Choosing the Right Philanthropic Investments

I am often asked what compass the Rita Allen Foundation uses for our charitable investment decisions: How do we choose to fund a particular group or cause when there are so many worthy organizations and projects in need of our support?

Of course answers found on our Website include our Mission statement, the Foundation’s three areas of interest, and our grant guidelines. To better understand our grant awards and selection process, familiarity with our Guiding Principles is an essential part of the equation.

What makes them so dynamic and crucial is how we apply each of these important tenets when we review requests for grant funds.

Innovation is not assumed as a “given” simply because something is new. We search for distinct ideas, and we also seek a concept or application that can be replicated and leveraged.

In reviewing promising opportunities in our three domains (Youth Leaders in the Sciences and Social Innovation, Civic Literacy and Engagement, and Community Building), we consider how the proposal or project advances the solution to a problem — for example, if the effort has the potential to be sustained and scaled — and whether the proposal builds on other expertise in the field or works collaboratively for greater impact.

We actively look for organizations with outstanding leadership, track records and solid reputations.

One of our recipients, Facing History & Ourselves, is a well-established 501(c)(3) that is a model for continuous learning and evaluation of effectiveness.

After nearly 100 evaluations over three decades, Facing History continues to receive the highest marks from such prestigious academicians as Martha Minow, Dean of Harvard Law School and head of Facing History’s Scholar Committee. They know Facing History is laser focused on learning not only in the classroom but also engagement of the wider community, another important point in our Guiding Principles, and defining and sharing outcomes.

Facing History’s approach guides students through the lessons gathered from the past to a new language and interactions, and perspectives that help young people face the ethical and practical decisions we are confronted with in today’s society.

A Rita Allen Foundation grant over two years is helping Facing History digitize the curriculum they have developed and will allow thousands of teachers and students worldwide easier access to existing and new materials for learning.

Facing History partners with many organizations (collaboration is in our Guiding Principles too), such as the “Choosing to Participate” exhibit at the Historical Society of Washington, DC this past winter and spring.

In addition to being a nonprofit that is highly regarded for its effectiveness, Facing History embodies many of the attributes described in our Guiding Principles.

You can read, hear and see more about their partnerships and programs at

In future blog entries, I will turn the spotlight on other Rita Allen Foundation grant recipients and share some of the qualities that attracted us to particular groups and projects.

At the Rita Allen Foundation, we are continuously learning more about model efforts that strengthen our communities and then sharing what we find with you.