WEM Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education


OVERVIEW: The WEM Foundation is the charitable vehicle of billionaire Whitney MacMillan. The foundation makes grants in arts, health, environment, social welfare and education. The foundation's education grantmaking has historically focused primarily on Minnesota, the Midwest, and Florida funding charters, education reform groups, and scholarships. The foundation also funds the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Program.

IP TAKE: The foundation pre-selects the organizations it supports, and doesn't have a website or provide a clear way for grantseekers to get their foot in the door with project proposals. Its WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Program has the most web presence.

PROFILE: The WEM Foundation is the philanthropic vehicle of the richest man in Minnesota, Whitney MacMillan. MacMillan was the last member of the Cargill family to run Cargill, an international provider of “food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services,” which his great-grandfather founded in 1865. The WEM Foundation recently posted assets of more than $300 million and is one of the largest foundations in Minnesota. The foundation has interests in arts, conservation, social welfare, and education.

Education has not historically been the foundation’s largest giving category, but WEM has still given several million dollars to this area in recent years.  WEM's education grantmaking involves supporting colleges and universities such as Yale and Dartmouth, as well as a component that involves supporting education abroad through outfits such as the Kenya Children's Fund, a girls' school in South Africa, and EARTH University in Costa Rica, but a large share of its education funding involves K-12 education in the U.S.

Recipients of WEM education funding have come from a variety of sectors - public, charter, private, and parochial. The foundation has supported Charter School Partners, which provides academic and financial technical support to improve charter school performance and to advocate for high-performing charters in Minnesota. Charters such as Hiawatha Academies in the Minneapolis region, and KIPP Stand Academy have been recently supported, as has Teach for America.

Education advocacy groups such as MinnCAN, Education Transformation Initiative Fund, Educators 4 Excellence, Learning Alliance, Tregoe Education Forum, and Orono Alliance for Education have received support. Some of the grantmaking to Orono Alliance has involved a K-5 literacy program.

WEM has paired with the Synergy & Leadership Exchange (a.k.a. Synergy, previously called the Center for Academic Excellence), an education nonprofit in Minnesota, to develop the WEM Outstanding Educator Awards Program. Educators, administrators and academic challenge coaches from Minnesota public or non-public schools and educational institutions are eligible. Each year, the foundation issues a call for nominations. Parents, students, administrators or colleagues are invited to nominate educators and academic challenge coaches who they believe make a difference in the lives of students both academically and by facilitating their moral growth and development. Awardees at the state level receive $15,000, while $1,500 is awarded to regional honorees.

The WEM Foundation's education philanthropy also involves scholarships. WEM has supported the DEALT Scholarship at Dartmouth College, though the exact nature of that scholarship is unclear. Kingswood College in South Africa is the site of the MacMillan Scholarship & Telkom Students, and sums have also supported St. Andrew's College and a scholarship at that college.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, the Foundation Center reports that this funder “contributes only to pre-selected organizations.”  The foundation doesn't have a website, or a clear avenue for grantseekers to pitch a proposal, though a mailing address is listed below.


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WEM Foundation

P.O. Box 5628

Minneapolis, MN 55440