First, some bad news. Philanthropy for science research is a relatively narrow piece of the overall pie. Not only that, the major streams of funding are often awarded to a short list of prestigious universities. But fear not! Science research is one of the most important and exciting fields in philanthropy today. As funding cuts threaten public support for research and more billionaires are making science a main cause, the landscape of science funding is changing dramatically.
For starters, there are several philanthropies that channel funds into niche research areas—anything from quantum computing to bowel disorders—and plenty that specifically aim to open up funding avenues for young and aspiring scientists or schools that aren't typically targeted for major research funds. So while some of this funding seems stuck in ivory towers, there's still a ton of exciting and innovative activity happening in science philanthropy.
We're closely watching what's happening in this arena of giving and included what we're learning in this guide. All the profiles of funders and program officers in the guide are updated regularly.
The foundation backs basic and clinical research into life-threatening illnesses.
Rita Allen Foundation grants in science research primarily go to early-career scientists studying cancer, immunology, and neuroscience.
ACGT focuses exclusively on supporting research for cancer management and treatment through cell and gene therapy. Its awards are substantial in size, but highly competitive.
The Arnold Foundation seeks transformational change. Its science giving is all about changing the status quo by increasing the rigor, transparency and reliability of scientific research.
BD Biosciences offers research grants for cancer and immunology-related fields.
Through its Scholars Program and Young Investigator awards, the Beckman Foundation awards research grants for innovative, boundary-pushing researchers in their undergraduate or early postdoc careers.
Bowes Foundation's medical research grants fund California-based institutions; it's interested in stem cell research to cure or treat serious diseases such as cancer.
Brinson narrowly focuses on astrophysics, cosmology, biology and geophysics. It likes to back early career scientists and to fund areas that aren't yet attracting support from government.
Broad supports research related to genomics, stem cells, medical research and inflammatory bowel disease. Broad predominantly awards grants to larger institutions, and California-based groups may have an edge.
Burroughs backs researchers, primarily through competitive awards, with an emphasis on biology and medical research. Deans or department heads must nominate researchers.
Curci's science research funding goes to regenerative medicine, cell biology, stem cells, nanotechnology and nanoscience.
While you wouldn’t exactly call the Gates Foundation a pure science funder, its sprawling programs frequently involve research. This is a major funder making large grants supporting its interests.
Gatsby is one of the Sainsbury Family organizations. Their science research funding concentrates on plant sciences in the context of global issues including population growth and climate change.
The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research aims to extend the healthy productive years of life through research on the mechanisms of biological aging.
Google runs the occasional research prize, but it also makes academic research grants for computer science and related fields. Subjects of interest include machine learning and human-computer interaction.
Gordon Gund and his wife Llura support medical research, mostly related to blindness. Giving is diverse, though, with significant grants for research into autism, cancer, and other diseases.
Heising-Simons supports basic research, with priority to the physical sciences, including astronomy, cosmology, climate change, and fundamental physics.
Helmsley backs basic medical research and research to improve the quality of biomedical research overall. Tends to fund larger, well-known organizations.
Lyda Hill Foundation seeks to support research with the potential to drive "transformational" advances. It tends to fund work at larger scientific and medical institutions.
HHMI is one of the world’s leaders in funding biomedical research projects and awards grants nationally and internationally. Competition is stiff, but winners are well funded.
Kaufman gives to basic science in biology, chemistry, and physics at research institutions, but only in Pennsylvania. It awards grants through a competitive application process, with LOI deadlines early in the year.
Kavli awards grants in astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics, but primarily through its Kavli Institutes and high-profile, million-dollar Kavli Prize.
Keck is interested in high-risk, high-reward research. Its Science and Engineering and Medical Research programs each give out only a dozen or so grants each year, but million-dollar grants are common.
Mathers awards grants for research projects in the life sciences. Within that scope, its giving is broad, both in terms of research scope and geographic location.
JSMF supports research into human cognition, brain science, and the study of complex systems, with a focus on gaining new knowledge and applying it in the real world.
This private foundation has loosely defined guidelines behind its many medium-sized grants but backs a lot of science research, especially related to curing diseases.
Moore thinks big and doesn’t open the door to many. Focus areas include plant science, marine microbiology, data-driven discovery, and environmental conservation.
Murdock awards grants in a five-state region that includes Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. It prefers to fund research in natural sciences, but also awards grants in engineering and medical research.
Packard's science research tends to back environmental conservation and climate change projects. The foundation is also known for its esteemed Packard Fellowships.
RCSA gives several mostly small/medium-sized grants for high-risk research, usually to individuals or small teams, as well as to early career scientists and researchers teaching at the undergraduate level.
This organization accepts applications to use SOI's 272-foot ship and its equipment for ocean research. Opportunities are also available for undergraduate and graduate students to join research teams.
Siebel gives scholarships for leading science graduate students. It also funds university research through a Stem Cell Institute and an Energy Institute. Eligibility for all of the above is limited to member universities.
Simons is one of the country’s largest foundations devoted entirely to science and math research. Its three main programs are Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and its Autism Research Initiative.
Sloan's flagship program is the Sloan Research Fellowships, but the foundation is quite open to LOIs in a number of its other programs.
This massive, quirky foundation gives large sums toward basic science research and is devoted to discoveries related to the “Big questions of human purpose and reality.”
Thrasher's science research funding goes to investigators studying pediatric illnesses, among other topics. Scientists around the world are eligible.
Welch gives only to educational institutions working on chemistry in the state of Texas. It provides research and departmental grants, endowed chairs, scholarships and educational programs for high school students.
Whitehall supports researchers working in the life sciences, with a focus on neurobiology.