Kessler Foundation Signature Employment Grants

Kessler Foundation

Signature Employment Grants yearly to support  non-traditional solutions  that increase employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

Our success is in stimulating ideas from the field that spark new models that are adaptable to replication and scalability, and may be models for policy change. Kessler Foundation’s flexible funding dollars encourage organizations to pursue promising approaches and concepts beyond what they might have done without our support.

What We Fund  Signature Employment Grants are awarded nationally to fund new pilot initiatives, demonstration projects, or social ventures that lead to the generation of new ideas to solve the high unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities. Preference is given for interventions that overcome specific employment barriers related to long-term dependence on public assistance or advance competitive employment in a cost-effective manner.

Signature Grants are not intended to fund project expansions or bring proven projects to new communities, unless there is a significant scale, scope, or replicable component. Innovation lies at the core of all Signature Employment Grants. We define innovation as a new idea or process that will improve systems to increase employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Innovation can often improve systems already in place. Innovation requires careful analysis of the needs of individuals served: identifying the idea, program, service, or workflow necessary to promote employment. It may require deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiation for generating new ideas that can serve as a catalyst for creating better solutions to obtain and maintain employment. These ideas may be original or may use existing solutions or technologies in a new way. Kessler Foundation does not fund any purely research-based projects.  Grant listing by year

What We Value We are looking for organizations that use bold ideas and innovation for pilots and new employment models with potential for adaptation by public and private institutions to change today’s job market for Americans with disabilities. Collaborating, braiding or leveraging grant funding with other public and private monies, especially sources not typically funding disability, e.g.j community or economic development funds, is encouraged. Organizations must be able to transform concepts or ideas into action, using new solutions for current problems, in the communities served. All funded projects will be data driven, evidenced based projects, with real-time feedback to refine systems and processes.

Our Population Interests  Any organization with a focus on employment and disability may apply for funding. We strongly believe that through investing and promoting employment models that are inclusive, all individuals with disabilities gain economic stability and security.

Geographic Priorities For 2017, Kessler Foundation has prioritized serving Americans with disabilities that live in rural states and other areas with more limited service delivery. We will give priority to proposals that foster collaboration among different community agencies, local government, and business to promote employment for people with disabilities in these communities. Although Signature Employment Grant proposals can be submitted from any state, funding priority is given to projects serving individuals in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Who Can Apply Any organization recognized as a tax-exempt entity according to the Internal Revenue Code may apply for funding. This includes non-profit agencies, public or private schools, and public institutions, such as universities and governmental entitites (state, local, federal) based in the United States or any of its territories. Kessler Foundation will not fund projects that discriminate in hiring staff or providing services on basis of race, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. Organizations employing a large number of staff members self-identifying as having a disability will be scored higher. A proven track record managing and participating in collaborative grant projects is also desirable. Please select ‘Apply Now’ to sign-up to view eligibility quiz. Upon passing quiz, you are directed to the application instructions requirement page with access to the budget templates. Apply Now!

Matching Funds Requirement In an effort to help our grantee partners increase their funding base and replicate their project models, Kessler Foundation requires that prospective grantees partially match the value of our grant.  A 15 percent match of the total request amount is required, with this additional percentage added to the total project budget.  Funds must be newly acquired and available for the grant project. Federal or state funds reimbursable for job placement are not eligible as a match source (see application instructions for details).

Our Process All interested applicants must submit an online concept application. After scoring and review, a selected group of candidates will be asked to submit a full grant proposal. The concept is scored and reviewed for originality, creativity, feasibility and collaborative stakeholder team. Final grant candidates are selected from the full proposal candidate pool. All potential grant candidates will meet with Kessler’s Grant Committee by video conference in the fall of 2017. All grants recommended for funding are subsequently approved by our Board of Trustees.

Funding Amount Organizations may apply for up to two years of funding. Yearly funding ranges from $100,000 – $250,000, with maximum project funding at $500,000. Total funds available for this RFP is $1,500,000. Applicant organizations must have operating budgets greater than $3,000,000. This is a requirement to ensure that grantee is not solely dependent on Kessler Foundation funds as a significant portion of operating budget.  Indirect costs are funded up to 15 percent.

Grant Awards and Notification 2017 Signature Employment Grants will be awarded on December 8, 2017 for the grant period January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2019.  Organizations approved for funding must obtain matching funds equal to 15 percent of the Kessler Foundation grant. Grant recipients will be required to submit documentation with the source, date, and amount of the matching funds or a pledge letter that meets the matching funds requirement. Initial grant funds will be disbursed upon receipt by the Foundation of this documentation. Please note: the matching funds must be received by the grantee organization within 6 months of the date on the pledge letter in order for the Foundation to continue its funding of the grant project. All approved grants are assigned an external evaluator paid for by the Foundation.

All grants are awarded at the discretion of Kessler Foundation.

Key Dates

Grant Concept Deadline: March 17, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Grant Concept Acceptance Notification: May 15, 2017
Invited Full Proposal Deadline: July 10, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Grant Approval: December 8, 2017


Need More Information?

Select ‘Apply Now’ to establish a user ID and password to view our eligibility quiz. Upon passing the quiz, you are directed to the application instructions requirement page with access to the budget templates.
Please Note: The full proposal is not accessible, unless the eligibility quiz is passed.  

For additional questions, please email us at  only after reviewing the online application and reading through our website. Previously awarded grants  – Grant listing by year

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