New Balance Foundation: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: Childhood obesity is the foundation's focus, and only select cities in Massachusetts and Maine are considered for grants.

FUNDING AREAS: Childhood obesity, education, athletics, environment, health, human services, arts & culture

IP TAKE: New Balance has a niche with it's philanthropy, so make sure that your organization's goals almost perfectly align with its before applying. This foundation has a "small town feel" compared to other big-name philanthropies, so play on that if you run a grassroots non-profit.

PROFILE: Sometimes it's difficult to make the connection between business and philanthropy. However, athletic shoe maker, New Balance, is right on target with it's fight against childhood obesity. Believe it or not, the shoe company has been around longer than you think, and its foundation has existed for over 30 years. You probably didn't hear much about the foundation in its early years because the trustees just quietly contributed to child-focused causes in the neighborhood. But it's boosted grantmaking from $30,000 in 1981 to over $6.1 million in 2013. It's also expanded its focus to Boston and Lawrence, Massachusetts as well as Skowhegan, Norridgewock, and Norway, Maine.

Preventing childhood obesity is the name of the game for New Balance, and the foundation aims to support grassroots initiatives to get children running around like they're meant to. A husband-wife team, Jim and Anne Davis, runs the New Balance Foundation, which has its own staff and a board of trustees, of course. Aside from the childhood obesity priority, New Balance regularly considers grant proposals for educational institutions, athletic clubs, environmental causes, health issues, and cultural projects. When natural disasters strike around the world, New Balance always tries to chip in as well.

Secondary funding priorities include education & athletics, health & human services, arts & culture, the environment, and disaster relief.

The city of Boston receives a sizeable portion of New Balance grants because the company is headquartered there and most connected with the Boston community. The company also caters to the needs of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which is 25 minutes north of Boston and home to the company's manufacturing facility. Since the company built three facilities in the state of Maine as well, the towns of Norridgewock, Skowhegan, and Norway are also in the running for grants. Some of the grantees in these towns only receive a couple hundred bucks here and there, and others get a few hundred thousand. New Balance grants very rarely hit the million dollar mark.

A few past New Balance grants in Boston included $1 million (two grants) to the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, $900,000 to Boston Children's Hospital, $600,000 to PlayWorks National, $500,000 to Kid2Kid Inc.

If you're running a health-based non-profit in Boston, you have a great chance at a small-to-medium sized grant if you can work the youth obesity angle. Pitch a program that gets kids interested in sports and sneaks in education for healthy nutrition to get noticed. Special Olympics teams, Boys & Girls Clubs, and active after school programs are also favorites of the New Balance staff.

New Balance made headlines by funding the Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP). The foundation has provided grants and program evaluation for ASAP's east coast schools and implemented the 100 Mile Club school running program to get kids excited about running. New Balance also awarded a $3.3 million grant to Boston Children's Hospital to fund a revolutionary obesity research study. A list of more recent grant recipients can be viewed here.

The good news for Boston nonprofits is that you're only competing against four other (much smaller) towns for grants each year. New Balance likes to see proposals asking for specific program support rather than general operating support. Don't bother starting the application process if you work for yourself, a political party, put on fundraising dinners, sponsor a team, are making a film, or are affiliated with any discriminatory organization.

To apply, one-page concept papers have been due in January for new grant seekers and the first of February for existing grant partners. No part of the process takes place online, so you'll have to mail your forms and letters to the New Balance Boston office. Either way, you'll hear back from the foundation by mail to let you know if your proposal has been approved or denied.

The New Balance Foundation staff is small, but they will try to respond to your email inquiry within seventy-two hours. Don't bother with a phone call, but send questions about the application process over to newbalancefoundation@newbalance.com.

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