Boston Foundation shifts grantmaking to increase general operating support for area nonprofits

Changes are designed to increase the impact of Foundation’s work

September 16, 2009

Boston –The Boston Foundation has announced today a significant change in the way it makes grants to area nonprofits, as well as a newly articulated set of goals and objectives for its overall work. More of its grantmaking dollars will be shifted over the next two years to provide organizations with general operating support. As a result, fewer purely programmatic grants will be made in the future. The change comes after a strategic analysis of its grantmaking through which the Foundation has chosen to focus on a set of highly leveraged strategies designed to lead to greater impact and accountability within the Greater Boston region.

The announcement includes a strategic focus on the people and places of Greater Boston and will guide the way the Foundation leverages all of its work in the future.  Through these goals and objectives the Foundation seeks to have a profound impact on important areas of community life—including dramatic improvements in education and health attainment; safe and vibrant neighborhoods; robust arts and cultural opportunities; and a regional economy that enables everyone to succeed.

Areas in which the Foundation will concentrate its grantmaking include the following:

  • Education, seeking a dramatic improvement in educational outcomes for area youth, particularly low-income youth of color;
  • Health, promoting health and wellness for area residents, addressing the rising tide of chronic preventable disease that threatens the physical and economic wellbeing of the region;
  • Neighborhoods, to promote and sustain vibrant and safe communities;
  • Arts and culture, to enrich life and build community through shared experience; 
  • Economic competitiveness, creating a prosperous region in which everyone can participate.

The two new primary goals and the five new objectives place an emphasis on the people and places of Greater Boston and reflect the Foundation's commitment to strengthening those communities and the competitiveness of the entire region. They are:

Goal: Greater Boston residents are successful and thriving
Objectives associated with that goal:

    • Improve the outcomes for Boston’s residents across the education pipeline;
    • Increase the health and wellness of Greater Boston residents.

Goal: Greater Boston communities are vibrant
Objectives associated with that goal:

    • Increase the livability, affordability and safety of Greater Boston neighborhoods;
    • Enhance civic and cultural vibrancy in Greater Boston;
    • Increase job growth and economic equity and competitiveness for Greater Boston.

Larger grants made to provide general operating support will enable the Foundation to better support area nonprofits that are highly aligned with its goals and priorities. This form of flexible, longer-term funding is something in which the nonprofit community has expressed a keen interest, in recent years.

The changes in both goals and objectives and the way it will now allocate grants follow years in which the Foundation has used its civic leadership role to closely analyze the major trends affecting Greater Boston and identify the challenges and opportunities facing the region.  Through its own Boston Indicators Project, as well as through an enormous body of research conducted by the Foundation and its partners over the last eight years, a clearer picture of the region’s major problems has emerged, along with a growing consensus about the important levers of change. The Foundation's new goals and the strategies it will use to achieve them grow out of that body of work, as well as its historically close relationships with a wide range of nonprofits serving the communities of Greater Boston, and a recent set of Boston neighborhood and sector meetings.

The Foundation announced that it will align all of its resources—its public policy work, research and convenings as well as its grantmaking—around these strategies, as a way to seek broader and deeper impact and solutions. The Foundation also said it will place an increased emphasis on measuring the impact of its resources, including the grants that it gives to area nonprofits.

“The Board of Directors of the Boston Foundation has been closely involved in the process by which these changes have been made,” said Michael Keating, Chair of the Board. “It reflects an in-depth, thoughtful review over many years of the role of the Foundation and the need for making sure its limited resources can be deployed with the greatest possible impact.”

“We will continue to work with and support small, community-based organizations as we have always done,” said Bennie Wiley, principal of the Wiley Group and a member of the Boston Foundation Board. “That is an important part of the message today. The changes we are announcing are about increasing our ability to support and build on innovative strategies. We will continue to seek out and amplify good work wherever we find it.”

The Foundation will continue to provide grants for specific projects undertaken by area nonprofits, although that funding pool will diminish. In addition, it will continue to make smaller grants for technical support and in response to specific requests by nonprofits. Also, it will continue to award Out of the Blue grants, which honor excellence in leadership and impact with unsolicited grants awarded with no strings attached.

The shift in grantmaking comes at a time when the Foundation has announced an increase in the amount of money available for competitive grants, despite the continuing economic crisis. As a result of a smoothing mechanism that averages income and the value of its assets, the Foundation expects to distribute $17.2 million in discretionary grants in the upcoming year, an increase over the $16.9 million it distributed in the prior fiscal year.

“We see great opportunity for productive change, from the way we think about education to our region’s expanded capacity for collaboration,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “This new approach has been crafted to bring our resources to bear where we are convinced we can make a meaningful and lasting difference in the culture of the region and the lives of those who live here.”

At the same time that changes have been made in the substance of its grantmaking, the process by which organizations apply for funding will be significantly streamlined. Going forward, nonprofits can apply for grants on a rolling basis rather than at set deadlines through the year. Grants will continue to be reviewed and approved quarterly by the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Specific changes to the grantmaking process include:

  • An end to deadlines for grant applicants, which have been replaced by a rolling submission process through the year; 
  • An increase in large, multi-year grants to organizations for general operating support;
  • A call for stronger and closer relationships between the Foundation and the organizations it funds; and  
  • Close alignment among the full range of strategies used by the Foundation, including commissioned research, public forums, public policy advocacy and active partnerships with donors and other funders.

About the same number of organizations is expected to receive funding next year as in recent years. However, the new guidelines will enable the Foundation to provide increased support to those organizations and initiatives that closely match the Foundation's strategic priorities and can have the greatest impact on the region’s critical challenges and opportunities.

Grogan stressed the Foundation's historic and continuing commitment to funding new ideas and innovative practices.

“This strategy will enable us to build long-term relationships with organizations that do superlative work in important areas,” he said. “But we remain on the lookout for break-through insights and the freshly conceived organizations that can catalyze change for the region.”

Catherine D’Amato, Vice Chair of the Boston Foundation Board and President of the Greater Boston Food Bank, one of the region’s largest nonprofits, said of the changes, “This new strategy represents thoughtful consideration and deep respect for the nonprofit organizations that serve people who live in Greater Boston. As the head of a nonprofit organization, I have closely tracked the process of review and redesign, and am confident that this is good news for the nonprofit community.”

Claudio Martinez, Executive Director of the Hyde Square Task Force and a member of the Boston Foundation Board also voiced strong support for the changes.

“At a time when every nonprofit is finding its resources constrained, this strategy gives the maximum flexibility to organizations to identify their goals, tap their own expertise and move forward,” Martinez said. “It speaks directly to the need for dependable, longer term support, providing real partnership at a time when we need that more than ever.”


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of $695 million.  In Fiscal Year 2009, the Foundation and its donors made $86 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of over $72 million. The Foundation’s competitive grantmaking is supported by the Permanent Fund for Boston at the Boston Foundation, which continues to receive gifts and bequests from those who want to ensure that Greater Boston has a permanent endowment. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit or call 617-338-1700.