OVERVIEW: The Best Buy Foundation is focused on 21st-century, technology-based learning for teenagers.
IP TAKE: The Best Buy Foundation gives its grants to both national and community-centric organizations that teach technology skills to teens. While the foundation refreshingly recognizes many ways to provide these skills, including arts-related and multi-disciplinary approaches, without a doubt STEM education is at the heart of its giving. The caveat: Make sure your organization and program work is within 50 miles of a Best Buy location.
PROFILE: The Best Buy Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the consumer electronics big box store, so it’s no surprise that the foundation focuses on “21st-century skills.” What distinguishes this funder more is its narrow student age-group focus, which is limited to teenagers ages 13 to 18.
The Best Buy Foundation defines “21st-century skills” as “innovative skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity” that rigorously utilize technology. So it’s no surprise that STEM education programs see a lot of support. But these STEM programs aren’t of the academic “desk-work” variety. Rather, they engage students in hands-on experience--without sacrificing academic rigor.
Funding flows through two grant programs. National Grants provide awards typically in the $100,000 - $200,000 range to organizations whose work spans multiple cities. The foundation “prefers” those cities to include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Jersey City, New York, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Antonio, San Francisco/Bay area, Seattle and Washington D.C., because those are the locations of the foundation’s Teen Tech Centers. But even when you don’t include some of these locations, be sure the ones you do include are within 50 miles of a Best Buy location.
Eligible organizations are 501(c)(3)s with established out-of-school time programming, or programming with a “proven track record” serving teenagers. Funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.
Community Grants go to nonprofits working locally and regionally. Amounts are much smaller, averaging $5,000, with a maximum of $10,000. Eligible organizations must be a public or nonprofit community-based organization. (The foundation cites community centers, schools and libraries as examples.) But here too an organization and its program work must occur within 50 miles of a Best Buy location. Likewise, funds are only for program support, not general operating costs.
Though the scopes of geography and dollar amounts are different between the two granting programs, the focus of the giving is the same. Following the credo that “access to technology creates access to opportunity,” the Best Buy Foundation gives underserved student populations “hands-on access” to technology education and tools that set them up for success—in high school, as a gateway to and through college, and for career preparation. In terms of those eventual careers, the foundation has a vision of inspiring and preparing “a new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and dreamers.”
What types of programs get funded? The foundation looks for those that “transform underserved teens from consumers to creators.” It provides a healthy list of examples, but also makes clear that these examples are just a starting point. They include program activities such as computer programming, digital imaging (photography, graphic design, filmmaking), music production, robotics, gaming and mobile app development, computer maintenance and repair, maker fairs/hackathons, and website design.
Best Buy Foundation grant opportunities are open to all who wish to apply. National Grant applications are due early October. Community Grant applications are due early July. If you happen to be a Twin Cities-based organization, then a special pot called the Twin Cities Fund gives you the opportunity to apply four times per year.
- Shawn Score, President