OVERVIEW: The Voya Foundation is the philanthropic offshoot of Voya Financial (formerly known as ING). The foundation’s primary focus is children’s education, particularly through its signature Unsung Heroes program.
IP TAKE: The ING Foundation is now called the Voya Foundation, but the efforts it puts into supporting K-12 education remain the same. Its Unsung Heroes program puts money directly into classrooms throughout the country, with an explicit goal of hitting every state in the union.
PROFILE: The Voya Foundation (formerly the ING Foundation) is the philanthropic offshoot of Voya Financial (formerly ING). The foundation dedicates the majority of its philanthropic support to children’s education by putting money directly into classroom projects, as well as by supporting the teachers in those classrooms.
As is befitting its financially focused corporate parent, the Voya Foundation supports children’s education as a way to build “an educated workforce and make an impact at reducing the dropout rate.” The foundation views “strong human capital” as a key to the country’s international competitiveness and the backbone to thriving communities, as well as to “the long-term success” of the company itself.
Voya’s signature giving effort in its Children’s Education giving stream is its Unsung Heroes Awards Program, which “recognizes those classroom heroes who take teaching to new heights and make learning fun” and gives awards to jump-start or continue classroom projects.
The program has been up and running since 1995, with more than $4 million dispersed during that time. Each year, Unsung Heroes gives out 100 grants. Ninety-seven of them are in the amount of $2,000. These projects are called “Finalists.” The three remaining grants are third-place ($7,000), second-place ($12,000) and first-place ($27,000).
The Unsung Heroes program likes to spread the wealth geographically. It guarantees a finalist from every state, providing there’s at least one educator/school from that state to apply, but project ideas need not come from a traditional classroom teacher. This can include “principals, paraprofessionals, or classified staff with effective projects that improve student learning.” As long as the initiator (or team of initiators) works full-time at an accredited K-12 public or private school in the U.S., they can apply.
With 97 Finalists each year from all across the country, teaching at every level from kindergarten to grade 12, it will come as no surprise that the projects granted with $2,000 a piece vary greatly. First off, The foundation states each project is judged on its innovation, creativity, and ability to impact students. Also, the Voya explicitly seeks projects that implement “new teaching methods and techniques that improve learning,” and states that applications are judged in part on use of “innovative method.” With those goals in mind, it’s no surprise that many winning applications make use of digital technologies—and that by extension, many fall into a curriculum of STEM learning.
The foundation allows you to search all of the most recent finalists here. You can sort by state if you want to see more specifically what’s happening in your region.
Applications are available online (with an early spring deadline) and request that the K-12 educator describe a project they have initiated or would like to pursue. When it comes to presenting your project’s scope and financial needs, the disparity between a Finalist finish ($2,000) and the first-place prize ($27,000) is obviously enormous. Be mindful of both what you could do with the smallest grant (and/or who else you’ll go to in order to make up the rest of your financial needs), as well as how you would “go big” with the larger of the foundation’s cash awards.
Also worth keeping in mind is the Voya Foundation’s other aspect of education giving: Financial education. If you have a K-12 project that also delves into this realm without overtly duplicating projects it already supports, especially if it supports an underserved community, you’re more likely to get the foundation’s attention.
In addition to Unsung Heroes and financial education, Voya is also a presenting sponsor of the prestigious National Teacher of the Year award, and has made a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to the America’s Promise Alliance, a multi-organizational partnership founded by General Colin Powell and his wife, Alma and focused on “ensuring that children receive the fundamental resources they need to lead successful, healthy and productive lives and build a stronger society.”
In the past, the foundation also had a Run for Something Better School Awards Program, which awarded grants to support school-based running or fitness programs for elementary and middle schools across the country