Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation currently ranks as one of the largest and most active grantmakers in non-biomedical science philanthropy, funding basic research across the life and physical sciences. Focuses include plant science, marine microbiology, and data-driven discovery and some other cool subprograms in quantum systems, earthquakes and one gigantic telescope.

IP TAKE: Moore thinks big, doesn’t open the door to many, and doesn’t accept unsolicited proposals. But for researchers doing groundbreaking work in marine biology or a handful of other fields - especially schools in California - this funder could be a huge backer.

PROFILE: Established in 2000 and based in San Francisco, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is guided by a vision of “Creating positive outcomes for future generations,” which it pursues by supporting four key areas: “path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements, and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area.” With grants approaching $90 million for science in a recent year, Moore is a serious player in this area of philanthropy.

Moore provides significant funding to California universities such as Caltech and campuses within the University of California, but support has also gone to other big-name universities like Johns Hopkins.

Moore is very much into targeted giving, meaning that its staff has an agenda, picks their favorites, and funds them with major support. Indeed, the foundation only awards between 30 and 50 science grants annually. Grants have usually ranged from $20,000 to $2.5 million, with most falling in the $100,000 to $500,000 range. A limited number of grants have exceeded $2.5 million, and grants typically don’t drop below six figures.

As might be expected, the first program for grantseekers to look at for science research is its Science Program, which the foundation says “invests in the development of new technologies, supports the world’s top research scientists and brings together new—often groundbreaking—scientific partnerships.”  

But don’t stop your grant search with the Science program alone. Though its science research awards are less frequent in this area, the Moore Foundation has also supported science research through its Environmental Conservation program, “balances long-term conservation with sustainable use” and is especially focused on marine ecosystem management. This program is international and multidisciplinary in scope, with a subprogram dedicated to the Andes and incorporation of the study of economics, agriculture, and wild salmon ecosystems into some of its others. Funded research has focused on topics like research into the relationship between environmental risk and global “agricultural commodity chains” as well as several studies related to land use and conservation in the Brazilian Amazon.

A more in-depth look into funded projects and more is available at the foundation’s grants list database.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, the Moore Foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals - a decision detailed in a document explaining its “founders’ intent.” Instead, its staff researches a large number of organizations annually and reaches out to those in which the foundation has interest.

But if you do catch their eye, a science grant from Moore is truly a long-term collaboration. The development of each grant involves a number of consultations to design the project goals and strategies to get there. When a grant is awarded, program officers then meet periodically with grant recipients to monitor progress and adapt backup strategies if the original plans aren't working out.


  • Robert Kirshner, Chief Program Officer, Science
  • Gary Greenburg, Program Officer, Science