The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust Grants

OVERVIEW: This private family funder supports education (mostly higher ed), arts, arts education, and basic human needs in North Carolina, as well as in Kentucky, St. Augustine, Fla., and Lockport, NY.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, arts, arts education, basic human needs

IP TAKE: Higher education is the biggest funding interest of this charitable trust, however, North Carolina groups should take note of Kenan’s art funding. Most of it is centered here in terms of both traditional art grants and art education for youth.

PROFILE: The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., was established in 1966. It was formed from a bequest of $95 million from William R. Kenan Jr.’s estate. He was a successful chemist and industrialist who was born in Wilmington, N.C., and passed away in 1965. During Kenan’s lifetime, education was always at the heart of his giving. He was a math and science teacher, later a chemical and mechanical engineering consultant, and also part owner and president of the Flager System companies.

Kenan supports the causes of education, arts, arts education and basic human needs. Education has been the number one cause for this funder, with funding distributed through professorships, scholarships and fellowships at colleges, universities and arts institutions. Much of the education funding flows to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And although the Chapel Hill area remains a prime geographic focus, funding is also regularly granted to locations that Kenan took an interest in during his lifetime, like St. Augustine, Fla., Kentucky, and Lockport, N.Y. About 80 percent of funding per year goes to groups in these four states.

In North Carolina, Kenan has been very active on the local arts scene. Overall, most of the arts and art education grants are focused on North Carolina. For example, it awarded two grants totaling $125,000 to NC Arts in Action to expand programming to five additional schools in Wake County. Kenan grants like this go towards program needs, as well as leveraging more donor support for continued growth. The funder has also been particularly interested in supporting youth development programs for young black men.

At the end of a recent fiscal year, the foundation reported over $621 million in assets and has distributed over $511 million since the grants program began. A recent year saw $26.5 million in total grant awards, and more than $10 million of that commitment went to higher education. K-12 education typically sees the next largest show of support, followed by basic needs and then the arts.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, this foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals. Although this funder’s website is pretty bare bones, its annual reports are quite detailed and can be insightful reads for local grantseekers. You can learn about recent grant awards in each funding area in these documents too.

Richard M. Krasno served as the foundation’s executive director for 15 years but stepped down a few years ago. Today there are 4 staff members at the foundation, and general questions can be directed to them at (919) 391-7222.


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