Qualifications for Betterment Fund Grants

The Betterment Fund makes grants exclusively to benefit the residents of the State of Maine. The following are overriding elements in our consideration of grant applications:

  • Geographically, preference is given first to the Western Mountains region and, second, to the more rural parts of the state, such as the top rim of the state down to Washington County, as opposed to Portland and southern or mid-coast Maine. We do participate in some statewide or regional projects.
  • Education, health, conservation and community support are our primary grant categories. We also recognize that certain projects transcend these categories and have defined a number of “cross-sector” areas.
  • The Betterment Fund is more likely to fund applications that address issues on a permanent, systemic basis rather than discrete local programs providing services.
  • 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.
  • The concept of community is very important in all areas of our grantmaking. Community proposals should originate from ideas and needs of the affected population and demonstrate extensive support and other resources from the community or constituency.

Grants 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. The largest grants tend to be made to applicants with a successful history of grant management with the Betterment Fund

Please see the Fund’s most recent annual Grantmaking Summary for examples of past grantmaking. However, certain extraordinary grants made at the initiative of the trustees may represent trial forays into areas of tentative interest or one-time special focus grants and should not be taken as an indication of continuing interest by the Betterment Fund.

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 general operating support and specific projects and programs, and far less frequently for the acquisition of equipment or facilities. Endowment grants are infrequent.
  2. Fiscal Responsibility and Sustainability: The application’s rigorous financial disclosure requirements are mandatory. They enable the trustees to evaluate the application for financial planning, responsibility, management and demonstration of a realistic plan for continuance of the organization and/or program after the proposed Betterment Fund grant has been utilized.
  3. Other Sources of Support: Sometimes the Betterment Fund can be the first outside funder; sometimes, it is the last. It is rarely the sole funder. We also look for evidence of substantial support from the non-profit’s constituency.  Collaboration with other non-profits, municipalities, businesses, governmental entities and other groups is favorable.
  4. Needs of Particular Populations: The Fund has a particular focus on underserved rural populations. However, some other underserved Maine communities are distinguishable by common interests, experiences, history, language, race, religion, national origin or other characteristics rather than by geography and may require special support to access services and opportunities on a more equitable basis.
  5. Climate Change: The Betterment Fund recognizes that climate change impacts Maine’s natural community and human population.   Efforts that counter climate change by resilience or adaptation and that otherwise match the Fund’s priorities are of interest in any category of grants.
  6. Exclusions: The Betterment Fund does not make grants to individuals or for the support of religious activities or programs.
  7. 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 favor community-wide programs or regional systemic approaches to issues to improve well-being within the following current priority areas:

  • Downtowns: Projects for comprehensive community planning and regional or state-wide organizations with similar missions, reduction of sprawl and improved regional land use planning are favored.
  • 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 are favored. It is not practicable to fund local programs such as homeless shelters, local food pantries or gardening projects* under this priority (* but see Moving Communities to Health, below).
  • Legal Protections: Programs using legal channels to counteract the vulnerability of certain segments of Maine’s population including:
    • Civil Legal Access for the Underserved:  Programs for access to legal assistance in civil and governmental administrative areas for needy constituents in rural areas and other vulnerable populations.
    • Immigrant, Refugee and Indigenous Populations: Programs providing alternatives to incarceration, including prerelease programs (particularly in jails) and measures to mitigate disparities in access to alternatives to incarceration because of individuals’ economic circumstances.
    • Justice-Involved Individuals: Over the last few years, support in the following areas demonstrates an emerging pattern of smaller, as yet less predictable grants, with a focus on residents of Western Maine:
      • re-entry programming (e.g., Maine Prisoner Re-entry Network; Maine Youth Court); and
      • alternatives to incarceration, including prerelease programs (particularly in jails) and measures to mitigate disparities in access to such alternatives based on individuals’ economic circumstances.

We do not generally make grants for historical preservation, monuments, museums, theaters, and historical societies. Our former practice of modest one-time capital grants to rural community libraries is no longer a Betterment Fund priority.

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. Please see “Health” and the Cross-Sector areas of “Early Childhood” and “Economic Development” for initiatives related to education in those areas. 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, including universal pre-K and, eventually, pre-k for 3-year-olds in the public school setting. This may include measures to encourage persistence in school, as well as programs to broaden students’ exposure to possibilities for fulfilling careers.
  • 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 to acquire 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 and career aspirations of Mainers and provide accessible pathways to fulfillment of those aspirations.

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 done only 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 and in the Maine West and High Peaks Regions.
  • Support of the responsible development of working forests and agriculture.
  • Preservation and restoration of threatened natural habitats.
  • Opportunities for traditional Maine recreation in the target region.
  • Support of water quality preservation of lakes, rivers and ponds.

Occasionally we may fund projects of land trusts and environmental organizations located in the other rim counties, but we focus primarily on the Western Maine counties listed 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, COVID-19 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: 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.
  • Substance Use Disorder: local recovery programs and some state-wide prevention efforts represent an emerging area of interest (e.g., Larry Labonte Recovery Center; Maine Recovery Fund).

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:

  • 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 for the Western Mountains region.
  • Broadband: Support of planning and implementation projects to increase access to broadband in local communities of Oxford, Franklin, Somerset and northern Cumberland Counties, conditioned upon local municipal and/or nonprofit community entities’ commitment of resources to such projects.

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

CREATIVE ECONOMY

The Betterment Fund is primarily interested in regional and statewide strategies promoting economic enhancement of communities through arts and culture.

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 and development 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 also are interested in development of an economically viable and accessible system of childcare for working families. We are unlikely to make grants to individual school or childcare center programs.

MOVING COMMUNITIES TO HEALTH

Of interest are community-scale initiatives taking advantage of natural and other qualities inherent in the community’s locale and promoting participation of its residents in active recreation and other activities (such as healthy eating) conducive to healthy lifestyles and prevention of illness. Essential elements of this priority include:

  • A demonstrated connection to individuals’ physical and/or mental health; and
  • Initiation 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).

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 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 

Other Betterment Fund grants made on its own initiative (as distinguished from those based on applications) are often a direct outcome of collaborations with other funders.  In addition, each year there are several $10,000 grants made to organizations chosen by the trustees which, as stated above, should not be considered as indications of relevance to grant applications.

February 2022