Boston Foundation: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: As the city's community foundation, The Boston Foundation has a broad impact on Boston fundraising. If you're interested in their funds, make sure you're focused on its five key impact areas, where it awards at least $16 million each year in competitive grants.

IP TAKE: The Boston Foundation should be on the radar of every nonprofit in the city. The focus areas are broad, the dollar amounts are high, and the competition is almost exclusively between neighbors.

PROFILE: Another elephant in the fundraising room is The Boston Foundation (TBF). In terms of grant volume and size, TBF has the broadest impact in the city, making over 850 grants annually. The key word is broad, as the foundation has five specific impact areas and two crosscutting strategies.

The term broad applies to the number of grants awarded, the total dollar amount awarded, and the programs out of which TBF awards grants. In a typical grantmaking year, TBF writes close to $98 million in grant checks. Although 100% of that money does not go toward Boston-based organizations, most of it does. If you aren't Bean Town based, your grant proposal better be something really special if you want to catch TBF's attention. And by special, we mean extraordinary.

In the past, the foundation has awarded in the ballpark of $16 million for competitive grants in the following key focus areas: 

  • Increasing Philanthropic Resources
  • Education to Career 
  • Health and Wellness 
  • Jobs and Housing 
  • Community Safety 
  • Civic and Cultural Vitality 

The five current impact areas are education, health and wellness, jobs and economic development, neighborhoods and housing, and arts and culture. Its crosscutting strategies are nonprofit effectiveness and grassroots funding. Starting in 2016, the foundation began awarding Open Door grants which fund things like organizational capacity building and testing new innovative ideas.

Partnerships and collaboration also play a key role in the foundation's grantmaking, particularly in its special initiative areas. These grants often are made along with funding partners, and they're often dynamic collaborations around a common issue area. For instance, Success Boston was a key collaboration that sought to help Boston Public School graduates plan, prepare for, and complete post-secondary education.

Past TBF initiatives include:

  • StreetSafe Boston - An $18 million initiative that focuses on reducing youth violence in five Boston neighborhoods with the highest youth violence rate, including Roxbury, Dochester, and Mattapan.
  • The Boston Opportunity Agenda - Supports organizations that help foster access to high-quality education and family economic stability.
  • SkillWorks. Supports organizations that help low-income individuals find jobs.
  • Food and Fuel Fund - Supports nonprofits that work to meet basic and emergency needs during winter months. 
  • Mystic River Watershed Environmental Fund - Provides grants to improve water quality and access ot the river while engaging young and immigrant populations in stewardship and advocacy

Although education remains a key priority area, health initiatives have been gaining steam. In fact, BF partnered up with the Clinton Foundation to promote mobile wellness with heath apps.

As a community foundation, TBF should be on every nonprofit's radar, and it is fairly accessible to new grantees. Letters of inquiry for competitive grants are accepted throughout the year, and financially stable nonprofits that work with high-need people, collaborate with other groups, and can measure their results have the best chance of earning funding. Initial Letters of Inquiry are due in November, February, May, and August. Make sure to check out a Grant Information Session if you can.

If you're need general operating support, just know that operating support grants have traditionally been up to $150,000 or 10-15 percent of an organization’s operating budget, whichever is lower, and may be awarded for up to five years. General questions can be directed to grantsinfo@tbf.org.

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