Schooner Foundation: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: The Schooner Foundation was built upon the success of a Boston-based investment firm and has developed both a local and a global focus. Although the international programs revolve around human rights, the local programs are more centered on politics and the media.

FUNDING AREAS: Progressive media, campaign finance reform, the green economy, investigative reporting and judicial reform.

IP TAKE: If your organization has Republican overtones, you probably won't fare well with Schooner. The foundation donates a good portion of its money towards liberal and progressive political causes that the Schooner team is very opinionated about.

PROFILE: Many philanthropic foundations shy away from politics, but the Schooner Foundation likes to be in the middle of what's going on in Washington, DC. Since 1996, the Schooner Capital LLC investment company has been channeling its profits into a foundation to support human rights and other charitable causes around the world.

Even though Schooner operates on a global spectrum, a large portion of the grant money stays in Boston each year. A guy named Vin Ryan started the investment firm back in 1971 and has been instrumental in directing the foundation towards specific interests. In addition to the firm foundation, Ryan has served as the director Marine Biological Laboratory, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Physicians for Human Rights, and Survivor Corps.

Since human rights abuses are oftentimes more critical overseas that here at home, The Schooner Foundation focuses its attention to a different array of matters in the Boston area. While the foundation's international focus remains fixed on peace, security, women's rights, and economic opportunities, the national focus is on progressive media, campaign finance reform, green economy, investigative reporting, and judicial reform. Therefore, much of the local grants make their way to political organizations and activist groups. Ryan and his co-workers clearly have an idea about how this country should be run and the status quo isn't living up to their standards.

Regardless of the zip code, Schooner grants are usually awarded to advocacy groups and organizations needing to build capacity or that are in need of technical assistance. Specific project grants, multi-year funding grants, and fellowships are also common. And don't forget about political leaders either. Schooner contributed over $100,000 last year to political candidates and party committees that share the same viewpoints. It should be noted the top candidate recipients are always Democrats, including the representatives from Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, Hawaii, and even Barack Obama.

Not only is Schooner unorthodox in its political involvement, but also in the fact that the foundation regularly donates to professorships, consulting services, seed money needs, and capital campaigns. A few past grants in the Boston area include $525,000 to Democracy Fund Inc., $200,000 to Boston University's School of Social Work and $133,000 to Brigham and Women's Hospital.  Schooner grants aren't the largest in the industry by any means, and rarely exceed half a million dollars.

At the end of a recent year, the funder reported over $159 million in assets and more than $6 million in total giving. For comparison, just two years earlier, the foundation reported over $24.7 million in assets and more than $3.4 million in total giving spread across 90 grants.

The foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals and doesn't share its grantmaking procedures for the world to see. If you are running a standard non-profit organization, Schooner might not be your best bet for funding. However, political advocacy groups who typically have very few foundations to turn to may find a friend in Schooner. The best way to initiate contact is by email at


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