Kevin Jennings, Arcus Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ rights, great ape conservation

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: A long-time leader and activist in areas related to social justice, education, and LGBT empowerment, Jennings leads the Arcus Foundation.

PROFILE: Kevin Jennings is not just unconventional, he's transformational. A first generation college student, Jennings not only went to Harvard, he founded First Generation Harvard Alumni, an organization where former first gen Harvard grads mentor current students whose parents didn't go to college.

Then, wanting to challenge discrimination against gay students he observed in schools where he taught in the late 1980's, Jennings founded the country's first Gay-Straight Alliance at the Concord Academy in Massachusetts, and eventually went on to direct the program's national expansion.

To get the overall scope of his impressive career, here's his bio straight from the Arcus Foundation's website:

"Kevin has a long and distinguished career as an educator, social justice activist, teacher, and author. He served as Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education, heading the department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools where he led federal efforts to promote the safety, health and well being of U.S. students and led the Obama Administration’s anti-bullying initiative. Kevin began his career as a high school history teacher and coach in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. During this time he served as faculty advisor to the nation’s first Gay-Straight Alliance leading him in 1990 to found the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national education organization tackling anti-LGBT bias in U.S. schools. Kevin holds a BA from Harvard University, an MA in education from Columbia University’s Teachers College (from which he received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012), and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He has received numerous awards for his work, is a regular speaker on national and international platforms and is a board member of the Harvard Alumni Association and the Union Theological Seminary. He is author of six books and is also a founding member of the New York City Gay Hockey Association, playing left wing on The Boxers. Along with his partner of 20 years, Jeff Davis, he is the proud "father" of two Bernese mountain dogs."

For an even longer and more in-depth (and therefore even more impressive) look at Jennings' scope of work, check out the bio on his own website.

After decades of leading pioneering social justice initiatives, Jennings is surprisingly (or for him, maybe unsurprisingly) grounded. He manages time well, making space for his personal life on evenings and weekends, maintains a 20-plus-years-long relationship with his partner, a senior executive at Barclay's, and cares for their beloved dogs. And at least one of his ex-employees loved him so much he authored a blog post called, "Top Ten Things I Love About Kevin Jennings" upon learning that Jennings would be joining the Arcus Foundation in 2013. (Among Jennings' better attributes, according to the post's author: a trust in others, a positive outlook, a healthy—even welcoming!—approach to conflict, and a refusal to be deterred by pernicious perfectionism.)

As head of the Arcus Foundation, Jennings oversees an annual giving portfolio of more than $15 million. Jennings' spending is roughly evenly divided between the foundation's two program areas, pet causes of wealthy founder Jon Stryker: conservation for great apes, and LGBTQ rights around the world. 

Through its LGBTQ programming, Jennings directs nearly $1 million to projects explicitly devoted to fighting HIV/AIDS every year. Most of Arcus' HIV/AIDS grants support domestic initiatives, but the foundation regularly funds projects serving international communities as well. Arcus' HIV/AIDS grants focus a lot on policy and advocacy, tools through which the foundation would like to effect change in society. But Arcus doesn't shy away totally from treatment-focused grants, as long as they emphasize social justice and LGBTQ empowerment. Arcus' grants for HIV/AIDS programs range in amount from about $10,000 to several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Based on a list of recent grantees, there appears to be a slight New York bias to Arcus' giving, but that's probably to be expected, given that the foundation has a physical presence in New York City, and that Stryker has a stated love for the city (which offered him, as a gay man, a more hospitable environment in his younger years than did his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan).

For added context on what Arcus, under Jennings' leadership, looks for in grantees, a sampling of recent grants the foundation has made in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention:

  • $250,000 to the American Foundation for AIDS Research for policy advocacy in the Dominican Republic, South Africa, and Thailand, with a focus on HIV care and healthcare access for transgendered people.
  • $50,000 to New York's Fractured Atlas Productions, Inc. in support of a feature-length documentary, "Born This Way," about HIV/AIDS-related healthcare practices in Cameroon.
  • $100,000 to the New York City Gay And Lesbian Anti-Violence Project for public education, training, and research to reduce violence about LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities.

Applying for a grant from Arcus is comparatively simple. Unlike other foundations, Arcus willingness accepts, reads, and reviews unsolicited, online letters of inquiry. Provided, of course, that prospective grantees meet a few criteria. Would-be grantees have to explain how their HIV/AIDS work relates to human rights, the United States, or global religion—the three focus areas through which Arcus does its LGBTQ programming. Potential applicants would do well to thoroughly review Arcus' mission and principles, published on the foundation's website, before submitting any project ideas.  Arcus reviews letters of inquiry on a rolling basis and invites promising submitters to apply through a detailed, online grant application. The foundation awards grants four times a year, so you don't have to wait too long for funding if indeed Arcus decides to support your project.


Arcus Annual Report Highlight Video from Sugarcamp Films on Vimeo.

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