Announcing the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s New Grantmaking Strategy

Nellie Mae Ed. Fdn.
Strategy Review
Published in
5 min readJan 21, 2020

As we ring in the new year, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is excited to announce the official launch of our new grantmaking strategy. As an organization, advancing racial equity in public education is now the central focus of our grantmaking.

At the same time we are making this shift in strategy and action, we also sit in the discomfort and sadness that today, in 2020, opportunities available at our public schools remain profoundly unequal — where outcomes can easily be predicted by race and zip code, and where in many places, schools are more segregated today than before Brown v. Board.

Despite the emboldened surfacing of white supremacy rhetoric and actions across our nation, we are also heartened by the surge in organizing focused on anti-racism, community building, civic discourse, and educational change.

For many Americans, the idea that education can be a great equalizer is a powerful one, but for too many young people, we know that simply isn’t the case. The myth of meritocracy is upheld by the deep, structural inequities that permeate through the systems, policies, and practices within our education system.

As a philanthropic organization, we will use our privilege to advance conversations around racial equity and excellence in public education, support organizations who are doing this work, champion their goals, and amplify their voices.

Additionally, we recognize the importance of an intersectional lens when looking at the inequities that seep through our education system. Our focus on addressing racial inequities does not diminish the importance of combatting other forms of discrimination or oppression that are present in our region and the related educational inequities that exist. We understand that all of these issues are linked and compound one another, limiting the progress of individuals and communities across our region and our nation.

We have been proud to have been part of the efforts over the last ten years to advance personalized, student-centered approaches to learning across the New England region, and are still committed to advancing these approaches. We learned that for student-centered practices to take root and affect change, the structural inequities present in systems needed to be addressed. We remain committed to continuing to support our grantee partners in pursuing student-centered strategies in their communities in ways that are culturally and contextually relevant.

By focusing our grantmaking strategically on where the need and opportunity barriers are in the region, we’ll be better able to lay the groundwork for these approaches to flourish in ways that center those most impacted in conversations, decision-making, and practices. We also believe that a more focused investment on challenging racial inequity explicitly is an important one for the future of our region as a whole.

Our new strategy will encompass six grant funds as outlined below. Each fund is structured to reinforce one another in advancing our mission of championing efforts that prioritize community goals that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. We have outlined what we know now about when funding opportunities may be available:

Supporting Organizations Led By People of Color: This grant fund will support a cohort of organizations led by people of color who are working with communities of color serving parents, youth, and educators around transforming barriers to racial equity in public education. Additionally, the fund will focus on capacity and leadership building for these groups. RFP now open for this project.

Advancing Community-Led Partnerships: This grant fund will support community-based organizations led by people of color to strengthen racial equity-focused partnerships with schools and districts. The purpose of the partnerships will be to address systemic racism and oppression faced by young people of color. Students, parents, and educators will work together to determine the educational and/or related problems to be addressed, select the partnership models to be used, and determine the strategies to be implemented. The fund will support existing partnerships that exhibit momentum. An RFP will be released in the Spring of 2020.

Amplifying Youth Voice: The goal of this grant fund is to amplify the authentic voices of young people, giving them a seat at the table around decisions that affect their future. Additionally, this fund will focus on building the capacity, power, and voice of youth organizing groups throughout the New England region. This grant fund is a continuation of work from our previous Amplifying Student Voice and Leadership grant fund, and we hope to continue to build on its momentum with this new fund. An RFP is now open for past NMEF youth voice grantees, and a second RFP will be released in Spring 2020.

Building Movements and Networks: The purpose of this fund is to increase impact and support grantees in our other grant funds in three ways. First, we will help our grantees connect with and learn from each other based on geography and/or issue area. Second, we will provide responsive capacity building support to our grantees. Lastly, we will support the collective voice of a growing, diverse community focused on elevating the discourse about race, racial equity in education, and educational excellence.

Strengthening State and National Coalitions: This grant fund will support existing state coalitions that are working to identify state-level policy barriers to advancing racial equity and excellence in public education. Part of this work will build upon some of our existing grantee relationships. Funding opportunities will be announced later in the year.

Championing Student-Centered Learning: This fund supports researchers, practitioners, community members, students, and families to widen and build upon our framework for student-centered learning to reflect a greater focus on racial equity. We will also continue to organize and offer the knowledge and resources we have had the privilege to construct around student-centered learning to our grantee partners and others who are interested. We have already released an RFP focusing on the evolution of the student-centered learning framework. Additionally, this work will focus on supporting active grantees around advancing student-centered learning as they are interested.

In concert with our new grantmaking, we are committed as an organization to using our voice, privilege and power to advance and advocate for racial equity in our education system. We recognize that we can’t do this work alone, and there are many communities, organizations, and funders who have been doing this work for many years.

We are making real, immediate changes in how we work and show up in communities. We plan on being in community more and in our offices less, making reporting requirements less burdensome, focusing on understanding what is going on in communities in real-time and adapting as we move forward, and engaging in reciprocal, trusting relationships with our grantee partners.

We welcome your questions and feedback on our new grant funds, and look forward to the work ahead of us this year. If you would like to drop us a note, please email us at

We feel privileged to have the opportunity to play a part in advancing racial equity and excellence in public education in our region’s communities.

In gratitude,

Nick Donohue, President & CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Greg Gunn, Board Chair, Nellie Mae Education Foundation