Hestia Fund: Boston Grants

OVERVIEW: Approximately 50 Boston women comprise the Hestia Fund, which is a volunteer-based, donor-led giving circle. The group has focused its grantmaking on in-school and after-school programs for 5-18 year olds for several years, but more recently has considered support for quality teachers and preschool programs. Hestia grants typically range between $10,000 and $50,000 in size.

FUNDING AREAS: Youth causes, in-school and after-school programs, teacher training, preschool programs

IP TAKE: The Hestia Fund does not accept unsolicited proposals and doesn’t have a process in place to respond to requests from nonprofits seeking grants. But if you have contacts at a like-minded organization that has received a Hestia grant in the past, Hestia members may be willing to consider a recommendation. Keep in mind that only Boston-area nonprofits are considered.

PROFILE: Founded in 2000 by Susan Priem, the Hestia Fund is a giving circle comprised of approximately 50 women in Boston. The group aims to positively impact the lives of low-income women and their children living in the greater Boston area by increasing the quantity and quality of after-school and out-of-school programs. Since its inception, the Hestia Fund has distributed over $4.7 million in grants.

Susan Priem launched the women-only Hestia Fund to increase women's participation in philanthropy, with a goal of distributing $100,000 in grants. Her vision involved equal vesting of all members, multi-year commitment to the giving circle, a consensus decision-making process, and no additional fundraising within the membership. "I hate to say this, but women-in-philanthropy is more my passion than the after-school focus," Priem explained to Harvard Magazine in 2001. "That focus could have been anything and I’d probably be right there driving whatever it was. I think women are the ones who are going to have all of the wealth."

This is a volunteer/donor-led foundation, so there is only one staff member, a part-time program administrator. We recently spoke with one Hestia member, Kathy Huber, who has been with the foundation since 2007. Huber’s experience is in the high-tech field, and she describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. Prior to joining Hestia, and still today, she has been active in philanthropy through nonprofit volunteer work as an MIT mentor for young people interested in startups and entrepreneurship.

Hestia’s annual grantmaking budget is about $300,000 and has three operating committees: Grants, Membership and Steering. The operating budget is funded through member-paid dues of $750 per year. Throughout the year, Hestia members meet monthly to learn more about philanthropy, specific nonprofit topics, and each other. The Hestia grant cycle begins in June, when all potential grantees are discussed and a request for proposals is issued to a list of about 40 to 45 nonprofits. Proposals are due in mid-July, and a grants committee of eight women (four from the previous year and four new) meet in August to whittle that list down, usually to between 12 and 20 potential grantees.

Three or four Hestia women conduct site visits to each potential grantee between September and December. Grant decisions are made in February, and funds are released in April or May of each year. Hestia grants range from $50,000 at the high end and $10,000 at the low end. The members tend to award lesser grants to young organizations that are still establishing themselves in the community. There is no set number of years that an organization can continue receiving Hestia support, but the members aim to help grantees plan for their own futures and become independent.

According to a statement provided by Hestia member Kathy Huber:

Approximately half of our grants are funding systemic change in the public schools, augmented by other educational grants in early childhood, extended learning and teacher development grants that comprise another 40% of the grants awarded.

Our educational programming included the Boston Public Schools, Early Learning, Teacher Development and Philanthropy as we heard from experts in these fields during our monthly meetings.  Our most recent meeting expanded our knowledge even further as we explored “Technology in the Classroom” with a panel of experts in this area.

The most common Hestia grantees are public schools, charter schools, arts programs, mental health programs, and summer programs in the Boston area. Hestia members are very excited about all of their current grantees, which are described in detail on the foundation website. Some recent grantees include Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention, Beacon Academy, Cambridge Camping - Daybreak Day Camp, and the Joseph Lee School.

So what’s next for the Hestia Fund?

Hestia began looking to support quality teachers and preschool programs not too long ago. This is a newer  focus areas added to the existing mission of serving kids between the ages of five and 18. Huber also explained how the members look for organizations that offer programs that stay with kids long after the kids move on, such as middle-school programs that have a lasting impact on kids through high school and on to college. Twice-a-year Hestia site visits aren’t uncommon for grantees who receive $40,000 to $50,000. Hestia members pride themselves on being active participants in philanthropy and staying in touch with grantees long after the checks have been written.

Unfortunately, for grantseekers, the Hestia Fund does not accept unsolicited proposals. Hestia members reach out directly to potential grantees that they think everyone would be interested in. Current grantees sometimes recommend other new potential grantees to Hestia’s members too.

“I have gotten to know my city of Boston far better because of Hestia,” wrote one Hestia member about her experience. “Our grant partners are located in every corner of the city—in schools and community centers and churches that I might never have known about were it not for the site visit opportunities. And it is not just the locales I would have missed; it is the inspiring men and women who run these non-profit programs and organizations.”


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