REACH Prep, as well as high school scholarships such as the Justin T. Dimino Scholarship Foundation and the Bradley Marc Ginsburg Scholarship Foundation Corp.
Cohen money has on occasion gone to Catholic schools in recent years as well. A prominent example is Alexandra’s alma mater Mother Cabrini High School, an all-girls Catholic school, but other Catholic schools have also received funding .
Education-related funding is also sometimes funneled through Cohen’s Arts program. The foundation reports that it has given support for about 100 scholarships for high school students to attend the Tisch School for the Arts Summer High School, for example, and also recently provided a grant to the foundation of the California State Summer School for the Arts, a “preprofessional, month-long training program in the visual and performing arts, creative writing, animation and film for talented artists of high school age.”
Out-of-school education also appears to be a component of Cohen’s giving portfolio. In addition to the arts programs mentioned above, a key example is the foundation’s support for a summer camp with the organization Domus, a “group home for homeless boys” that provides them with remedial classes and out-of-school programs in addition to general non-academic support. The Boy Scouts of America has also received modest support.
Once students are out of high school, Cohen supports those with financial need through university scholarship and financial aid endowments, including a $30 million endowment pledge to Brown University and $5 million in scholarship assistance for the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Additional higher ed scholarship support has sometimes intersected with the foundation’s support for veterans, through its giving to organizations like the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) Community Scholarships, and some universities have also received funding to conduct medical research.
The foundation does not feature a full listing of its grant recipients on its website, but some information about grantees is nevertheless available on its Education page, the Education section of its blog, and its granteespage, each of which offers a small sampling of award recipients.
Unfortunately for fundraisers, the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals. It is less clear about letters of inquiry, however, and states that correspondence can be directed to the contact address listed below.
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Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation
P.O. Box 142
Greenwich, CT 06832