Trefler Foundation: Boston Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder supports Greater Boston nonprofits working in healthy food accessibility and programs that get urban youth involved in farming and gardening. It’s also a strong supporter of teacher training in Boston Public Schools.

FUNDING AREAS: Community health and wellness, education policy and practice, teacher preparation, access to healthy foods, youth gardening and farming

IP TAKE: Innovative ideas for urban farming and teacher preparation may catch Trefler’s attention in Boston. Less is more, so keep your communications short and to the point.

PROFILE: Established in 1996, this is a private family foundation that focuses a great deal of its support in the Boston area. Some targeted support is provided nationally and internationally, too. Pam and Alan Trefler started the foundation through a “deep, long-term engagement at Dorchester High School, a district high school in the Boston Public School system that was facing grave academic and administrative challenges.” Dorchester Academy is what the post-restructuring entity is called, and a place where the couple focuses on food and nutrition support. Alan Trefler founded Pegasystems and built the company into a $600 million provider of strategic applications with 3,000+ employees in 30 global offices.

There are two priority areas at the Trefler Foundation: Community Health & Wellness and Education & Youth Development. The funder’s health program focuses on urban communities and supports programs that improve school food, prepare healthy meals, and teach inner-city youth about gardening and farming. You can view past Health & Wellness grants by theme on the foundation website, and new partnerships to benefit neighborhood wellness are ongoing. Trefler also funds research on colorectal cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital and access to screenings at MGH/Chelsea.

Trefler’s education program is centered on local public education. The foundation has played a big role in restructuring Boston district high schools, most notably Dorchester High School. In the past, most education funding backed policy strategies to transform teacher education. Trefler has been part of a group of Massachusetts funders dedicated to teacher preparation. Teacher prep programs are ranked by state and institution on a national scale, and this is a cause that Trefler has been very interested in. But more recently, the foundation has taken more interest in youth violence prevention than teacher prep.

The funder has also become involved in international education by supporting a small village in Kenya. The village is called Koru, and Trefler has made a multi-year commitment for construction of a new school building and provision of literature and curriculum materials.

Pam Trefler describes the foundation’s theory of change behind its grantmaking like this: “Dollars spent wisely investing in areas of need to create sustainable change—basically, teach a man to fish.”

Past Trefler support has gone to Year Up, Boston Partners in Education, Summer Search, East Boston High School, and Fenway High School. The foundation launched an initiative called Teach Next Year that prepares high school teachers for the classroom by collaborating with the University of Massachusetts Boston in a unique master’s degree and licensure program. Past grantees can be viewed on the foundation website.

According to Pam, “Our grantees, as a group, tend to be innovative, vibrant, focused, data- and mission-driven organizations. In other words, our grantees understand that 'not-for-profit' doesn’t mean 'not-for business.'”

Unfortunately, the foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals. However, it’s entrenched in the Boston community and always keeping an eye out for new innovators.

Pam Trefler offered me a piece of advice that she would share with prospective grantees:

While we don’t accept unsolicited grant requests, we are deeply committed to finding the most innovative and effective change makers in all the areas that we focus on. That being said, we always value an organization that can succinctly define their work and effectiveness without submitting a tome. It shows you have understanding and a focus of your mission—in other words, less is often more!

General questions can be directed to the foundation at 617-454-1135 or via email at


  • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)