Priority Funding Areas

The Gates Family Foundation initiates funding activity in four concentrated funding areas: K‐12 Education and Natural Resources, with a secondary emphasis on Community Development. Strategies and approaches will be continually adapted in these areas, but the Foundation expects to maintain a commitment to these initiatives over time. Initiatives will constitute about 60% of the Foundation’s grant making. It should be noted that initiatives are characterized by a portfolio approach to grant making that allows the Foundation to pursue ambitious, large-scale outcomes.

Please note that Gates initiative grant funding is not an opportunity for ongoing operating or program support, nor does the Foundation accept unsolicited proposals for funding in these areas.

  • While Colorado cities are among the most highly-educated in the country, staggering income-based achievement gaps persist for students across the state. The majority of low-income K-12 students receive an education that fails to prepare them for higher education, the workforce, and life as an adult. Despite this reality, public education remains one of the most effective and powerful tools for creating equity of opportunity and access, and we believe every child deserves a chance to learn and succeed.

    Gates supports initiatives aimed at increasing the quality and equity of the K-12 education system in Colorado. Primary interests of the Foundation include:

    • Growing, replicating, and supporting effective autonomous schools (charter schools, and other schools with sufficient autonomy over the use of time, people, and money) to increase the supply of high-quality schools serving low-income students
    • Seeding innovation and supporting learning across systems to foster new school models and approaches that prepare low-income students’ for long-term success
    • Supporting media and advocacy efforts that build awareness and demand for quality so that decision-makers in schools and systems may be held accountable
    • Increasing the supply of effective talent by developing more robust human capital pipelines and building the capacity of existing teachers and school leaders
    • Reforming systems to create the conditions necessary to spur school and district improvement
    • University Preparatory School - Denver
    • Family Star Montessori School
    • El Sistema (Piton Foundation - Brigid McAuliffe)

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    Autonomous Public Schools

    The Foundation supports high-quality charter schools, charter networks, and other autonomous public schools serving low-income students that demonstrate gains in academic achievement and encourage students’ long-term success. Gates also strategically supports partnering organizations that improve the education ecosystem, allowing autonomous schools to grow and thrive.

    Innovation and Incubation

    The Foundation supports innovative leaders, new school models, and innovation within existing models to better meet the needs of low-income students. Gates also provides strategic support to districts or partnering organizations developing and implementing new approaches to teaching and learning. In combination with these investments, the Foundation supports the dissemination of learning across systems and geographies to share best practices and promote smart risk-taking aimed at further advancing school improvement.


    The Foundation supports grassroots and grasstops advocacy efforts at the school, district, and state levels that push the education system to be more iterative, transparent, and responsive to the needs of students. Gates also supports media efforts that build awareness and empower the public to hold decision-makers accountable.

    Human Capital

    The Foundation supports efforts to recruit, train, and retain effective teachers, school leaders, and district and organizational leadership, as well as efforts to build a talent pool that reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the student population in the state.

    Systems Reform

    The Foundation supports reforms that allow systems to become more responsive and adaptive, and that spur school and district improvement. The Foundation provides targeted support to efforts that aim to encourage large-scale and transformational change.

  • Colorado’s land and water resources will be under enormous pressure in the coming years as the state continues to grow and urbanize. The Foundation's Natural Resources program strategically partners with public and nonprofit groups to support land conservation, water resource protection and management; build improved land trust capacity, support stewardship at scale, and demonstrate viable models of payment for ecosystem services.

    The land and water resources of Colorado face enormous pressure as the state’s population continues to grow by almost 2% per year. The state grew by nearly 101,000 people in 2015, placing it second nationally in terms of percentage increase, and seventh for total population growth. New migrants to the state made up two-thirds of that growth, and 80% settled in Front Range communities.

    New development along the Front Range and in mountain resort communities is placing greater stress on the wildland-urban interface and encroaching onto land previously used for farming and ranching. Colorado’s water resources continue to be stretched by related growth in municipal and industrial needs, and by the needs of downstream users in other states. These demands, along with climate change, have increased stress on both agricultural uses and environmental benefits associated with river systems statewide. The state’s famous public recreational lands (federal, state, and local) are in danger of being loved to death.

    Natural Resources work is a primary area of grantmaking for the Foundation. Approximately 25-30% of the Foundation's annual grant making is dedicated to this work, with the majority of expenditures focused on support of land and water conservation and management. Where possible, the Foundation prioritizes projects that advance resource protection in the context of local community needs and community development strategies.

    • Colorado Cattlemen's Land Trust Basin Ranch
    • Southwest Institute for Education and Conservation
    • Black Canyon Land Trust
  • Community Development is a new program area for the Foundation’s initiated grantmaking. The new category merges the previous funding areas of Smarter, Greener, Healthier Urbanism and Rural Communities, to address rapid population growth in some areas of the state, as well as the challenge of preserving vibrant communities in areas of the state facing population decline. The Community Development program will support opportunities for economic and social advancement across the state and foster livable communities that provide residents a safe, healthy, vibrant environment in which to live and work.

    Specifically, the Community Development program will advance goals through five investment areas: Access to Economic Opportunity; Community Planning; Multi-Modal Access and Infrastructure; Placemaking; and Food Systems and Agriculture.

    Community Development is a secondary priority area for the Foundation, with smaller total commitments than those made in Natural Resources, Education, or the Capital program. Grantmaking in this area is of necessity more opportunistic, with Gates investments reserved for catalytic opportunities that include significant leverage and demonstrable community impact.

    • Food Systems-Trust for Public Land
    • Community Planning-Community Builders, Summit County
    • Bicycle Colorado-Safe Routes to Schools