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Qualifications for Betterment Fund Grants

The Betterment Fund makes grants exclusively to benefit the residents of the State of Maine. Four primary characteristics define a typical Betterment Fund grant:

  • We give top consideration to projects in the Western Mountains region because of Mr. Bingham’s lifelong dedication to the area. Secondary priority is given to proposals focused on the more rural parts of the state, such as around the top rim of the state, down to Washington County. The Fund does relatively little funding in Southern Maine, Portland or the mid-coastal areas. We do participate in some statewide or regional projects.
  • Education, health, conservation and community support are our primary grant categories. We recognize that many excellent projects transcend these categories and we welcome grant applications for projects that address multiple areas. We have also defined a number of “cross sector” areas which specifically combine Fund interests in one or more of the primary categories.
  • The trustees have spent considerable effort to define priority areas within our grant categories. While an application that “hits the nail on the head” in terms of these stated characteristics is at least assured of serious consideration, our funds available for grantmaking are less than the amount needed to meet all such requests. We are willing to receive and consider an application that does not address all of these qualifications but the likelihood of a favorable outcome is diminished.
  • The concepts of community and collaboration are very important to our grantmaking. While the exact definition of a community can be fluid, when we use that word we are looking for proposals that spring up from the ideas and needs of the affected population, and which demonstrate extensive support from the community in terms of dollars or volunteer hours. Applications are strengthened by featuring collaboration with other groups in the community such as other non-profits, municipalities, businesses or governmental entities.

Grants may vary in size from a single grant of $10,000 to a grant of $100,000 payable over several years. Most Betterment Fund yearly grant payments are in the range of $10,000 to $35,000, but the average is $10,000 to $15,000 per year. A grant may be made for more than one year but no organization will receive continuous annual support. Occasionally the Fund will make larger or smaller grants at the initiative of the trustees; such grants should not be used as models for grant applications. Please see the Fund’s most recent annual Grantmaking Summary for examples of our past grantmaking.

 

General Grant Considerations

In addition to the stated qualifications and priorities for Betterment Fund grants, the trustees use the following general criteria for evaluating grants:

  1. Use of Funds: The Betterment Fund makes grants for the support of specific projects and programs as well as for general operations. On occasion, grants will be made for the acquisition of equipment or for facilities. Endowment grants are infrequent and normally made only to organizations that have demonstrated special merit in handling previous annual grants from the Fund. The Fund favors grants designed to build permanent capacity rather than short-term solutions.
  1. Fiscal Responsibility: Grant applicants must present a clearly thought-out budget for the grant program, not only for the use of the support requested from Betterment, together with specific information from recent full-year financial statements and the current budget for the entire organization. An applicant must demonstrate sufficient fiscal responsibility and management skills to ensure that the grant will be effectively used for its intended purposes.
  1. Financial Sustainability: The organization should demonstrate a realistic plan for the continuance of the organization and/or program after the proposed Betterment Fund grant has been utilized.
  1. Other Sources of Funding: Sometimes the Betterment Fund is the first outside committed funder; sometimes it is the last. It is rarely the sole funder. We look for evidence of substantial support from the non-profit’s constituency.
  1. Needs of Particular Populations: Some Maine communities are defined not by geography but by common interests and experiences. At the same time they are distinguishable from others by historical differences, language, race, religion, national origin or other characteristics. We try to keep in mind that these communities may require special support from time to time in order to access services on a more equitable basis.
  1. Exclusions: The Betterment Fund does not make grants to individuals, nor does it make grants for the support of religious activities or programs.
  1. Tax-Exempt Status: The Betterment Fund makes grants only to (i) publicly supported organizations which are exempt from taxation under I. R. C. section 501(c)(3) and which are not private foundations, or (ii) exempt government agencies. An organization which is not itself tax exempt may rely on a fiscal agency by a separate publicly supported tax exempt organization or governmental agency. See the How To Apply page.

 

Current Grant Priorities

Click on any of the following below to learn more about our specific grant priorities, which are subject to the geographical and other preferences stated above:

EDUCATION

We believe that every Maine resident is entitled to an education which equips him or her to lead a satisfying, productive and economically independent life and we are interested in funding broad-based major educational policy initiatives to that end. More particularly:

  1. Educational Quality: We fund projects designed to improve the quality and effectiveness of pre K to12 public education, such as our recent support of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Western Maine science teacher hub, the COUNT ME IN school absenteeism project, the Western Maine Education Collaborative’s Customized Learning for Western Maine, and the Eastern Maine Skippers Program of Maine Center of Coastal Fisheries.
  1. Adult Education: We fund programs which increase the economic self sufficiency of Maine adults, especially those who have not completed education through or beyond grade 12. We have supported Community Financial Services adult financial literacy classes and Maine Development Foundation’s Employers’ Initiative.
  1. Arts Education: We are interested in making grants that have a regional or statewide focus and have the potential of improving the overall landscape for arts education. For example, we are currently supporting the Maine Arts Commission’s Ticket to Ride program (for public school access to arts programs), the Maine Scholastic Writing Awards program at the University of Southern Maine, and have supported the Maine Alliance for Arts Education.
  2. Higher Education Aspirations: We are interested in programs which aim to increase the higher education aspirations of Mainers, such as Let’s Get Ready’s Western Maine efforts. We are also interested in efforts to increase the likelihood of the successful completion of higher education course of study.
  3. Early Childhood Education: See information under cross-sector programs.

Proposals less likely to be funded include individual school programs, programming supplementary to the curricula of schools and capital construction projects. While we from time to time fund college scholarship endowments at Maine colleges and universities, such scholarship funding is only done at the initiative of the trustees rather than in response to grant requests.

HEALTH

We are currently focusing our Health grants in the following areas:

  1. Maine public health: We are interested in supporting the development of good public policy initiatives and leadership relating to health issues, such as through the Quality Counts Primary Care Practice Model and the Environmental Health Strategy Center.
  2. Oral health: We have made a substantial commitment over the last decade to improving oral health in Maine. We are now focusing that effort particularly on preventative oral health programs for children. Examples include the Maine Oral Health Funders Children’s Oral Health program in six communities and school-based preventive care initiatives such as exams, sealants and fluoride treatment in Washington County and central/western Maine.
  1. Increasing educational opportunities for health careers: In response to the need to expand the availability of Maine health care workers, we sponsored the Maine Community College’s Rural Initiative for Health Careers, and scholarships for Maine students at the Maine Medical Center/Tufts Medical School “Maine Track” program and at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine and School of Pharmacy. We have also funded some of the innovative work being done to restructure nursing education standards for Maine.
  1. Community Health Projects: We support projects for the improvement of health that do not arise primarily from traditional health organizations but which rather reflect the priorities expressed by the affected community itself. A funded project will likely not key on specific medical issues or treatment but rather a multi-focused effort which combines health improvements with factors relating to the social determinates of health, such as income and educational disparities, living conditions, social isolation and issues of equity in health programs.  The actual involvement of community members is the touchstone of this priority. Examples include our support for the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, the NAMI project on mental health first aid and the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Please note that projects focused primarily on physical activity and healthy eating should be submitted under our cross-sector “Moving Communities to Health.”

Proposals that are not as likely to be funded include pure medical research, projects relating to a single disease or condition, delivery of actual medical or health services, and capital construction or equipment purchases.

CONSERVATION

The three million acre mountain corridor between the New Hampshire border and the Moosehead Lake region is of particular interest to The Betterment Fund. Within that nationally significant landscape, the Fund sponsors collaborative alliances that preserve working forests, restore habitat for threatened species, especially in the face of climate change, and foster traditional Maine recreational activities.

At this time the Betterment Fund has made its primary conservation commitment through two trustee-initiated projects in Western Maine. The Betterment Fund has chosen more than twenty organizations to receive support for a long-term collaborative effort to focus on enhancing the quality of life for residents of Western Maine. Building on a decade of land preservation success with the Mahoosuc and High Peaks Initiatives, Betterment and multiple partners in two closely related associations now known as Maine West and High Peaks strive to expand activity more broadly in the western mountain region to encompass health, education and community support priorities as well.  We believe these initiatives can serve as a model for converging cross-sector efforts to stimulate robust rural communities and their economies. The work will be guided by a strategic plan developed in partnership with non-profits, business organizations, community leaders, public officials and other interested stakeholders. By working transparently and collaboratively across the region, Maine West and High Peaks Initiatives and their funding partners hope to expand public and private investment, both financial and in-kind, to benefit rural communities while preserving the region’s natural resources. The Betterment Fund actively solicits funding partnerships for this effort, but membership in the Initiatives is by invitation only.

The Fund makes grants to projects in the “rim” counties outside western Maine such as easements purchased by Downeast land trusts.  We recognize the importance of holding to high standards in forest stewardship and trail maintenance statewide and support the grassroots, hands-on work, such as of The Maine Appalachian Trail Club. At another level we ally with visionary organizations such as The Northern Forest Center that balance resource conservation with resource development.  We attempt to assure the well being of those who live in the environment as well as those who protect it.

Applications not as likely to receive Betterment funding are coastal, ocean and island preservation projects, coastal fishing-related projects, and environmental education programs.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

We wish to assist communities improve the wellbeing of their residents in addressing issues they identify and propose to resolve by maximizing their own assets. Community Support grants are not intended to defray the costs of essential public services. The best applications will be community-wide rather than limited to a small number of groups. The following program areas illustrate our current priorities.

  1. Downtowns: We support commercial and residential redevelopment of downtowns and have funded Growsmart, Maine Development Foundation’s Main Street Program, and the Downtown Alliance of Maine.  We are more interested in funding comprehensive community planning than specific projects. We also favor programs that reduce sprawl and increase regional land use planning.
  1. Key Community Organizations: Most successful communities have one or more key nonprofit organizations that bring needed vitality and distinction to the overall community. While Betterment cannot support each of these organizations, from time to time we identify and offer short-term support to such an organization. Recent examples include Gould Academy in Bethel, McLaughlin Foundation in South Paris, Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport and Engine in Biddeford. Occasionally we are able to fund an important statewide organization such as Maine Historical Society
  1. Rural Libraries: We are continuing to make small ($10,000 to $15,000) grants for the physical and programmatic improvement of smaller, rural libraries.  Our grants are available only after significant community support has been demonstrated. An example of programmatic support is Maine Humanities Council’s Rural Libraries Program.
  1. Basic Human Needs: Although we recognize that basic needs such as food, shelter and transportation are major issues for many, we are unable address individual programs on an ongoing basis. We are interested in proposals for regional or statewide systems for efficient provision of such services.  For instance, we have funded creation and maintenance of a statewide data bank of facilities for the homeless that will provide appropriate shelter more efficiently, especially for the rural populations. We have also funded Good Shepherd Food Bank and various materials recycling programs.

Please see additional community priorities under our Cross-Sector Area of  Economic Development.

We do not generally make capital grants for historical preservation and historical societies. We are generally not making grants to food pantries, local food banks or gardening projects in schools at this time.

CROSS-SECTOR AREAS

We have identified these areas as being particularly susceptible to consideration under more than one of our traditional priorities categories. 

CREATIVE ECONOMY

Maine communities have found that focusing on their cultural assets has many benefits in elevating the quality of life and providing new economic activity to many sectors. We are primarily interested in regional efforts rather than communities or single institutions. Recent grantees include the Houlton Community Arts Council for its regional cultural plan, and the Abbe Museum, Maine Fiberarts and Maine Historical Society for Mounting exhibitions of Wabanaki basketry in Southern Maine.

EARLY CHILDHOOD 

The Betterment Fund has prioritized funding to improve the education, health, and general wellbeing of Maine’s youngest children, from before birth through preschool age, the period when the greatest opportunity for development is present. We work in close collaboration with the Maine Early Childhood Funders to support the early childhood program of Maine Children’s Alliance, the Shared Services Alliance for early childhood care and education providers operating under the umbrella of Educare Central Maine, and the parenting program of United Way of Midcoast Maine. We also fund the development of best practices for the physical, mental and psychosocial health of young children and support policy work that leads to the adoption of appropriate state or federal policies to foster this work. We are unlikely to make grants to individual school or childcare center programs.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

1.   E D Infrastructure. We have supported economic development offices in several Maine rural counties and we continue to support CEI’s venture capital and loan funds. We have also funded research and policy initiatives to encourage the consideration of appropriate local and state policies.

2.   Agricultural Capacity. We wish to promote the economic viability of agricultural production and distribution in Maine. Examples include development of business management resources such as advisory and consulting services, employee benefits, access to business credit, and ownership succession counseling. We are interested in research and training that leads to greater efficiency and economic impact such as better data about routes to market and customer needs and development of specialized procedures and equipment that reduce seasonality and yield from Maine farms.

3.   Tourism: We are interested in promoting and developing quality tourism in rural areas and its tie to economic opportunity. We have supported several projects through the Maine Woods Consortium; operating support for Maine Huts and Trails is another example of our funding. 

4.   Entrepreneurship Development: We wish to support programs at a regional or community level that encourage entrepreneurship and the growth of sustainable businesses that align with the unique qualities and contribute to the economic development of their communities. The Betterment Fund does not make grants or direct loans to private businesses or individuals but, rather, supports permissible grantees such as nonprofit organizations and governmental entities working in this area, including CEI, MaineStream Finance, Maine Food Systems Innovation Challenge, and Envision Maine.

MOVING COMMUNITIES TO HEALTH 

The Betterment Fund is interested in supporting community-scale initiatives that promote the active physical participation of families and individuals in achieving healthy lifestyles, particularly those projects that involve the collaboration of multiple community organizations. A demonstrated connection to individuals’ physical and mental health is an essential element of this priority, which seeks to promote wellness and prevention through grants which also tie into some or all of our major sectors of health, education, conservation and community support. Of particular interest are programs with connections to healthy recreation taking advantage of the natural and other qualities inherent to a community’s locale, for example, Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and WinterKids. The Betterment Fund is also interested in programs focused on healthy eating and other positive activities and programs that lead to increased health in all its aspects, for example, Maine Resilience Building Network and Healthy Oxford Hills.

PHILANTHROPY

The Betterment Fund acknowledges responsibility to collaborate with other organizations in the philanthropic world of Maine which seek to improve grant-making and support of charitable activities in Maine overall. We have supported the Maine philanthropic community with grants and active participation in programs with such organizations as Maine Community Foundation, Maine Philanthropy Center, Maine Association of Non-Profits, and Maine Initiatives.

Trustee Initiated Grants

While the grant applications remain the primary way of presenting interesting grant possibilities to the Betterment Fund trustees, the trustees also make significant grants on their own initiative based on other sources of information.

First, the trustees spend a significant amount of time participating in an ever-increasing number of collaborations with groups of nonprofits and other funders. These collaborations present valuable opportunities for us to learn about other work being done in Maine. We contribute to these funder collaborations by funding both external staff hired by the funder groups – such as the Oral Health Funders, Environmental Funders Network, the Early Childhood Funders, and the Immigrant and Refugee Funders – and, from time to time, projects that are developed in those collaborations – such as the Children’s Oral Health project in six different communities and the Shared Services Alliance for early childhood service providers.

Secondly, the trustees may from time to time participate in the initiation of large projects that arise as a result of work by local nonprofits previously funded by the Betterment Fund. Key examples of this are the Maine West and High Peaks initiatives, more fully described in our Conservation priority above.

Finally, the trustees remain open to singular opportunities that come to us in the course of our work overall. These grants tend to be small in comparison to grants made through the application process. Recent examples are $5,000 grants to Slow Money for its efforts in building investments in Maine’s food economy sector and to Gould Academy to start its “Field Guide to Design Thinking” program.