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 $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

FOUR MAJOR SECTORS

1. COMMUNITY SUPPORT

We wish to assist communities to improve the well-being of their residents. The best applications will be for community-wide programs or regional systemic approaches to the issues, rather than distinct local programs providing actual services. The following describes our current priorities:

  • Downtowns: Commercial and residential redevelopment of downtowns, particularly through comprehensive community planning rather than specific projects and regional or state-wide organizations with similar missions. We also favor programs that reduce sprawl and improve regional land use planning.
  • Basic Human Needs: Improvement of regional or statewide systems for the efficient provision of services to meet basic needs such as food, permanent shelter and transportation.
  • Legal Protections: Programs using legal channels to counteract the vulnerability of certain segments of Maine’s population as specified below:
    • Immigrant and Refugee Populations: Strategies to remove barriers to employment and other civic participation for members of immigrant and refugee populations.
    • Alternatives to Incarceration: Programs providing alternatives in the administration of justice, including interventions prior to incarceration, the redirection of offenders and measures to mitigate the disparity among offenders’ access to alternatives to incarceration because of their economic circumstances.

We do not generally make capital grants for historical preservation, monuments, museums, theaters, and historical societies. We are generally not making grants to local food pantries or gardening projects. After a long period of making modest one-time capital grants to rural community libraries for essential improvements, the Betterment Fund is no longer making such grants in most cases.

2. EDUCATION

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

  • Educational Quality: Projects on a systemic level designed to improve the quality and effectiveness of Maine pre-K to 12 public education, leading to the success of all learners.
  • Adult Education: Education programs which aim to increase the economic self-sufficiency of Maine adults, especially those who have not completed education through or beyond grade 12, and the skills to adjust successfully to changes in the Maine, national and worldwide economies.
  • Arts Education: Grants with a regional or statewide focus which have the potential of improving the overall landscape for pre-K to 12 arts education throughout Maine.
  • Higher Education Aspirations: Programs which aim to increase the personal and family higher education aspirations of Mainers and provide accessible pathways to fulfillment of those aspirations.
  • 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 construction projects. Any funding of scholarships at Maine colleges and universities is only done at the initiative of the trustees rather than in response to grant requests.

3. CONSERVATION

Perpetuating a balanced, dynamic relationship between the natural and built environments in the three million acre corridor between the White Mountain National Forest and the Moosehead Lake region is of particular interest. To that end we sponsor the following initiatives within the extensive and varied landscape which covers most of Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties:

  • Preservation of special places, particularly along the spine of the Appalachian Trail.
  • Support of the responsible development of working forests and agriculture.
  • Preservation and restoration of natural habitats threatened by radical climate change.
  • Opportunities for traditional Maine recreation in the target region.

Ocasionally we may fund projects of land trusts and environmental organizations located in the other rim counties, but we focus primarily on the area described above. We are not likely to fund coastal, ocean island or fishing-related proposals.

4. HEALTH

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

  • Maine Public Health Policy: Programs to address a stronger state public health infrastructure, the collection of useful data, disease prevention and leadership in issues of public health such as environmental health, ACES and resiliency, and use of harmful substances such as opioids.
  • Oral Health: Improving oral health in Maine, particularly preventative oral health programs for children and other vulnerable populations.
  • Increasing Educational Opportunities for Health Careers: Opportunities for Maine residents to pursue health careers at all levels of practice and continued learning for current health care professionals.
  • Community Health Projects: Projects for the improvement of health which arise from and reflect the priorities expressed by the affected community itself.  A funded project will likely be a multi-focused effort which combines health improvements with factors relating to the social determinants of health, such as income and educational disparities, living conditions, social isolation, and inequities in access to health programs.

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 medical research, projects relating to a single disease, actual delivery of medical treatment and capital construction or equipment purchases.

CROSS-SECTOR AREAS

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

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

We recognize that the expansion of Maine’s economy will advance other areas of Betterment Fund concern. We particularly support the following programs:

  • Economic Development and Entrepreneurship: Programs that promote scalable entrepreneurship, particularly in rural areas. Areas of particular interest include women and minority owned businesses and improved coordination of existing entrepreneurship and economic development efforts, including with educational initiatives. The development of careers and businesses in the trades is also of interest.
  • Agricultural Capacity: Improvements to the competitiveness and long-term viability of Maine farms and farmers by providing technical support and improving access to distribution and markets.
  • Tourism: Promotion and development of quality tourism as an engine for economic opportunity in the mountain and forest regions, with particular preference to the Western Mountains region.

We do not fund support of particular business ventures or farms.

CREATIVE ECONOMY

Maine communities have found that enhancing their cultural assets elevates the quality of community life, may attract new residents, and provides new economic activity. We are primarily interested in regional and statewide creative economy efforts rather than projects of single communities or institutions, although we may on occasion support such projects in our areas of geographical focus.

EARLY CHILDHOOD 

The Betterment Fund has prioritized improvement of the education, health, and general well-being of Maine’s youngest children, from before birth through preschool age. Our focus in this area is funding the development of best practices for the physical, mental and psychosocial health of young children. We support policy work that leads to the adoption of state or federal policies to achieve these outcomes, and establishment and maintenance of the broad infrastructure to carry out this work. We are unlikely to make grants to individual school or childcare center programs.

MOVING COMMUNITIES TO HEALTH

The Betterment Fund is interested in supporting community-scale initiatives that promote wellness and prevention of illness through active physical participation of families and individuals in healthy lifestyles. We are particularly interested in projects which involve the collaboration of multiple community organizations which may also tie into some or all of our major grant categories of health, education, conservation and community support. Essential elements of this priority include:

  • A demonstrated connection to individuals’ physical and/or mental health; and,
  • Be proposed by and for the residents of an identified geographic-based community, (as opposed to individuals with common interests or attributes drawn from more disparate geographic areas).

Of particular interest are programs for healthy recreation which take advantage of the natural and other qualities inherent to a community’s locale. Also important are programs focused on healthy eating and other positive activities which lead to improved health in all its aspects.

PHILANTHROPY

The Betterment Fund embraces opportunities to collaborate with other state-wide philanthropic organizations that seek to improve grant-making and support charitable activities in Maine.  In addition to making grants, the Betterment Fund supports and participates in a number of funder groups around specific issues.

TRUSTEE-INITIATED

MAINE WEST AND HIGH PEAKS INITIATIVES

Beginning in 2014, the Betterment Fund has selected approximately twenty organizations from the 27 townships collectively having approximately 25,000 residents that span Bethel to Norway/South Paris and Rumford (Maine West) and the Rangeley area (High Peaks).  These organizations receive annual stipends from the Betterment Fund to give them incentive to participate and which defray costs to work collaboratively to increase their collective impact in a geography which has experienced serious stress from decline in paper product manufacturing and the demise of many of the smaller wood mills that once dotted the region’s river towns.  This effort had its origins in the Bethel area and from 2004 to 2014 was known as The Mahoosuc Initiative.  In 2014 the Fund decided to broaden the initiative’s focus from being based strictly on conservation to encompass also other areas of Betterment funding, namely education, health and community support, so as to enhance the quality of life of residents most broadly.

OTHER TRUSTEE-INITIATED PROJECTS 

In addition to grants based on applications, the Betterment Fund makes some grants on its own initiative.  Often these grants are a direct outcome of collaborations with other funders.  In addition, each year there are a handful of $5,000 grants made to organizations chosen by the trustees.  These grants should not be taken as an indication of continuing interest by the Betterment Fund, as they may represent trial forays into tentative areas of interest or one-time special focus grants.

January 2019