About Our Giving: Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Charles Koch Foundation pick scholars to support?

Behind every one of our grants is a scholar with a passion for exploring a question or issue. We evaluate proposals on their relevance, research rigor, contribution to the undergraduate and/or graduate student experience, the level of institutional support, the applicant’s excellence in the field of study and ability to accomplish the project, and the potential impact of the work.

What is the primary focus of the Charles Koch Foundation?

Our philanthropy seeks to shed light on critical barriers to opportunity—why they exist, how they can be overcome, and what needs to change so that all people can learn, grow, and contribute to their communities.

We focus on specific challenges in society, such as criminal justice reform, foreign policy, economic opportunity, and free expression, among others. By funding original research, we hope to help unearth new insights and approaches for improving society.

And we are always open to new ideas, whether or not they come in response to a particular Request for Proposal or focus on an issue we’ve previously identified.

Does the Charles Koch Foundation fund endowments?

 We want our funding to offer an immediate benefit for faculty and students, so we don’t typically fund endowments. We are, however, open to requests for continued support for projects.

For example, our giving to Utah State University started with funding for an undergraduate reading group more than ten years ago. Over the years, we supported research and student fellowships as well. USU now has a ten-year, $25 million grant to further their vision for expanding their research program and creating additional meaningful learning opportunities for students.

Why did the Charles Koch Foundation recently introduce a new policy of making grant agreements public?

Openness in grant-making allows people to see for themselves what we support, so they can decide whether we’re the right fit for their project. It also leads to new opportunities for collaboration when one scholar sees what another scholar is up to.

Keeping the fine print of grant agreements confidential was–and still is for many–considered a standard practice for foundations and universities. But as demand for our giving has increased and we’ve grown in size, we have opted to set a new standard. We are the first foundation to post our major, multiyear agreements with universities on our website.

Do the colleges and universities you support, and the scholars who receive funding, have the freedom to decide whom to hire and what to teach?

 Yes, absolutely. The freedom of academics to follow their work where it takes them is at the heart of what it means to be a university. Supporting that freedom is core to our philanthropy.

Unfortunately, a now-expired grant agreement with Florida State University created confusion about our role in supporting faculty. This decade-old grant agreement followed standard university procedure at the time, and provided a donor representative the option to review candidates for supported faculty positions before the faculty hiring committee made its decision. (This is still standard for many universities.) We did not exercise that option and always respected university governance. However, in light of the concerns raised, we invited outside academics to review and suggest improvements to our grant agreements.

Our current grant template, which has now been in place for several years, makes our commitment to academic freedom and faculty governance absolutely clear and allows the focus to be where it belongs: on the good work of scholars and the institutions at which they study.

Does the Charles Koch Foundation partner with other donors?

The Charles Koch Foundation works alongside many partners who share the same goals. For instance, we support the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University along with Democracy Fund and First Look Media. We fund research into civil discourse with six other leading foundations, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. And we address challenges in the criminal justice system with donors in the Seminar Network like the Deason Foundation, a leading supporter of work on this issue at Southern Methodist University.

Is the goal of the Charles Koch Foundation’s giving to bring a more balanced perspective into higher education?

 We hope students will study Marx and Keynes as much as they’re studying Hayek and Smith.

Charles Koch attributes his success to the education he received and the ideas he was able to explore. Our goal as stewards of his philanthropy is to provide as many people as possible with the same life-changing opportunity to engage with a variety of ideas and develop their unique aptitudes.

The academy, and society at large, benefit from diverse perspectives and approaches. When ideas come together to be tested and evaluated, they’re refined and improved. And by engaging in that process,  students become the critical thinkers we need to solve society’s most pressing challenges.

That said, we don’t presume to know what a good balance would be. We encourage a diverse array of methods, approaches, ideas, and projects and leave that up to faculty and other academic leaders.

Who does your giving benefit?

Our grants benefit students, researchers, and community organizations working to improve society. The goal of our philanthropy is to support students’ lifelong learning and to improve society. When scholars’ discoveries guide the path forward on tough issues facing our society, all people benefit. And as students develop their aptitudes and explore ideas they’re passionate about, they become critical thinkers who can tackle society’s future challenges.

None of the Foundation’s work creates personal or corporate benefits, and we adhere strictly to the laws governing the separation of corporate, political, and charitable work.

How do you measure the impact of grants?

Our giving is meant to inspire and have an impact on the world, not support research that sits unread on a shelf. Ideas improve by being challenged, and we want the research we support to be read, scrutinized, debated, and consulted so it can inform dialogue and lead to solutions to our most pressing issues. Success for us is increasing opportunities for students and for society to engage with these ideas with curiosity and critical thinking.

You can read more about the framework for Charles Koch’s philanthropy as well as our giving standards.

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