Nonprofit 6

Impact Area Grantmaking

Strategic Funding

In line with its long-range plan, the Boston Foundation invests most of its discretionary resources in five Impact Areas and with the Social Justice Ecology framework. Nonprofits fitting within the defined goals of those areas and strategies are invited to apply for support after conversation with our program staff to ensure the organization's work is eligible for funding. More information about the Impact Areas and Social Justice Ecology framework is included in the links below:


Use this checklist to find out.

  1. Make sure you are a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit or an entity operating under the fiscal sponsorship of a tax-exempt nonprofit.
  2. Confirm that your organization’s work is within the Foundation’s geographic area served.
  3. Review the priorities of the strategic area through which you are interested in applying (use the links above).
  4. Contact a staff member in the relevant strategy area to ensure your organization’s work is eligible for funding. An invitation from a Strategy Leader is needed prior to any application.

Don't really fit into our strategic impact areas?

Organizations whose work does not align with our strategic impact areas but is consistent with the Foundation's overall mission may still be eligible for grants.  Check out our Open Door Grants program for details.


The Foundation does not make grants for capital construction costs, endowments, medical or academic research, scholarships, sectarian or religious purposes, or to support candidates for political office. Private non-operating foundations, 509(c)(4) organizations, and Section 509(a)(3) Type III Non-functionally Integrated organizations are not eligible to apply. The Foundation does not make grants to organizations whose goals are at odds with our mission of sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to everyone.

Core components of our grant making

Our competitive grants process considers two principal types of grants for priority investments: General Operating Support and Project Support Grants. These grants fund the core operations of organizations with missions and activities that are highly aligned with the strategies and goals of the Boston Foundation. Grants go to nonprofits that show the potential to make a measurable contribution to achieving one or more of the desired results we seek for our community. In addition, most funded organizations will be in alignment with one or more of the approaches that we have identified as most likely to have an impact; however, we also fund programs that are embedded within multiservice organizations or larger institutions, such as hospitals or universities that, in their entirety, may not be completely aligned with the strategies, goals and approaches of our Impact Areas.

General Operating Support grants

General Operating Support grants vary in size and duration, but in general range from $25,000 to $150,000 a year, and may be awarded for up to five years. We work closely with nonprofit recipients of multi-year General Operating Support grants and learn together as strategic partners to achieve strong, measurable outcomes for Greater Boston residents.

Project Support grants

We also make grants to support specific projects or programs that are highly aligned with the strategies, goals and approaches we pursue in our five Impact Areas. Project Support Grants vary in size and duration, but in general range from $25,000 to $100,000 to be applied to project budgets that include an appropriate amount of overhead. Project Support Grants are most often one-year awards, but in certain cases may be awarded as multi-year grants.

Key Criteria

We invest substantial resources to help proven or promising nonprofits that share our core values and are highly aligned with our strategies, goals and approaches to deepen their impact or bring their work to scale. To maximize the impact and effectiveness of our investments, the Foundation puts a significant focus on the following criteria:

Strategic Alignment: Successful applicants are directly aligned with the strategies and goals pursued under our five Impact Areas. In addition, organizations in which we invest will address those strategies and goals through one or more of the approaches that we have identified as most likely to have an impact on achieving one or more of the desired results we seek to achieve for our community. Applicants that do not fit this strategic alignment are welcome to apply for Open Door Grants.

High-Need People and Places: The Boston Foundation engages in policy, research, grantmaking and other efforts to positively affect the Greater Boston region and all of its residents. However, with our limited competitive grant-making resources, we have a particular focus on efforts that unlock economic and educational opportunity for underserved residents and neighborhoods, especially within the City of Boston. When a particular strategy, goal or approach specifies Boston, it means that we focus our resources within the City of Boston. When a strategy, goal or approach refers to Greater Boston, then funding may be directed to populations and activities within any of the cities and towns within our funding area.

Collaboration: Complex, long-standing problems require creative, multi-disciplinary approaches that are often beyond the capacity of a single organization. We are most interested in supporting organizations with a track record of collaboration and collaborative groups of agencies working together to address significant community needs. Nonprofits that are part of a collaborative effort funded by us may also seek funding for their individual operations or projects. However, their work and the funding they receive as part of the collaborative effort will be an important part of our consideration of additional support.

Financial and Programmatic Capacity: Successful applicants will show evidence that they are stable, have a solid financial and program management team, a strong balance sheet and program plans that give us confidence their work will be sustained beyond our investment.

Leadership:  Successful applicants will have strong board and executive leadership that is collaborative and knowledgeable about the community and the field in which they operate.

Measurable Results: We place a high priority on organizations that are able to clearly articulate organizational goals, present a clear plan for achieving results and track outcomes and impact on the people and communities served. In fact, General Operating Support and Project Support grants are only made to those organizations that can demonstrate their potential to achieve a measurable impact on the outcomes that the Foundation seeks.

Grants Process

All competitive grants in our five impact areas follow the same application process.

  1. Conversation with a Strategy Leader: To proceed with a grant application, an organization must discuss the possibility with Foundation staff, who will invite the submission of a Letter of Inquiry if the organization is a potential candidate. These early discussions save everyone unneeded work, and often yield wonderful ideas and partnerships.
  2. Online Application: The next step in the application process is that your assigned program officer will work with you to build your application request file. Foundation staff will provide you with an online form and deadline for submitting your online application. In the application, your organization will be asked to attach materials such as a Project Budget or Operating Budget, Outcomes Chart, Demographics Form, Narrative, and Financials. Organizations seeking consideration at one of four Foundation board meetings (March, June, September and December) should submit an online application about three months in advance.
  3. Review and Evaluation: As part of a comprehensive due diligence process, the assigned program officer, often joined by additional Foundation staff, will conduct a site visit and may also contact board members, clients, the leadership of collaborating or similar organizations and other funders to become better acquainted with the organization.
  4. Timeline for Grant Decisions: The Foundation’s Board of Directors makes grant decisions at its quarterly meetings based on staff review, research and recommendations. Some applications will be held over to a subsequent board meeting to allow time for additional information gathering and review. Foundation staff will notify the applicant of the Board’s decision and a grant award consisting of one year of support will be paid shortly after each meeting.
  5. Annual Report: Funded organizations report annually on progress toward the goals and outcomes established in collaboration with their program officer before subsequent payments on multi-year grants are released. Organizations receiving one-year grants should also report on their outcomes within 60 days of the end of the grant period. Access the report form online.

Tips for writing successful narratives

In our online application, we ask a couple of narrative questions and require an application narrative to be submitted as an attachment. The following topics should be covered in your narrative:

  1. What will happen in the next year? What will happen during the multi-year grant period (if requesting a multi-year grant)? Please describe your organization's programs or the activities of the proposed project.
  2. What additional resources do you need to better achieve your goals?
  3. What do you want to achieve? Describe your proposed outcomes.
  4. With whom do you work?
  5. How will your organization measure and learn from this work?
  6. What will change or what is the impact of this work?”
Provide details. Numbers are more informative than adjectives. How many people are currently being served and how many more people will be served with grant funding? What other funders support this work? How many individual donors do you have?

Be clear and concise.

Create a compelling narrative. Begin with a brief introduction, elaborate on key points and conclude by connecting each point to a statement of impact.

Stories or quotes from constituents are welcome and we encourage you to include them in your application.

If you have any questions after reading these guidelines, please contact us for information and advice. For application content related questions, please contact your Strategy Leader. For technical assistance email us at the link above with a brief summary of your question and we'll be back in touch.