When we think of healthcare in this country, doctors may spring to mind at first, but in fact, nursing is the largest professional segment within the industry, with nurses delivering most of the patient care in hospital and long-term care settings. But healthcare funders that provide major support for nursing are relatively rare. An important exception is Jonas Philanthropies, a family-run funder with a primary focus on the long-term workforce development of the nursing profession.

Now in its 15th year, the funder has recently announced a major expansion of its signature Jonas Scholars program, which specifically aims to support people pursuing doctoral-level nursing degrees to prepare them for careers in academia and teaching.

“There are simply not enough people who want to teach nursing, so the idea is to push more nurses into faculty and leadership positions,” said Lendri Purcell, vice president at Jonas. The organization announced that funding for this latest cohort of 76 nursing scholars represents a 50% growth in its scholarship commitments; 54% of the scholars are BIPOC individuals. The scholarships have been enriched to provide $15,000 over two years.

While nursing is increasingly taking a more visible role in academia and bench science, there’s an ever-growing demand for practicing nurses—but not enough to train these desperately needed future practitioners. That’s why Jonas is working to drive more top students into teaching.

The nearly two-year-old COVID pandemic only worsened historical shortages of nursing across the nation, including in rural areas and the South, as hospitals struggle with overloaded wards and caregivers experience burnout. Stronger demand for workers translates into higher salaries, and for understandable reasons, graduates of nursing programs are apt to pursue clinical jobs rather than the academic positions necessary to train future nurses—even a percentage of the Jonas Scholars leave academia for jobs out in the field.

So far, according to Jonas’ website, the funder has committed a total of $27 million in scholarships, supporting more than 1,400 doctoral nursing scholars at 157 universities in all 50 states. Within this group, some 350 scholars focus on veterans’ healthcare—another of the organization’s key interests. And from that leadership group, Jonas further hopes to encourage some of its scholars to become actively involved in health policymaking and politics, where nurses can bring unique and valuable knowledge and perspective about topics that significantly affect patient outcomes and experience.

Over the years, Jonas has also made grants to nursing organizations, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the National League for Nursing, and the American Nurse Foundation.

We haven’t written much about Jonas Philanthropies, but it’s an important niche funder, and one with an interesting backstory. The organization was started by Barbara and Donald Jonas; Barbara, who died in 2018, was a psychiatric social worker, and David was a retail executive who founded Lechters, a national chain of household and kitchen product retail stores that went out of business in 2001. The couple had been avid art collectors, and in 2005, they auctioned off more than half of their collection of abstract expressionist paintings for $44 million to raise money for grantmaking. That money ultimately seeded Jonas Philanthropies. Leadership of the funder has remained a family affair: Purcell is David Jonas’ granddaughter, while John Jonas, son of David Jonas, is also a vice president.

Founder Donald Jonas, seeking an area to fund that could make a significant difference in patient outcomes that wasn’t already well-addressed within philanthropy, initially pushed for a philanthropic focus on the nursing profession.

“His idea was not only that nursing was an underserved profession within philanthropy, and that there was a dire shortage of nursing, but to get people who are already nurses and help them go back to school and get Ph.D.s and DNPs (Doctor of Nursing Practice) and become teachers,” said John Jonas. The program is also designed to further enrich the professional development of the individual scholars by pairing more experienced subject matter experts who can help advise the scholars.

Jonas Philanthropies also provides support for vision health (Donald suffered from a retinal condition) under its Jonas Children’s Vision Care program, which works through partnerships at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York, and the Harkness Eye Institute. The vision program provides clinical care for kids and supports education, scientific research and advocacy.

The organization’s approach to health funding broadens out a bit with its other two focus areas. Its Children’s Environmental Health program partners with the Environmental Working Group to provide parents with science-based information about the impact on children’s health of toxic chemicals, contaminants and other toxics. We wrote about another Jonas funding area, Trees for Climate Health, which is committed to growing more than 10 million trees around the world by 2025 for the benefit of communities and to advance carbon sequestration and climate goals, including biodiversity.