Grace and Franklin Bernsen Foundation: Oklahoma Grants

OVERVIEW: The Grace and Franklin Bernsen Foundation gives to a many different causes in the Tulsa metropolitan area, including arts and culture, diseases, child welfare, youth, the elderly, human services, higher education, Protestant religious causes, zoos, and mental health care.

FUNDING AREAS: Arts and culture, diseases, child welfare, youth, the elderly, human services, higher education, Protestant religious causes, zoos, mental health care

IP TAKE: The foundation’s giving strategy is as broad as its geographic one is narrow. This is a go-to funder for capital campaign and construction support.

PROFILE: Established in 1968, the Grace and Franklin Bernsen Foundation supports organizations in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where the founders lived for over 60 years. Franklin Benson was raised and educated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but later became involved in the silent motion picture industry in California. He worked alongside film greats like Charlie Chaplin as an extra in several film productions. However, Franklin’s career and fortune are rooted in the oil industry. He worked in the Taft oil field for General Petroleum Company and the Lucey Manufacturing Corporation. After serving in World War I, he was sent to north central Oklahoma to pursue sales for Lucey and later became the president of the Tulsa-based Lucey Products Company. The foundation awards grants to a broad range of religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational causes, including arts and culture, diseases, child welfare, youth, the elderly, human services, higher education, Protestant religious causes, zoos, and mental health care.

Throughout their lifetimes, the Bernsen couple became involved in philanthropy and made significant donations to the First Presbyterian Church, the Tulsa Philharmonic, the Philbrook Museum of Art, St. John’s Hospital, and the Boy Scouts. They always embraced the notion of large “impact grants,” rather than donations that keep nonprofits running with day-to-day operations. Today, the foundation trustees and staff award large, periodic grants. Although education funding is occasionally provided, elementary and secondary school programs will only be considered if they serve at-risk or disabled children, or if programs are tailored for all schools in the system.

Typical grant amounts range from $2,000 to $200,000, with average grants being $10,000 to $15,000. View a list of past recipients on the funder’s website. Grantmaking is restricted to the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. The foundation provides capital funding and program funding but not general operating support. The foundation also does not typically consider continuing or additional support for the same program.

This foundation accepts unsolicited grant applications from local nonprofits. Grant applications and supporting documentation should be submitted by mail. Email abstracts to apps@bernsen.org. Direct applicant questions to Director David Zemel at 918-584-4711 or david@bernsen.org.

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