Union Pacific Foundation: K-12 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 56 regions on the Union Pacific railway line. Union Pacific Foundation places an emphasis on K-12 education through its support of community organizations and programs, rather than school-based initiatives. 

IP TAKE: You're in a good place if you meet this company's 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 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 then is the same as it is now: 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 56 cities/regions across 22 states. If you’re located in or west of the vertical geographic line of Milwaukee-Little Rock-New Orleans, there’s a good likelihood you’re on Union Pacific’s radar. Here’s its map to help you out.

The funds that Union Pacific Foundation distribute flow through its Community-Based Grant Program, which in 2013 distributed about $7 million to 980 organizations. The program subdivides its focus into “Community and Civic” and “Health and Human Services.” The foundation’s support of K-12 education falls under the former, but there’s no harm in also being mindful of the foundation’s other areas of focus, since they affect a young population too.

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 definition and prioritization opens up a lot of opportunity for a K-12 education organization or program seeking support—so long as you’re a community-based 501(c)(3) that is either a stand-alone in your community or a local chapter of a national organization. If you’re the latter, Union Pacific Foundation does limit its support a bit; it won’t provide general operating costs.

Also important to note: The foundation states on its website that it will not give funds directly to elementary or secondary schools. But its recent giving history contradicts this claim. It seems to make exceptions for schools that serve a niche, such as the Omaha Street School, a faith-based high school with a population of at-risk students. And the foundation does give grants to school districts, as well as to community non-profits (with 501(c)(3) status) that operate to support those schools and districts—though neither of these are the foundation’s focus when compared to emphasis of other corporate givers in the K-12 education realm.

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

Recent K-12 education giving reflects this range in dollar amount; a range in type of organization and educational focus; and a range of distribution across its geographic areas of focus. A sampling of recent K-12 education grantees include:

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.


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