Grant Services - Advice and Tips

Three Top-Funding Foundations and Sectors in the United States

Tue, Dec 2, 2014 @ 14:12 PM / by Michelle Hansen

Out of the $316.2 billion of private giving in the United States in 2012 (latest year for which real numbers are available), 16% came from foundations. (72% wmoneyas from individuals). Grants from foundations are a major source of funds that support impact-making organizations in the United States. These numbers are according to a report, “Key Facts on U.S. Foundations,” released by the Foundation Center in New York City.  

Foundations paid out an estimated record $54.7 billion in 2013, an increase of $2.7 billion compared to 2012’s record $52 billion. While some endowments and corporation foundations are still recovering from the recession in 2008, the report shows that foundation giving is on the upswing.  

Below are some key facts from the report, including the three most funded areas as well as the three largest funders. Knowing this information can be important when developing a non-profit organization, creating programming, or seeking major funders.

Three most funded areas  

1a) Funding for Health

Keeping people healthy and getting people healthy tied for the most funded area in 2012. Just over $5 million in foundation grants were awarded. Grants in this category included a wide variety of topics, for example, ensuring all people have access to healthcare, teaching people how to make healthy decisions, and researching new technologies.

One example of a foundation with an impact on the healthcare field is The Commonwealth Fund. Letters of Inquiry (LOI) are accepted from non-profit organizations whose goals align with the foundation’s mission of achieving a healthcare system with better access, higher quality, and greater efficiency for society’s most vulnerable people.  

1b) Funding for Education

Whether it’s grants for STEM, grants for STEAM, grants for playgrounds, or grants for other educational purposes, education is a well-funded category by foundations. Like healthcare, education initiatives received over $5 million in grant funding. Education grants run the gamut of possibilities--funding in-classroom programs, before and after-school activities, school security needs, new technology, and more.

The Wallace Foundation awards grants for school leadership, after school programs, summer and extended learning time programs, arts education, and audience development for the arts. The foundation does accept Letters of Inquiry through its website.  

2) Funding for Human Services

Some of the most basic human needs fall under this category of grants. Human services received 16% of the grant money from foundations, a total of $3.5 billion. This category also had the highest number of overall grants with over 42,000 individual grants awarded. Grants in this category fund housing, mental health, disability programs, access to healthy food, and more.

The Kresge Foundation supports the human services sector through non-profit organizations and government entities. Applications are accepted at any time.  

Rounding out the list of the amount of grant money by issue is: public affairs/society benefit ($2.7 billion), arts and culture ($2.2 billion), environment and animals ($1.6 billion), international affairs ($1.1 billion), science and technology ($606 million), religion ($468 million), and social sciences ($243 million).

Top three foundations by giving  

1) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Microsoft mogul and his wife awarded $3.2 billion in grants in 2012, with $2.6 billion of that figure awarded to entities outside the U.S. The foundation supports organizations in all 50 states as well as 100 countries worldwide. In the United States, the organization makes grants in seven different areas: college-ready education, scientific research, emergency response services, financial services for the poor, giving Internet access to those without, and postsecondary education. Additionally, this foundation has a special focus on helping children in Washington State.  Currently, the Gates Foundation has four different Request For Proposals (RFPs) with varying deadlines. All four RFPs will fund organizations working in health and development needs for those in poverty.  

2) Ford Foundation

There is quite a large gap between the monetary giving of the first and second most giving foundations. Coming in at number two is the Ford Foundation, which awarded $593 million in grants in 2012. The Ford Foundation focuses on eight issues in its grant making: democratic and accountable government, economic fairness, educational opportunity, freedom of expression, gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice, human rights, metropolitan opportunity, and sustainable development. The Ford Foundation accepts grant applications year round.    

3) Walton Family Foundation

The retail giant’s family doled out $423 million in grant money in 2012. The main areas of giving are K-12 education reform, freshwater and marine conservation, and quality of life initiatives in the foundation’s home region of northwest Arkansas and the Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi. The Walton Family Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals, so accessing this money requires histories and contacts.  

Fun facts:

  • The single largest grant awarded in 2012 totaled $207.7 million. The Gates Foundation awarded that amount to the Global TB Vaccine Foundation.

  • The median grant amount awarded by foundations was $30,000.

  • Fifty-two percent of grant funds went toward program support, while just 23% went to general support. Seventeen percent of funds were for unspecified uses followed closely by 16% to research. Only 10% of funds helped with capital costs.

  • California-based organizations received the most domestic foundation grant dollars, totaling $2.4 billion.

  • By geography, organizations in the northeast were the recipients of the most grant dollars, followed by entities in the south, west, and Midwest. 

  • More than one quarter of the nation’s foundations (23,155) are located in the south. 


Photo Credit: David Beyer

Topics: state of grant giving, Ford, human services grants, grants for health, education grants, grants for education, health grants, grant trend, grant sources, foundations, foundation grant, foundation grant money, foundation grants, grant impacts, grants, Gates, Walton, grants for human services

Michelle Hansen

Written by Michelle Hansen

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