Golden LEAF Foundation

OVERVIEW: This funder supports rural communities in North Carolina through economic development grantmaking related to agriculture, job creation and retention, and workforce preparedness.

FUNDING AREAS: Economic development, agriculture, job creation and retention, workforce preparedness

IP TAKE: This funder gets its money from the big tobacco settlement, but don’t bother with a health-related proposal. There’s a lot of money to go around here for rural North Carolina groups, but make your pitch about employment and workforce development.

PROFILE: The state of North Carolina was largely established from the wealth of the tobacco industry, but one foundation aims to boost economic opportunities in other ways in the state’s rural and formerly tobacco-dependent communities. The Golden LEAF Foundation was established under a charter established by the North Carolina General Assembly to assist economically affected regions of the state that have been dependent on the tobacco industry.

Golden LEAF receives payments from the tobacco settlement, and has received over $1.1 billion already as a result of the settlement brought by North Carolina and 45 other states against tobacco manufacturers. By 2025, the foundation will have received around $2.3 billion. The foundation began making grants in 2000 and has awarded over 1,397 grants totaling over $617 million to local groups.

This funder has three top grantmaking priorities: agriculture, job creation and retention, and workforce preparedness. However, the foundation’s charter allows for the support of other activities as well, including education assistance for tobacco farmers affected by a decline in tobacco production, scientific research to develop new uses for tobacco and alternative cash crops, and health and human services to stabilize tobacco dependent communities.

There have been over a dozen initiatives launched at the foundation to respond to evolving challenges. These initiatives have addressed issues like manufacturing skills, STEM education, local foods and learning technology. The biggest current interests are attracting major employers to rural North Carolina and community-based programs in specific regions. The latter of these interests relates to investments in the building blocks of economic growth, and Golden LEAF typically funds one to three of these programs per county and up to $1.5 million per county. All parts of North Carolina are considered for grants, but not every county will receive grants.

In a recent fiscal year, the foundation budgeted $56.22 million for grantmaking. Most ($21 million) went to the Community-Based Grantmaking Initiative, and the second highest portion ($16 million) went to the Major Site Development Initiative. Open grants typically don’t exceed $200,000, but there is no maximum grant limit in the Economic Catalyst program. Past grants can be viewed here.

This Rocky Mount, North Carolina, foundation is also really pushing to help rural North Carolina students attend state colleges right now. This is why it has two scholarship programs that are open to high school seniors and community college transfer students from tobacco-dependent or economically dependent rural areas.

Questions about programs and grants can be directed to the staff at programs@goldenleaf.org. This is a funder with an open door policy, so interested grantseekers are encouraged to contact the staff at any time to discuss the funding process and proposal ideas. Available grant opportunities include the Open Grants Program which supports agriculture, job creation and retention and workforce preparedness, and the Economic Catalyst Cycle, which deals with job projects associated with business locations and expansions.

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