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Foundation Operations: Communications-> Strategic Communications-> Funding Media as a Grantmaking Strategy

Funding Media as a Grantmaking Strategy

Traditionally, foundations have relied on internal communications departments and outreach to established broadcast media – television, radio, newspapers, and magazines – to cover key issues and target particular audiences. Often, foundations have a hard time increasing visibility for grant-related programs through these means. As funders help grantees with their own marketing and communications strategies and incorporate elements such as public information campaigns into their grantmaking, the idea of funding mediamakers and reaching new audiences as a grantmaking strategy is increasingly being explored.

In Why Fund Media, a report from Grantmakers In Film and Electronic Media, some of the most common reasons for not funding media are presented – perceived cost, barriers to distribution and access, loss of control, and inability to gauge the product’s value. Yet the report demonstrates how funders have successfully included media-based art such as film, activist videos, and radio documentaries to raise the visibility of key issues and ensure that diverse viewpoints are heard in the public debate.

Other efforts to develop new media and approaches for reaching target audiences include:

  • The Ford Foundation is supporting the Media Justice Fund of the Funding Exchange to make media justice grants to nonprofit organizations that are working to reform media policies, establish community media infrastructures, and promote accountability by media corporations. A core focus is on supporting the activism and leadership of communities that are traditionally marginalized by mass media.
  • In 2006, The MacArthur Foundation launched a five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers will help educational and social institutions better meet the needs of future generations.
  • The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation sponsors the contest Knight News Challenge awarding up to $5 million for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news.
  • As part of its Health Tracking Survey: Election 2008, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a telephone survey to determine the impact of Michael Moore’s film Sicko. Results showed that of those familiar with the movie, 45 percent said they have had a discussion with friends, coworkers, and family about the U.S. health system as a result of the movie; 43 percent said they were more likely to think there is a need to reform the health system. About equal numbers believe the movie accurately represents problems in the U.S. health system versus overstating them.
  • The Benton Foundation has produced the “What is Community Media?” series – four video documentary pieces that examine the voices, content, best examples and practices, and potential of community media to serve basic human and community needs.
  • Renew Media, a nonprofit organization established in 1990 by The Rockefeller Foundation, works to foster independent artistic expression by supporting the creation, dissemination, and public awareness of independent media in all forms. The organization funds media artists through its Media Arts Fellowships; supports the dissemination of independent media through research, education, and policy work; and helps audiences gain awareness of and access to the media arts by organizing public programs that include screenings, discussions, and educational and public use of curated collections of independent media.



The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Race Matters: Unequal Opportunity within News Media Coverage,” (Baltimore, MD: 2006). This fact sheet offers a quick source for analysis and strategies related to issues of inequity surrounding media coverage. It is part of a series of documents in the “Race Matters Toolkit” designed to help decision-makers, advocates, and elected officials get better results in their work by providing equitable opportunities for all. Available at

The Center for International Media Action produces research, events, strategic plans, publications and project governance structures that can advance the interests and role of people of color, women, low-income and other marginalized constituencies in media policy and activism.

The Center for Social Media showcases and analyzes strategies to use media as creative tools for public knowledge and action. It focuses on social documentaries for civil society and democracy, and on the public media environment that supports them.

The Council on Foundations and Grantmakers for Film and Electronic Media, Why Fund Media? (Washington, DC: 2002). This booklet explores ways that grantmakers have supported innovative media projects to further their program goals. Available at

The Institute for Interactive Journalism helps news organizations and citizens use new information ideas and innovative computer technologies to develop new ways for people to engage in critical public policy issues.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “The Reach and Impact of ‘Sicko’ - Selected Findings from a Kaiser Poll,” Toplines, August 2007. Available at

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, “President’s Essay – Media Grantmaking,” from Report on Activities 2005. Available at

The Media Justice Fund of the Funding Exchange, Imagining the (UN)Thinkable: Community Media Over the Next Five Years. Available at

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture works for the support and advocacy of independent film, video, audio and digital arts.

Open Society Institute, Investing in Youth Media: A Guide for Grantmakers (New York, NY: 2006). The goal of this guide is to help funders consider the value of youth media in connection to program areas such as civic engagement, the arts, education, youth development, and journalism. It is also a call to action—to inspire and encourage investment in this vibrant and growing field. Available at

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