Our Approach

Our Strategy

How we create sustainable change for children and families

We seek opportunities to make clusters of grants in communities, supporting organizations that serve essentially the same children, youth, and families.

Place-based Grantmaking


Strategic Priorities 

Program areas

Place-based Grantmaking

The Foundation’s primary grantmaking strategy is place-based. We seek opportunities to make clusters of complementary grants in specific communities, supporting public and nonprofit organizations that serve essentially the same children, youth, and families.  

Our Values

We respond first and foremost to the capacities and vision of the community. Then we seek ways to build on the insights, resources, and achievements generated through our grantees’ efforts. Our decision to engage and invest in a community represents a mutual commitment that we hope will grow over time. In the last stages of our involvement, we look to help our grantees position themselves for long-term sustainability, adaptability, and accomplishment.


We honor the knowledge and experience of the agencies and organizations whose work we fund, as well as the distinctive needs and interests of their communities.


We are committed to approaches owned by the community and built on the strengths and aspirations of families and communities. We seek and respond to solutions shaped by the insights of community members and adapted to local conditions.


Through our philanthropy, we aim to counter systems of bias and oppression and mend the harms those systems perpetuate. Board and staff strive to be antiracist in all our statements and actions.


We take time to visit, listen to and speak with applicants, grantees, and other community leaders and residents, including youth, to develop relationships that deepen mutual learning and understanding. We accept that meaningful change and lasting outcomes take time to emerge.


Acknowledgeing that our role is complementary and contingent, we maintain a holistic approach to assessing needs and contributing solutions. Cowell encourages cooperation among stakeholders and welcomes partnerships with other foundations, social sector organizations, and public agencies.

Our Grants Strategy

Cowell maintains three main grants programs and two supporting programs.

Across all programs, the funding guidelines incorporate four themes:

  • Racial Equity
  • Economic Advancement
  • Community Health
    • Environmental Health and Justice
    • Mental Health
  • Resident Voice and Agency



We support comprehensive programs that safeguard equitable access to concrete services such as food, shelter, childcare, and safety.


We support youth development organizations that provide safe spaces for youth to explore their interests and aspirations, build confidence and resilience, and solidify a commitment to lifelong learning and community engagement.


We fund initiatives within schools and school districts to provide equitable learning for all students, particularly students of color and those living in poverty.

Supporting Programs

Through our active engagement in communities, we often learn about critical needs and opportunities that lie outside our main program areas.


Where We Work

We invest in Northern and Central California communities that are committed to achieving lasting, positive change for children and families living in poverty. 

About Us

Since 1956, we have granted nearly $300 million to more than 2,000 non-profit organizations and public schools. Visit our grants database to learn about the work we have funded.