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Program Guidelines

Columbia Foundation had three program areas prior to closing on November 30, 2013:

  • Arts
  • Human Rights
  • Food and Farming



The goal was to support art as a way of enriching life experience.

Grantmaking was focused on programs that provided opportunities to artists from diverse cultures for the creation, development, performance, or exhibition in the performing (music, opera, dance, theater) literary, or visual arts.

Priorities were:

  1. new work that demonstrated the potential: for artistic excellence, to reach large and diverse audiences, and/or to make a significant, new contribution to the art form;
  2. art that was experimental, risk-taking, and/or engaged controversial issues; and
  3. programs that involved young artists, and/or art in community settings as well as within arts organizations.

Annual Deadline: The final arts grants were awarded in the summer and early fall of 2012.

Geographic priority: The cities of San Francisco and London

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Food and Farming

The goal was to increase the sustainability* of farming.

* In the context of agriculture, sustainable production is organic, preserves and enhances biodiversity and soil fertility, is profitable, and employs fair labor practices.

Grantmaking was focused on programs in California working to accelerate the pace and increase the scale of the transition to sustainable growing practices. Priority was given to programs that:

  1. strengthen the resilience of agriculture by preserving and enhancing biodiversity;
  2. increase on-farm income;
  3. maximize the amount of food that urban centers source from regional farms;
  4. increase access to farmland for new farmers dedicated to practicing sustainable agriculture; and
  5. develop the intellectual and policy frameworks and advocacy programs that accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems.

Annual Deadline: The final food and farming grants were awarded during the spring of 2013.

Geographic priority: San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California for local projects, and California for statewide projects

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Human Rights

The goal was to help protect basic human rights, including economic, social, cultural, civil, and political.

(As defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these are not privileges granted by governments, nor should governments abrogate them.)

The following two marginalized and underfunded issues were the focus, in order to bring them more attention and to seek enduring solutions (adopted July 2011):

  1. Prevention of child sexual abuse (CSA) through:
    1. school-based education programs for children, parents, and teachers;

    2. evidence-based policies and programs, including community and survivor-led programs, focused on intervention and prevention;

    3. public education to increase awareness of CSA?s prevalence within trusted circles of family and friends, and to end the taboo about its discussion.

  2. Reduction of recidivism and the number of those imprisoned in California, through:

    1. ?second-chance? education programs for juveniles and adults who are or have been incarcerated;

    2. program evaluation and documentation of the benefits of prisoner education for the students and for society at large, in terms of public safety, tax savings, and community healing.

Annual deadline: The final human-rights grants were awarded during the winter of 2012-2013.

Geographic priority: San Francisco Bay Area

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Media Guidelines

The foundation considered letters of inquiry for media projects in each program area if they addressed the foundation's program priorities and related to the work of organizations already funded by the foundation. If the issue already had received extensive media coverage, the foundation was unlikely to consider the project for funding. The foundation gave priority to San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers; to films or videos that would be used by Columbia Foundation-funded public-interest organizations to further their work on the issue; and to projects for which a grant of $5,000 to $25,000 made a difference in getting the project started or completed.

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Program Strategies

  • approach grantmaking with a long-term perspective
  • participate in partnerships for cumulative impact
  • engage proactively with new leaders and ideas
  • consult with external communities and experts to identify the highest and best use of funds

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Background of Columbia Approaches to Grantmaking

Madeleine Russell?s legacy to the foundation included her willingness to (1) tackle big issues even as a small foundation, (2) support unpopular causes, (3) consider projects whether local, national, or international, (4) always try to ?make a difference? whether through continuing loyal support or through start-up grants. Over time, Columbia focused increasingly on California over national programs. International grantmaking was always a very small part of the Columbia program, with the exception of support for arts organizations and programs in London.

The foundation?s programs have encompassed different approaches to grantmaking as follows:

  1. Within an area like environment, urban community, or human rights, when the foundation did not have defined program goals it looked for opportunities to support a few of the best organizations in the field, or to identify new, promising organizations that were doing good and important work, and that had not yet attracted the attention and support of other funders. It was the organization itself that was the primary focus of the grant review. In the arts, the foundation valued the quality of the art including less well known art from diverse cultures, while also supporting programs involving the next generation of artists and those who are reaching new audiences. The tried and true might be great art, but Columbia more often funded ?value-added? projects than institutional support for ongoing work.
  2. When the foundation established more defined program goals (e.g., elimination of prejudice and discrimination based on sexual and gender diversity, sustainable food and farming systems in California), grant proposals were assessed in relation to the goals. Thus, it was not the merits of the nonprofit organization that were the primary subject of assessment; it was whether the nonprofit could significantly contribute to progress towards a program goal set by the foundation. The capacity of the nonprofit to work effectively on the program goals was the primary, although not the only, consideration.
  3. In some instances the foundation dispensed with local limitations when the goals of the program would be best served by organizations working at the national level or in another geographic region (e.g., Freedom to Marry, Civil Marriage Collaborative, Public Campaign, Compassion in Dying).
  4. There was been a continuous tension between: (1) a desire to provide only ?start-up funds? for new endeavors and the often compelling need to provide funding for the long haul to strengthen an organization(s) in a new field; (2) consideration of small-scale, local, hands-on organizations providing direct service or developing new models versus more high-powered organizations working for systemic change; (3) funding for big organizations/institutions with established fundraising offices where other funding was often more available versus funding for smaller, newer organizations.
  5. When focused on a program goal, the foundation sometimes provided funding, either general-support or project-support grants, over five or even ten years to an organization, when it was assessed to be the most effective single actor working towards a goal set by the foundation.

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Review of Applications

The following questions were among those considered when reviewing an application for a grant.

  1. Benefit ? Did the program/activity hold promise for significant benefit of the foundation?s program goal? Of the many approaches/strategies employed by organizations, why did this approach offer the promise of success?
  2. Context ? What other organizations and leaders were active in this field? Was government involved? Did the private sector address this issue effectively? Was collaboration among organizations occurring?
  3. Leadership ? Who were the leaders? Success of the program/organization was largely due to the competence, creativity, experience, dedication, and energy of the leaders of the organizations/projects.
  4. Cost ? What was the cost of the activity? Was it reasonable in relationship to the promised benefits/outcomes?
  5. Benchmarks ? How many years/how many grants might Columbia consider for this organization until a major benchmark of progress was achieved or until the goal was achieved?
  6. Likelihood of success ? What was the probability that the benefits will be achieved? High risk, high gain? Low risk, high gain? High risk, low gain? Low risk, low gain?
  7. Urgency ? Was the issue urgent, requiring attention on a timely basis; were there special conditions that increased the likelihood of success?
  8. Time-frame ? Would the benefit be achieved in the near future (3 to 5 years), in an adult?s lifetime (5 to 25 years), or in the long-term (for the next generation)?
  9. Need ? Did the applicant organization need Columbia funding, or was it probable it could secure funding elsewhere?

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Charitable Status Requirement

Columbia considered organizations with public charity status: (1) 501(c)(3) status for U.S. organizations, and (2) registration with The Charity Commission in the U.K. for London organizations. The foundation did not consider letters of inquiry from for-profit organizations or individuals.

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Capital and Endowment Grants

Grants to support capital and endowment campaigns of large organizations (annual operating budget above $5 million) were a lower priority and usually initiated by the foundation.

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Foundation-Initiated Grants

The foundation used a portion of its resources to fund in fields of interest not emphasized in its guidelines. Because these grants were initiated by members of the foundation's board of directors or staff, unsolicited letters of inquiry for programs outside of the foundation's current guidelines were not considered.

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Closing Report
(to be posted in 2014)