Grace and Franklin Bernsen Foundation: Oklahoma Grants

OVERVIEW: This locally focused funder gives to a many different religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational causes in the Tulsa metropolitan area. The average grants have been around $10,000 to $15,000, lately.

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

IP TAKE: This is a great funder for Tulsa-based nonprofits in pretty much any sector to get familiar with. The foundation’s giving strategy is as broad as its geographic one is narrow. This is your go-to funder for capital campaign and construction support.

PROFILE: The Grace and Franklin Bernsen Foundation was established in 1968 and focuses grantmaking on the couple’s long-time home of Tulsa. Within the Tulsa, Oklahoma metropolitan area, the foundation awards grants to a broad range of religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational causes.

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. The years after the war were an exciting time for the local oil industry, and Franklin quickly became the president of the Tulsa-based Lucey Products Company.

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 keep their spirits alive by awarding large, periodic grants.

At the end of the third quarter of 2014, the foundation reported over $30 million in assets and over $1.7 million in total giving. Historically, subjects of interest have included arts & culture, diseases, child welfare, human services, higher education, Protestant religious causes, zoos, and mental health care. Typical grant amounts range from $2,000 to $200,000.

Grantees receiving the largest awards in recent years include the following:

  • Crosstown Learning Center - $216,448 for capital construction
  • Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma - $100,000 for capital construction
  • LIFE Senior Services - $100,000 for program support
  • Little Light House - $100,000 for capital construction
  • Tulsa Boys’ Home - $150,000 for capital campaign
  • Tulsa Botanical Garden - $100,000 for program support

As you can see, this is a funder of capital costs and program funding—not general operating support. The foundation also does not consider continuing or additional support for the same program. The average grant lately has been $10,000 to $15,000, and multi-year grants are possible with this funder.

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 you can tailor the program for all schools in the system. Make sure to read through the application guidelines and pay attention to nitpicky details like your font size, and steering clear of subtitles.

The board typically meets each month to review grant requests, which can be submitted at any time. Your best point of contact is foundation Administrator Margaret Skyles, who can be reached at 918-584-4711 or via email at The foundation has five trustees, one doubling up as “secretary,” but no other staff members.


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