Donald W. Matteson, The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation

TITLE: Chief Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Mental health, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and substance abuse

CONTACT:, 716-689-0370

IP TAKE: Matteson oversees millions of dollars in grants annually that promote the mental well-being of children and young adults (generally under the age of 26) in certain areas of Massachusetts and New York.

PROFILE: Mental illness is hard, as anyone affected by a mental health disorder can tell you. And most of us are, even if indirectly. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four American adults experiences some kind of mental health disorder in a given year. And about 6 percent of Americans live with a severe mental illness, the kind that can not only be debilitating for the affected party but also create serious challenges for his or her family, friends, and colleagues.

The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation recognizes the difficulties that mental illness poses for American society, and it perceives a gap in available assistance for the mentally ill. The foundation also concerns itself with people who have intellectual and learning disabilities. While distinct from mental illness in a variety of ways, intellectual disabilities share a general stigma, and sufferers of both conditions lack necessary services all too often.

Leading their charge as the foundation's Chief Programming Officer, Donald Matteson is a sociologist and an academic by training. He has a Master's in sociology from the University of Buffalo, and his pre-Tower research focused a great deal on race, inequality, and birth/life outcomes. Among the papers he has authored are such titles as, "Black Suicide in U.S. Metropolitan Areas: Tests of the Social Status, Relative Deprivation, and Social Integration Hypotheses" and "Race Differences in Infant Mortality: A Contextual Approach." According to Matteson's biography from a 2009 conference on philanthropy at Cornell University, the sociologist has worked in the nonprofit sector in various capacities, including as an IT specialist. Also, Matteson is a marathon runner. A multitalented sociologist, this one.

As for his focus at Tower, Matteson states:

We've recently shifted our grantmaking to a "healthy communities" approach, working under the premise that everyone is better off when services for our target populations (people up to age 26 with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, metal health issues, and substance abuse problems) are available, accessible, integrated, and holistic.


 It's a broad goal, but a worthy one. Matteson oversees approximately $7 million in grants annually. It's worth noting that Tower has both a geographical and a subject focus; all grants go toward mental health, intellectual disability, and substance abuse programs in select areas of New York and Massachusetts. Specifically, Tower spends its millions in Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, and Nantucket counties of Massachusetts, and Erie and Niagara counties of New York.

A sampling of Tower's recent investments:

  • $781,322 to the Judge Baker's Children Center, a mental health research and training facility in Boston (and affiliate of Harvard University), to implement children's mental health services at two pilot sites
  • $267,894 to Aspire of Western New York, a service provider for people with disabilities, to implement its Project Search job training and placement program for people with autism
  • $315,000 (a grant amount ending in zeroes!) to Gosnold, Inc., an addiction services provider in Cape Cod, to support a recovery program for young adults addicted to opiates

For folks who are interested in applying for Tower Foundation support, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the Foundation's projects are generally focused on people under the age of 26, so it's best to consider a youth angle in your proposal. Also, it's wise to start with a letter of inquiry and work with Tower staff before submitting a full-on grant proposal, in no small part because Tower does not accept unsolicited proposals outright.