John Merck Fund

OVERVIEW: The John Merck Fund awards grants to Boston-based non-profit organizations working in the areas of developmental disabilities clean energy, environmental health, and regional food systems.

FUNDING AREAS: Developmental disabilities, clean energy, environmental health, regional food systems

IP TAKE: The Merck Fund takes an unconventional approach to grantmaking and is spending down its assets. It is no longer taking on new grantees.

PROFILE: Established in 1970 by Serena Merck, the John Merck Fund is named after her son, John. Initially, the sole purpose of the foundation was to support research programs for children with disabilities. However, the foundation's focus began to expand in 1986 based on other areas of concern she and her husband, George, cared about. Between the World Wars, George oversaw Merck's involvement in developing synthetic vitamins, antibiotics, and hormones. He was heavily involved in war research during World War II and has even been featured on the cover of Time magazine for his role in the American drug industry. The foundation plans to spend all of its assets by 2022. Current grantmaking interest areas are developmental disabilities, clean energy, environmental health, and regional food systems.

Despite George Merck’s background, healthcare and medical research programs are not funded by the Merck Foundation. Merck's clean energy program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce fossil fuel expenditures in the New England area. The environmental health program funds governmental policies that move away from petroleum-based chemicals for disease prevention. Merck has been a leader in solar energy initiatives, teaming up with the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and SmartPower to simplify the process of solar panel installation. The regional food program expands entrepreneurship in growing sustainably grown food in New England. Finally, the most prominent developmental disabilities program funds research and care for children with Fragile X or Downs Syndrome. Merck rarely large organizations that are well-established and receiving plenty of funding from other sources.

Foundation grants often range from $30,000 to $100,000 each. View a list of past grants here. The Merck Foundation is run by a small staff based in Boston and has given out between $7 and $10 million each year. Boston-centered organizations always fare well with the foundation. However, it has awarded grants to organizations in Vermont, California, Washington, and Virginia in recent years as well. 

Since 2017, the foundation has no longer accepted unsolicited letters of inquiry. Instead, it aims to make more progress on the investments it has already made. Direct general questions to the foundation staff at info@jmfund.org or 617-556-4120.

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