Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation

Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation


* Assets: $58,379,048 (2017)
* Grants Received: $2,300 (2017)
* Grants Awarded: $2,890,560 (2017)

Charles F. Noyes (1878-1969), who in 1905 established the Charles F. Noyes & Company real-estate firm that rose to great prominence in lower Manhattan, created the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation (JSNF) in 1947 as a memorial to his second wife (1885-1936), whom he had wed in 1926. During his business career, Mr. Noyes’ most famous deal was the 1951 sale of the Empire State Building for the largest price in real-estate history up to that time. In 1959 Noyes turned over all the stock he owned in his real-estate company to its employees, but remained active in the business until 1965, when he became too ill to work any longer.

From 1947-59, JSNF administered a scholarship and loan program that awarded money to cover the cost of individual students’ tuition at the accredited colleges or professional schools of their choice. Half of these grants were earmarked specifically for nonwhite minority students, most of whom were black.

In an effort to control its own administrative costs, JSNF in 1960 stopped giving money directly to students and began, instead, awarding grants to schools, which would then select the individual recipients themselves. The Foundation requested, however, that these institutions continue to apportion all JSNF funds in approximately equal measures to white and nonwhite students.

After Charles F. Noyes died in 1969, at which time his Foundation had some $30 million in assets at its disposal, his heirs shifted JSNF’s political orientation dramatically leftward. For example, when the rise of affirmative action in the early 1970s caused colleges nationwide to aggressively recruit minority students—resulting in a precipitous decline in enrollment at predominantly black colleges—JSNF resolved to thenceforth honor “the importance of black colleges” by channeling all scholarship aid for African-American students through those institutions.

Also in the 1970s, JSNF shifted its philanthropic focus to students who were preparing specifically for careers in what the Foundation deemed “areas of critical need.” From 1974-84, these fields included environmentalism, public-school education, and health care (i.e., population-control, family-planning, and abortion services for pregnant adolescents and unmarried women).

In 1985, JSNF stopped awarding student scholarships and began making grants instead to nonprofit organizations whose work focused on the environment, agriculture, and “women’s reproductive health.”

JSNF has long viewed the United States as a nation rife with “structural racism, gender inequality, and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, economic status, physical ability, gender, immigration and immigration status.” As such, the Foundation today supports organizations that seek to make major changes in American society under the banners of “social, environmental, economic, and political justice”—always with an eye toward uplifting “marginalized” populations that are “systemically denied” their rights.

In 2011, JSNF drafted a mission statement pledging support for “grassroots organizations and movements in the United States working to change environmental, social, economic and political conditions to bring about a more just, equitable and sustainable world.” The Foundation’s current funding priorities are carried out via the following major programs:

Environmental Justice: This JSNF initiative supports groups that: (a) advocate for public policies designed to “prevent and reduce toxic pollution and environmental degradation in low-income communities and communities of color”; (b) promote “economic revitalization and environmental sustainability in communities suffering from environmental damage and the lack of economic opportunity”; and (c) “challenge the expansion of corporate power and rights” while holding corporations “accountable for their impact on the environment.”

JSNF’s anti-corporate orientation is further reflected in its contention that “people, not corporations, have inalienable rights.” Most notably, the Foundation deplored the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling which—while leaving intact a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from making campaign contributions to politicians—nullified a provision barring such entities from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns.[1]

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems: This program supports organizations that seek to “increase community control over food systems”; “advance local food production, regional processing and distribution”; “counter the further corporate concentration of food production and the industrialization of agriculture”; and promote “just jobs” and “fair trade.”[2]

Reproductive Rights: This initiative focuses its philanthropy on groups that advocate for policies that “protect and expand the rights of all women and girls to access comprehensive reproductive health services and information.” Particular emphasis is given to ensuring that “young people, low-income [people], people of color and immigrant communities are engaged in all levels of advocacy and leadership.”

Sustainable New York City: This program supports groups that “organize and advocate for public policies that promote sustainable practices and protect the city’s environment and the health of its residents,” with particular emphasis on “social, economic and ecological justice.”

Among the recent beneficiaries of Noyes Foundation grants are the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the Center for Women’s Policy Studies, Friends of the Earth, the Ms. Foundation for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Tides Foundation and Tides Center.

To view a list of additional noteworthy JSNF grantees, click here and here.

JSNF identifies the cultivation of racial and ethnic “diversity” as a leading concern in its grantmaking decisions. In 2012, for instance, fully 69% of the Foundation’s grants went to organizations “led by people of color.” This represented a significant increase from 59% in 2010 and 52% in 2008.


[1] That nullification was based on the premise that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from censoring any entity’s right to engage in, or to fund, political speech.

[2] According to the Center for American Progress, the term “just jobs” refers to work that offers “appropriate compensation, social protections, labor rights, and opportunities for economic mobility.” “Fair trade” refers to the practice of doing business only with companies that promote those values.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

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