Farmers Insurance: Grants for Science Education

OVERVIEW: Farmers Insurance is committed to K-12 education through its Thank America’s Teachers program, supporting a wide-range of teacher-driven projects that benefit communities in need. Within this K-12 giving, STEM education is especially rewarded.

IP TAKE: While Farmers Insurance frames this as a “contest,” which is apropos for the smaller cash prizes. But once the cash gets big, the application is the same as any fairly rigorous grant application. Prepare and present accordingly. The “contest” part will come later (once you’re a Finalist) when America gets to vote. Recent giving shows that rigorous K-12 STEM projects are especially well-positioned to take home the big prize.

PROFILE: As a company, Farmers Insurance is all about insurance sales. As a philanthropic funder, Farmers Insurance is all about K-12 education. This giving occurs through its Thank America’s Teachers program, which gives $1 million each year to teacher-driven K-12 education projects, with STEM receiving a notable amount of the coffers.

This fund distribution breaks down into two categories, a $2,500 level and a much, much bigger $100,000 level.

The $2,500 grant program is simple—and populist. Submit 1,000 words about what you want to do with $2,500 to support a K-12 classroom project. The application is available to any full-time, K-12 teacher at a public, charter, or private school. Once each submission period has closed—there are three per year—the proposals are posted on the Thank America’s Teachers website. Winners are then decided by votes, and anyone can vote once per day. That is why, though the program is officially called a “grant,” most of the time Farmers Insurance describes it as a “contest.”  There are 180 contest winners each year, which breaks down to the top 60 vote getters each submission period.

Recent STEM-related projects include the study of the life cycle (funds used to purchase chicken incubation and other scientific equipment); improved technology access/digital learning for rural students; and the creation of a sustainable garden.

Now to the big cash: Farmers Insurance’s gives out six $100,000-prizes each year through its Dream Big Teacher Challenge. While still requiring a full-time K-12 teacher-driven project, with this big a jump, you’d be right to expect that the application is far more rigorous. It requires an in-depth discussion of the community you’ll serve (both inside and beyond the classroom), specific outcomes you expect to achieve, an in-depth project budget (including funding already secured), three letters of support, and a timeline for project implementation. And though this proposal is still teacher-driven, there must be a 501(c)(3) officially attached to receive the funding on the teacher’s behalf. 

If this sounds more like a traditional grant application than a “challenge,” you’d be right about that too. The powers-that-be at Farmers Insurance rigorously vets these proposals, and winnow them down to 15 Finalists. But after that, the process really does become more of a “challenge”—or “contest,” a word that’s used for this cash pot as well. Those 15 Finalists get short videos produced, posted on the Thank America’s Teachers website, and yet again America gets to decide, narrowing the 15 Finalists to six winners. That makes this $100,000 pursuit an interesting blend of traditional grant hunting coupled with social media management/community rallying.

The $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge does list some criteria for proposals (unlike the $2,500 category, which does not). They are Creativity, Economic Need, and Community Impact. The videos of three recent winners reflect how these criteria can be effectively bridged. Looking at the scope of recipients from the past two years (during which time the contest expanded from five to six winners), economic need was emphasized, though creatively the projects varied greatly.

And—good news—academically speaking, STEM-related projects were most prevalent. Recent winners include a coding project; a digital learning improvement project; a STEAM project (including the "a" for "arts") that ties classroom learning to technology/agricultural/business mentorship; and a student and family technology center.

Once more piece of logistics for both pots: Technically speaking, a teacher must be nominated (or “thanked,” in Farmers Insurance parlance) before she or he can submit a proposal. But a teacher is allowed to “thank” herself or himself (and why not?) so this is merely a matter of quick extra-step. 

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