Impact Area Grant Guidelines


Watch a video recording of a live info session to learn more about the Boston Foundation's discretionary grant making.

In line with its long-range plan, the Boston Foundation invests most of its discretionary resources in five impact areas and two crosscutting strategies. 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. The impact areas are:

Line by Line...

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Are You Eligible to Apply?

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. Check out the exclusions below.
  5. Contact a member of our Program Staff to ensure your organization’s work is eligible for funding. A conversation with a Program Officer is needed prior to any application.

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.

If You’ve Been Invited to Apply

Because we have limited resources, we always ask organizations interested in exploring potential financial support to contact a member of our Program Staff before completing an online Letter of Inquiry. Once you've done that, please read (or re-read!) the guidelines for strategic funding applicants below, which includes a link to the Letter of Inquiry application form as well as more detailed information on types of grants available, eligibility, exclusions, key criteria, the grants process/timeline and tips for writing successful narratives and working with our online forms. Still have questions? Contact your program officer or email us with a brief summary of your question and we'll be back in touch.

Don't Really Fit into Our Strategic Impact Areas?

But still do work that aligns with the Boston Foundation's mission? Check out our Open Door Grants program.


Types of Grants

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.

General Operating Support Grants

General Operating Support grants are usually up to $150,000 or 10–15 percent of an organization’s operating budget, whichever is lower, and may be awarded for up to five years. Applicants for multi-year General Operating Support grants must have a current strategic or business plan that clearly articulates the organization’s goals and presents a clear plan for achieving results. 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 or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy. This includes 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 or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy.

Project Support Grants vary in size and duration as well as the percentage of project costs covered, 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 or Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy. 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, grant making 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 and Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy follow the same application process. 

  1. Line by Line...

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    Conversation with a Program Director: 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. Letter of Inquiry: The next step in the application process for General Operating and Project Support grants is the submission of an online Letter of Inquiry (LOI), which we accept and review on a rolling basis. There are no deadlines for submitting an LOI. Organizations seeking consideration at one of four Foundation board meetings (March, June, October and December) should submit an LOI three to four months in advance. Review of an LOI generally does not involve a site visit, but may include a telephone conversation with one of our staff members. We work together as a staff to determine whether or not we will ask for additional materials to advance your request within eight weeks after submission of an LOI.
  3. Advanced Applications: If your organization is invited to submit additional materials after a review of your LOI, you will receive further review and consideration, and will be assigned a program officer who will work with you to build your request file. The additional information requested might include deeper program information, budget information and staff biographies. The invitation to submit will direct you to further instructions on the supplemental form. All organizations invited to submit additional materials are required to have a completed, up-to-date Giving Common profile. (To request a Giving Common nonprofit profile or check on the status of your existing profile, please e-mail or call 617-338-1624.) See below for a summary of the grant-making process timeline.
  4. 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.
  5. Timeline for Grant Decisions: The Foundation’s Board of Directors makes grant decisions at its quarterly meetings based on staff review, research and recommendations. While there are no deadlines for submitting an LOI, our staff does need sufficient time to review each request. In general, an LOI should be submitted three to four months prior to the next board meeting; staff will determine whether or not the Foundation will advance the request within eight weeks. To build the request file, the staff member assigned to the application will ask for additional materials, which need to be received at least 10 weeks in advance of the next scheduled board meeting. 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.

    Competitive Grants Process: Timeline

    Stage of Process

    March Board Meeting

    June Board Meeting

    September Board Meeting

    December Board Meeting

    1. Letter of Inquiry (LOI)





    2. Submit Additional Materials (invitation only)





    3. Grant Decision

    Late March

    Late June

    Late September

    Late December

    4. Annual Review

    Next March

    Next June

    Next September

    Next December

  6. Annual Review: 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

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. The Letter of Inquiry (LOI) online form and most RFP applications have six different narrative questions, which are good building blocks for a sequential narrative essay. These questions include:

  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?

Stories or quotes from clients are welcome and we encourage you to include them in your LOI. The best stories illustrate the impact of your organization or program without being sentimental.

About 200 words equal approximately one-half of a single-spaced page, which should be long enough to make your case, without burdening you or the reviewer.

If you have any questions after reading these guidelines, please contact us for additional information and advice. Call your program officer or email us with a brief summary of your question. A member of our staff will respond within two working days.