What We Do

Washington State

Strengthening Communities



A family having fun at the opening of the Educare Early Learning Center in South Seattle

Our Goal:

increase the effectiveness of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors in Washington State and to increase the capacity of local communities to create opportunities for vulnerable families and children.


At A Glance

We work to strengthen local philanthropic institutions, because these partners are well positioned to mobilize their communities to create opportunity and solutions to local challenges.

By increasing the quality and availability of nonprofit technical assistance, we support service providers and other institutions in improving their organizational effectiveness to better meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

Solutions often come from those who work directly with families, or from families themselves. That is why we regularly seek ideas and input from local organizations.

Our Strengthening Communities work is one of the Gates Foundation’s top priorities in Washington State.

Washington State is a center of innovation and home to some of the most successful businesses in the world, but problems of social inequity and poverty persist. More than 20,000 people are homeless on any given night in our state; families comprise almost half of this number. About one child in four has a family that struggles to pay for basic needs such as rent, food, and utilities. 

When adversity in their lives goes unaddressed, many low-income children in Washington enter school without the skills necessary for a strong start, and 34 percent never graduate from high school. These young people and many of their parents are not prepared to compete for the abundance of good jobs available in this state, most of which require a college degree or postsecondary certificate. 

Even in better economic times, poverty and education are challenging issues to address. Too often, the state and local family support systems are not aligned and do not address root causes in order to prevent problems before they happen. The ongoing state budget crisis underscores the need to work across systems and sectors to embrace a more effective way of doing business.

The Opportunity

There is no single solution to breaking the cycle of poverty. By helping to create community conditions that support the region’s most vulnerable families in critical ways, we can increase their chances of having stable housing, finding employment, building a secure future, and raising healthy, confident children who will succeed in school, college, and life. 

Young men participating in the YouthBuild program in Spokane, Washington, to obtain their high school diploma while learning job skills.

Washington State has many dedicated service providers, government agencies, educational institutions, and community organizations that support vulnerable families and low-income students. 

To increase their impact at the community level, these organizations and programs need to work well together, they need to be shaped by the families that benefit from their work, and they need reliable sources of funding and public policies that support their work.

A mother and her son inside their home in Arlington.

Our Strategy

Our strategy is to work with partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors—including the regional and local philanthropic community—to create pathways to opportunity for every child and family in Washington. While most of our local grants focus on giving children a great education and ending family homelessness, we also believe that strong, well organized and inclusive communities can more effectively help families and children reach their full potential. 

Strong communities need the capacity to create opportunity and to solve their own problems. We work to strengthen local philanthropic institutions, such as community foundations and United Way organizations, because these partners know their local communities best. We also make investments aimed at strengthening the channels through which nonprofits and community leaders access technical assistance and general knowledge about organizational effectiveness. With effective local partners, we are better able to understand and address the needs of vulnerable families.

Areas of Focus

We believe that with the right tools and resources, local communities are best suited to meet needs, solve challenges, and create opportunities for their residents. Our investments aim to bolster those efforts.

Building Community Philanthropy

To address the immediate needs of families and children, and to develop strong community partnerships, we provide direct grants to regional funding organizations, such as community foundations, United Ways, and funding organizations that work with specific target populations. These partners use their local knowledge and strong networks to address the unique needs of their communities—and in many cases they re-grant foundation funds to smaller nonprofits, local projects, and community-building initiatives. 

Community members participate in a class at the Greenbridge mixedincome housing development in South King County.

Launched in 2012, our Building Community Philanthropy initiative works with community partners to re-grant foundation funds in support of our overarching goal of reducing intergenerational poverty:

Blue Mountain Community Foundation
Community Foundation for Southwest Washington
Community Foundation of North Central Washington
The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound
Greater Everett Community Foundation
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation
Inland Northwest Community Foundation
Potlatch Fund
Pride Foundation
The Seattle Foundation
Spokane County United Way
United Way of Benton & Franklin Counties
United Way of Central Washington
United Way of Chelan & Douglas Counties
United Way of King County
United Way of Snohomish County
United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (Portland)
Whatcom Community Foundation
Yakima Valley Community Foundation

These organizations re-grant our funding to support a range of projects. Through this initiative, the foundation aims to empower local communities to identify and pursue their own approaches to create opportunities for vulnerable families:

  • Meeting immediate needs of low-income families 
  • Increasing community engagement in local philanthropic decisions
  • Strengthening regional networks of nonprofits serving low-income families 
  • Expanding collaboration and leadership roles of community philanthropy

By providing funds for local partners to disburse, we aim to impact more families than we can through direct grantmaking alone. 

Many of our investments in Washington State focus on the Puget Sound region, where we see the largest concentration of people in need. Our Building Community Philanthropy initiative expands the foundation’s geographic reach to include Central, Eastern, and Southwest Washington. These intermediary organizations reach 90 percent of all individuals in poverty in the state.

Strengthening the Charitable Sector

In addition, we help service providers and community organizations that assist vulnerable families and low-income students to increase the efficacy of their work. Our Charitable Sector Support investments aim to strengthen the channels through which nonprofits and community leaders access knowledge and technical assistance about organizational effectiveness and strong community partnerships. 

Students participate in a youth tutoring session at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon.

By increasing the quality and availability of nonprofit technical assistance, we support our partners to better serve vulnerable populations, and in rigorously measuring and evaluating their program results. We support three core technical assistance providers and sector level advocates that provide these critical services to the charitable sector in Washington State:

  • Philanthropy Northwest is a regional association of grantmakers that promotes, facilitates, and drives collaborative action by philanthropic organizations to strengthen communities in our region. A key component of our support to Philanthropy Northwest is our collaboration on their Community Foundation Initiative, which provides capacity-building assistance to community foundations across the state. 
  • Washington Nonprofits is a statewide association that provides the more than 50,000 nonprofits in our state with better representation in policy decisions, improved access to programs and funds, and access to services and programs to build their capacity. 
  • 501 Commons is a capacity-building institution that manages the Statewide Nonprofit Resource Directory, an online directory for nonprofits seeking vetted consultants and best practice information for various capacity-building projects.

We also collaborate with other funders to expand our ability to support local nonprofits. Along with the Campion Foundation, Empire Health Foundation, Medina Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, Sherwood Trust, and Social Venture Partners Seattle, the Gates Foundation helped launch the Statewide Capacity Collaborative, which funds projects that strengthen Washington nonprofits. Together, we fund capacity-building projects based on findings from sector-level research, like the Assessment of Capacity Building in Washington State.

Supporting Native American Communities

Washington State has a diverse and rich history, which begins with the Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Since 2002, the foundation has provided grants to Tribes, Native nonprofits, and other key partners to support technology access, education, youth development, human services, as well as arts and culture. 

Beginning in 2010, we worked with Native American leaders to identify emerging opportunities and priorities for programs that would lead to stronger families and better outcomes for children in the Pacific Northwest. Community leaders continually emphasized the importance of investing in young people to ensure the long-term success of Native American communities. In response, we issued an invitation in March 2012 for community partners to tell us how they would work to improve educational outcomes for young people. 

The resulting grants to Tribes, Native nonprofits, and education institutions support a range of community-driven approaches to improving outcomes for Native youth. Arts, culture, and language preservation programs help develop pride, stronger identities, and ultimately contribute to higher student retention and educational outcomes. Grantees also provide culturally competent services to engage families in their children’s education. They are working to strengthen Native educators, to improve the cultural competency of or school staff, and are incorporating accurate representation of Native history and culture into school curricula. Finally, these grantees are also creating school-to-career pathways that provide Native students with opportunities that lead to meaningful professions, including those that contribute to— or are supportive of—their own tribal communities. 

In addition to these investments, we continue to provide scholarship opportunities for Native and other students, including Gates Millennium Scholars, Washington State Achievers, and Rainier Scholars.

Sourcing Community Ideas and Collaborations

The best ideas often come from our partners who work directly with students and families, and we regularly seek their input. Twice a year, we review submissions from Washington State and Portland-based organizations looking to engage communities to improve student success. 

We seek ideas for community and school collaborations that can enhance educational success for low-income students both during and outside of school hours. We look for effective programs and research that advance understanding about the impact of family and community on student achievement from early childhood through college. Information about funding for such ideas is available on the foundation website.

Grant Opportunities through Our Partners

Additional grant opportunities may be available through our local partners and grantees. These opportunities focus on local community support, education, homelessness and housing, and poverty reduction. Organizations interested in learning more can visit the foundation’s website.

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