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Foundations: The "Supply Side" of the Nonprofit Sector

Foundations have been driving the nonprofit sector the since heyday of Kellogg, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, individuals who inspired the tradition of philanthropy and passed on the torch to Bill Gates and David Packard.

There are hundreds of thousands of nonprofit projects being run each year around the world.  Although not driven to return a profit, nonprofit organizations do need funding.  Where do they get it?  For the most part, there are six main sources of funding for nonprofit organizations:

  • foundations
  • government
  • corporations
  • private donations
  • membership fees
  • payment for services 

Each year, the first source on that list--foundations--contributes billions of dollars in charitable giving. If you're interested in starting a nonprofit career, foundations can be a good place to begin. 

Working for a foundation can help you better understand what economists call the "supply-side" of the nonprofit sector, that is, individuals and groups that provide financial and material resources for its development.  You can learn how grant-makers judge proposals and how they prioritize issue areas.  If you would ever make a transition to a grant-seeking nonprofit, the skills you've learned at a nonprofit will keep you in good stead. 

If you're already working for nonprofit and searching for funding to kick-start a specific project, here are some of the world's largest foundations to keep on your radar. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Created in 2000 with funding from Bill Gates, the foundation leads and supports health and development projects around the globe.  Today, it is the world's largest foundation with total assets of over $29 billion. 

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

With an endowment of $14.8 billion dollars the institute provides grants to strengthen science education and encourage young people to pursue careers in research and teaching.  In addition, the Institute carries out its own scientific research in laboratories in America.  The Institute scientists have been recently involved discovering genes related to cancer and heart disease.   

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation was established in 1936 with bequests from Edsel and Henry Ford "to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare." Today, the organization lists as its key priorities the strengthening of democratic values, reduction of poverty and injustices, promotion of international cooperation, and the advancement of human achievement.  The Foundation administers an $11 billion endowment. 

The Getty Foundation

The Getty Foundation promotes the understanding and conservation of visual arts.  With an endowment of $9 billion, the foundation is one of the largest grant-makers in the arts sector of the nonprofit industry. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Established by the founder of Johnson & Johnson, the foundation devotes itself to improving health and healthcare in America.  With an endowment of over $8 billion, it runs programs in addiction prevention and treatment, childhood obesity, health insurance coverage, nursing, public health, quality health care, tobacco use and exposure, vulnerable populations, and human-capital building.          

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The foundation is one of America's largest foundations with an endowment of $7.3 billion.  It supports programs in the areas of education, environment, global development, performing arts, and population. 

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Established in 1930 by breakfast cereal pioneer W.K. Kellogg, the foundation stands as one of the largest in the world and manages an endowment of over $7 billion.  The foundation promotes programs in the areas of health, food systems and rural development, youth and education, philanthropy and volunteerism, and leadership.

David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Created in 1964 by David Packard and his wife Lucile Salter Packard, the foundation conducts grant-making programs in conservation and science, population, organizational effectiveness, as well as programs targeted at children, families and communities.  The foundation's endowment is over $5 billion. 

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The foundation was established in 1969 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon, daughter and son of Andrew W. Mellon.  The foundation has an endowment of over $5 billion and supports projects in the following target areas: higher education and scholarship, scholarly communications, research in information technology, museums and art conservation, performing arts, and conservation and the environment 

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

With an endowment of $5 billion the foundation promotes programs global security and sustainability, and human and community development; provides grants in public interest media and arts and culture; as well as provides unrestricted fellowships to individuals of exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work.

The Rockefeller Foundation

The foundation was established in 1913 and now commands an endowment of over $3 billion.  It promotes programs in food security, creativity and culture, community support, health, global programs and also conducts programs specific for the regions of Eastern and Southern Africa, Southeast Asia and North America. 

The Carnegie Corporation of New York

The Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the "advancement of knowledge and understanding".  Today, with a $2.2 billion endowment, the foundations promotes project in education, international peace and security, international development, democracy. 

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