We could not begin to achieve our purpose without partnering with organizations who have the capacity, knowledge, and expertise necessary to inform public policy decisions. We are grateful for every opportunity to consider working together, are respectful of the time and resources necessary to seek financial support. We therefore aim for the utmost clarity in describing the kinds of work the Foundation will consider funding.
For your convenience, the contents of this web page, along with our proposal and reporting formats, are collected in our Application Guide, a PDF document you can download here.
Max Bell Foundation responds to each and every application. Many of the applications we don’t participate in are declined because they are not related to our purpose or don’t fit our granting criteria. We encourage potential applicants, before sending us a Letter of Intent, to:
- be sure your organization is a registered charity or qualified donee
- read about what we fund
- read the whole “apply for funding” page of our website
- browse our database of grants
- review the sample Letter of Intent form and sample Proposal format
We’ve put all of this information together in a single Application Guide along with instructions for how to use our online application portal. You can download the Application Guide here.
Max Bell Foundation provides two types of grants: project grants and development grants. Both are described below.
For both grant types, Max Bell Foundation assesses proposals for alignment with our purpose and program priorities (as described on the page What We Fund), and our grant criteria, detailed below.
The word “project” is sometimes used to refer loosely to any set of activities. We use the term in a more specific way. For our purposes, a project is:
- a clearly defined set of coordinated activities that are necessary to achieve a well defined, measurable purpose. Grants from Max Bell Foundation support projects that take as their purpose informing, in some way, public policy.
- temporary and term-specific (e.g., X months) – not ongoing work of an organization that has no specified end date.
- based on its own unique, clear budget and financial accounting procedures.
Projects are different from general operating support, capital purchases, and ongoing programs, none of which are eligible for support by Max Bell Foundation.
We expect that all project-related expenses, including a portion of overhead and administration, should be budgeted for in proposals we consider.
We have no set requirements for the duration or cost of a project, but a typical project supported by Max Bell Foundation ranges from 1-3 years in duration and has a budget that ranges from approximately $10,000 to $200,000. Max Bell Foundation is seldom the only financial supporter of projects we fund.
These grants support organizations doing early-stage work that is intended to lead to and/or support a larger project that will aim to inform public policy. They often provide excellent learning and mentorship experiences for students or early career individuals. Examples of funded development grants have the following characteristics:
- They undertake short-term (typically four to six months) developmental work on public policy issues in health & wellness, education, or environment.
- They help position applicant organizations to succeed with other larger-scale public policy initiatives.
- They may include data gathering, environmental scanning, literature reviews, preliminary analyses, detailed project planning, etc.
Grants within this program have budgets that range from $3,000 to $6,000 per month, depending on the qualifications of the person hired. The budgets cover both a stipend for the person hired and the overhead costs of mentoring and administration.
Stipend: The proposed stipend should reflect the market rate for a junior position. We assess stipend budgets against current hourly rates paid to full-time Graduate Assistants in major Canadian universities. The stipend should account for at least 60% of the total budget for the project.
Mentoring and Administration: It is expected that the grantee organization will commit to having senior staff both supervise and mentor the person hired. We anticipate this to require approximately three to six hours per week. Administrative costs will include the search and hiring process, and an appropriate portion of overhead expenses.
Term: It is expected that the person hired will work for the recipient organization on a full-time basis (i.e., 160 hours per month), typically for four months (although in certain cases, six-month terms may be considered).
Administration: The recipient organization is responsible for the following:
- searching for and selecting a person to be hired through an open, competitive process
- if the person hired is a person currently on the organization’s staff, the re-assignment must be explained in the proposal (e.g., how will the hired person’s regular duties be completed)
- development of a practical work plan
- providing the necessary infrastructure (e.g., office space, computer, internet connectivity, telephone, etc.)
Deliverables: Senior staff of the recipient organization will prepare a final report on the grant. It is expected that the project undertaken will yield formal written output(s) that could include, for example, one or more of:
- a literature review
- a research brief
- policy recommendations
- a complete proposal to potential funders, including Max Bell Foundation, for a more comprehensive initiative
In assessing proposals, we focus on the question “how likely is it that this project will inform a public policy decision?”
The Foundation can make grants only for charitable purposes, and only to organizations which have been issued a registered charity number under the Income Tax Act of Canada or are qualified donees.
If you are a non-profit partnering with a registered charity, the charity must apply.
The primary criterion by which the Foundation evaluates proposals is the degree to which the proposed work aligns with the Foundation’s purpose:
Max Bell Foundation is the living expression of its founder’s aspiration to improve Canadian society.
We seek better educational, health, and environmental outcomes for Canadians. We pursue these goals by supporting innovative projects that inform public policy change.
We support civic engagement and resilient democratic institutions. We are non-partisan.
We value inclusion and the application of reason to evidence.
We prefer projects that:
- identify, assess, and develop innovations rather than perpetuating the status quo
- do not duplicate existing work
- are driven by demonstrable public needs
- focus on practical approaches that can be implemented
- have, in the view of experts and practitioners, a significant chance of informing policy change
- promote evidence-informed decision making
Support will not be provided in response to the following types of requests:
- General fundraising or unrestricted funds
- Bricks and mortar
- Emergency funds or deficit financing
- Capital campaigns / general fundraising
- Endowments, awards, fellowships, internships, sabbaticals, scholarships, or bursaries
- Service delivery
- Grants to individuals, or any organization that is not a qualified donee
Common reasons to Decline an Application:
- No relation to Max Bell Foundation’s purpose or program priorities – requests must align with our program priorities, whether for Health & Wellness, Environment, or Education.
- No public policy relevance – we often receive proposals for projects that are related to one of our program areas, but not designed to inform public policy.
- Seeks program support: the Foundation does not support the regular/ongoing work of an organization, whether service delivery, research, etc.
- Theory of change is underdeveloped – the Foundation does not support projects without a well-developed logic in which one step leads to the next, based on reasonable assumptions, toward the goal of informing public policy.
- Insufficient impact – we sometimes receive proposals that seek minor policy changes (e.g., only one municipality is affected, or a modest increase in program funding is sought).
- Pure research – while research (and its mobilization) are sometimes activities within projects funded by the Foundation, it is supported because it is an elemental part of an effort to inform public policy. The Foundation does not support research intended only to advance a current body of knowledge.
Our approach to making grants could be summarized by saying Max Bell Foundation supports generating good ideas and moving them into public policy.
(What makes a “good” public policy idea? We follow Liz Mulholland’s definition: good policy advice is “sound fiscal, tax, regulatory, programmatic, and other policy advice that governments can feasibly implement without unwarranted political risk and with reasonable confidence that it may yield the desired end goal.”)
Generating good ideas and moving them into public policy can involve a wide range of different strategies, and we refer to that range as “public policy advocacy.” We differentiate such strategies from what we call “public advocacy,” which has the goal of changing the opinions and/or behaviours of segments of the public related to particular issues. Such work is often done on the expectation that changing the opinions and/or behaviours of segments of the public will persuade policy decision makers to act. Max Bell Foundation does not support “public advocacy.” The audiences section below provides clarification.
The following inventory of activities, audiences, public policy outcomes, and impacts represents the broad range of elements that could be in a public policy advocacy strategy funded by Max Bell Foundation. We don’t expect a project to incorporate all of these elements. Rather, what follows is intended to help identify the range of possibilities.
The categories are arranged in the order that these elements might appear in a typical logic model. Max Bell Foundation seeks to fund projects that:
- use one or more of the activity types listed below, and
- engage one or more of the audience types listed below,
- with the intent of contributing to one or more of the public policy outcomes listed below
… all with the ultimate goal of contributing to one of the impacts identified in our program priorities.
Generating Good Ideas
1) Generate policy-relevant ideas by:
- conducting policy-relevant research;
- gathering and interpreting policy-relevant data;
- evaluating existing program(s) funded / delivered by government(s) or their agencies.
2) Undertake and evaluate a demonstration or pilot project for a program that, if successful, could reasonably be expected to be adapted and replicated for funding and/or delivery by government(s) or their agencies. While we can support undertaking and evaluating demonstration or pilot projects, Max Bell Foundation does not support scaling-out of program innovations.
3) Consult experts and/or stakeholders on a public policy issue to explore/develop alignment or consensus.
4) Conduct policy analysis to develop specific public policy options and/or recommendations related to a particular issue.
Moving Good Ideas Into Public Policy
1) Translate policy-relevant research/data/evaluations from “technical” or “scholarly” into public policy terms.
2) Communicate policy-relevant ideas to audiences who can reasonably be expected to use them.
System Actors (e.g., community leaders, business leaders, thought leaders, political advisors, policy entrepreneurs, other advocacy organizations, etc.), on the expectation that they are or will be indirectly involved in the processes by which public policy decisions are made.
Decision-makers (e.g., elected officials, political staff, public servants, administrative / statutory decision-makers, leaders in public service delivery, judges, etc.), on the expectation that they will be informed and/or persuaded by the communication.
Public Policy Outcomes
The outcomes of public policy advocacy can vary:
1) move an issue up the agenda of government or government department / agency;
2) materially inform the thinking of system actors and/or decision makers, e.g., by improving understanding of options, or adding new options to the solution space;
3) policy adoption – in part or in full – through the full range of policy instruments (or policy blocking);
4) policy implementation change.
Education / Health / Environmental Impacts / Democratic Impacts
Max Bell Foundation operates on the expectation that projects it supports will contribute to public policy outcomes that will, in turn, contribute to on-the-ground impacts on health, education, environmental issues and support civic engagement and democratic institutions. The on-the-ground impacts that we seek are captured in our program priorities, which are identified under Our Priorities.
There are no deadlines for Letters of Intent or for Development Grant applications. We receive and review these regularly throughout the year.
Development Grants are applied for through our online application portal. These requests will receive a yes or no response within 4 weeks.
Project Grants are applied for through a two-stage process. They begin with a Letter of Intent (LOI) using our online application portal. We review LOIs to assess the extent to which they align with our purpose, program priorities, and grant criteria. All LOIs will receive, within 4 weeks, either a decline or an invitation to submit a full proposal. Occasionally, Foundation staff will seek additional information about an LOI before concluding whether a full proposal can be invited. If a full proposal is invited, Foundation staff may ask for additional specific information to be included.
Decisions regarding Project Grants are made by the Foundation’s Board of Directors, who meet three times annually – usually in May, September, and December. We require a minimum of two months of lead time to work with full proposals before our board meetings. Proposals considered by our Board of Directors have typically begun with Letters of Intent received a minimum of four months ahead of a board meeting.
A visual representation of the application timeline appears below:
Full proposals are reviewed thoroughly by Foundation staff and by 3-5 external expert reviewers assembled specifically for that proposal. External expert reviewers are identified jointly by applicants and by the Foundation. A list of external expert reviewers who have assisted the Foundation is available here.
Grants are usually made with a small number of conditions (e.g., remainder of project funding must be secured; publications must be made freely available; etc.). Once a proposal has been approved by our Board of Directors and conditions met, funds can flow immediately. For the duration of a grant, partners are asked to report no less than twice annually on progress.
An unfavourable decision from the Foundation should not be seen as a reflection of the quality or value of the endeavour. Rather, it is the result of the difficult choices that must be made from amongst the many worthy applications we receive from across Canada.
Max Bell Foundation seldom provides 100% of the support required for any given project. To encourage applicant organizations to develop a broader base of support for proposed projects or initiatives, we will make challenge or matching grants when appropriate.
The Foundation receives hundreds of applications annually. We cannot, therefore, provide reasons for unfavourable decisions.
Q: Can anyone apply?
A: Only Canadian registered charities or qualified donees may apply. On occasion, non-qualified donees will partner with a registered charity in order to receive grant funds.
Q: Does Max Bell Foundation fund internationally?
A: Max Bell Foundation only funds projects that take place in Canada that are undertaken by Canadian organizations.
Q: Proposals from my organization have been declined in previous years. Can I reapply?
A: Yes, you can apply for different projects if former applications have been declined.
Q: My organization received a grant last year. Can I apply again for funding this year?
A: Yes, you can apply again. The Foundation does not restrict organizations from applying immediately after receiving funding.
Q: Do you have application deadlines?
A: The Foundation accepts Letters of Intent on an ongoing basis. If a full proposal is invited, a deadline will be provided.
Q: How can my organization apply?
Q: Can I schedule a meeting with Foundation staff to discuss projects and/or funding opportunities?
A: Yes, although to manage the number of requests for meetings, we prefer to meet with people who have submitted a Letter of Intent.
Q: Can I send a Letter of Intent by mail or email?
A: No, all Letters of Intent must be submitted through our online application process. To submit a Letter of Intent, please refer to the sample Letter of Intent form in the following section.
Q: When and how will I be notified if my Letter of Intent has been declined or if the Foundation will be requesting a full proposal?
A: Applicants will receive confirmation that their Letter of Intent has been received, and will be notified via email within four weeks if it has been declined or if the Foundation would like to request additional information.
Q: When and how will I be notified of the Board’s decision regarding my full proposal?
A: Foundation staff will contact the applicant one to two days after the Board meeting.
Q: Does the Foundation provide feedback on Letters of Intent that are not invited for full proposals?
A: In order to manage the volume of requests we receive, we are unable to respond to requests for feedback on Letters of Intent.
Q: Do proposals submitted at different times of the year have a better chance of receiving funding?
A: No. We evaluate proposals using the same criteria all year.
Criteria & Guidelines
Q: Do you have any scholarships for children, youth or adults?
A: No, the Foundation does not provide this kind of funding.
Q: Do you make general support or unrestricted grants?
Q: Do you fund endowments or capital campaigns?
A: The Foundation does not support endowments or capital costs, including construction or renovation.
Q: Does my project have to have a public policy element?
A: To receive support from Max Bell Foundation, yes. In fact, proposals that are supported by Max Bell Foundation are designed to inform public policy.
Q: How much money can my organization apply for?
A: Max Bell Foundation does not approach grantmaking with grant amounts in mind. We focus instead on alignment with our Purpose and our grant criteria. Apply for the amount of money necessary to complete your project. Be aware that Max Bell Foundations generally funds 30-60% of a project and prefers to co-fund projects with other funders. Typically, projects are 1-3 years in duration.
Q: What kind of recognition opportunities is Max Bell Foundation interested in?
A: Max Bell Foundation is generally not interested in naming opportunities, nor do we seek publicity for our grants. We are pleased to be recognized according to your Gift Acceptance Policy standards. We encourage you to save naming opportunities or public announcements for funders that will find them more appealing.