Barr Foundation: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: Barr is the largest private foundation in the state of Massachusetts, and it has both a local and a global focus. Its main domestic program areas are climate change, public education and the arts. Barr's Global was established in 2010 and concluded in 2015, leaving more funds behind for local causes.

IP TAKE: Climate change issues aren't given priority at that many philanthropic foundations in the Boston area. If you are working in this field, then Barr should be your go-to source for a grant this year.

PROFILE: Barr commands serious influence in Boston, and it's no surprise that founders Amos and Barbara Hostetter were named the city's most powerful philanthropists by Boston magazine. The foundation made news when it announced its influence could be expanding even further, launching a strategic planning process on the future growth of the foundation, regionally, nationally and internationally. James Canales, former chief executive at the James Irvine Foundation, was tapped to become Barr's president and lead the expansion. Barr has reported over $1.6 billion in assets.

In the last few years, the foundation has focused its influence in a few key areas.

A signature focus has been climate change, which has accounted for roughly 30 percent grant-funding in the past. The funder primarily focuses on how energy is used and transportation. In a past year, Barr announced that $50 million would be directed toward helping Boston and Massachusetts become national models for meeting aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, grants have been focused on reducing emissions from buildings and transportation, the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Education is also a major focus of the foundation, and past grantmaking has included early education, K-12, and out-of-school time. Since 2016, the primary goal has been to increase the number of youth who connect to secondary and post-secondary success. Clearly, the new guidelines provide an effective measurable outcome, a strategy that a number of Barr programs have embraced.

Arts and Creativity is another Barr program that aims to elevate the arts and enable creative expression. The goal here is to engage and inspire a dynamic and thriving Massachusetts. The Barr strategies in this regard are to advance the field’s capacity to adapt, take risks, engage audiences in new ways, connect the arts to other disciplines, and to encourage public support for the arts.

Barr's Global Grantmaking program concluded in 2015, so there's no need to get into that any further.

The foundation's fellowship program has earned accolades from many in the industry, and it is another signature program. For fundraisers, it's important to know that the majority of Barr grantees are identified by foundation staff. But the grant dollars are not completely inaccessible for nonprofits. Potential grantees introduce their organizations to the foundation via online inquiry form, and occasionally Barr makes a call for concept papers.

The Barr Foundation typically awards around $60 million in grants annually. Although the grants range in amount from $1,000 to $3 million, about 45 percent fall in the $100,000 to $500,000 range. It's rare for Barr to fund program-related investments or capital campaigns. Learn more about past grantees and how much they received in Barr's Grants Database.

The Barr Grantmaking Process is divided into staff-initiated grants, continuing and new support for current grantees, inquiries from new partners, and special initiatives. Initial inquiries can be submitted to Barr staff via online form

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