The Ford Foundation – A Case Study

By August 30, 2018Grant management

The Ford Foundation was founded in 1936 and was the largest foundation in the USA for much of its history. Up until 2014 when it was beaten to the top spot by the Gates Foundation. As such a large foundation, we wanted to dive into their grantmaking. Who are they giving to? How much? And most importantly, how do they do it?

Who are the Ford Foundation?

The Fords Foundation was started by Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, in 1936 with the plan on keeping the control of the Ford Motor company in the family by selling their Class A stock (non-voting) to the foundation, compiling with the Revenue Act in 1935. The foundation didn’t really find its feet until 1947, after Henry Ford’s death, when it was endowed with hundreds of millions in Ford stock. That doesn’t mean to say that the foundations didn’t donate before this, Henry Ford was known for giving over $37 million to charities during his lifetime, mainly to organisations such as the Henry Ford Museum, the Henry Ford Hospital and Greenfield Village (a living history museum).

Today, the Ford Foundation has three main areas that they focus their grantmaking on.

  • Investing in Individuals
  • Building Institutions
  • Supporting New Ideas

They describe themselves as striving “to listen and learn and to model openness and transparency.”

Which causes do they support?

Over the years, the Fords Foundation has supported many different causes from many different sectors, all over the world. The main reason is due to a document that was signed by Henry Ford’s grandson stating that the Ford family would not hold more influence than any other board member, saying “this trust was so large that our family should not have control of it”.

Henry Ford II, a right-wing supporter, soon regretted this as the board started funding organisations that he did not agree with (mainly those on the left-wing and center-left). That being said, their current president, Darren Walker, does not object to this.

On the foundations’ website, you can see they have now broken down their giving over the years into 6 main categories; Civil Rights, Education, Arts and Culture, Human Rights, Poverty Reduction, and Urban Development.

How do they award grants?

The Ford Foundation has explained how their grantmaking works in a short video, which you can watch below.

They have shown two sides to their applications.

On the one hand, they have a team of experts in different fields that go out and find organisations with “bold ideas and scalable solutions”. Who then work together to create grant proposals.

On the other hand, they have organisations fill out grant applications to submit through the ford foundation website. Which they’ll review and reply to within 45 days.

Which organisations have they supported this year?

Every year, they share information about the grants they have awarded. The latest information dates back to April meaning there will be many more by the end of the year.

The largest grant so far this year, of $630,000, has gone to the Chalkboard Project on “support for general operations 2018-19”. The Chalkboard Project is based in Oregon and is dedicated in “elevating student achievement, eradicating achievement inequalities, and making our K-12 public schools among the best in the nation”

The Ford Foundation’s smallest grant was awarded to Oregon State University Extension Service Curry County of $203 for “Curry County Child Connection”.

It has recently been reported that they have joined forces with the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, to grant a total of $1.5 million to the research “initiative designed to examine the demographic, economic, societal, and fiscal trends that will shape America in the coming decades.” Read more about this here.

The Ford Foundation has also collaborated with the largest foundation in America, the Gates Foundation, and sever other foundations to create the Funders For Housing Opportunity. Donating an initial $4.9 million in grant money to help more than 11 million families across the USA. These are the families who spend more than half of their wages on rent alone, and for those who are homeless and cannot afford housing. Find out more here.

"Our culture is driven by trust, constructive debate, and leadership that empowers innovation and excellence. We strive to listen and learn and to model openness and transparency."

The Fords Foundation

Even though the Ford Foundation is no longer the largest in America, it’s impact on philanthropy is hard to comprehend. The organisational skills and workforce that allow for this foundation to keep finding great causes to award each year are astounding and we hope to help similar foundations grow to empower as many as they do.

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