IP Funder Spotlights provide quick rundowns of the grantmakers, including a few key details on how they operate and what they’re up to right now. Built on the fortune of a “cereal king,” the nonagenarian W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities. And it just made a big announcement today about its ongoing racial equity challenge.

What this funder cares about

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s tagline, “Putting Children First,” sums up the organization’s focus and charts its north star.

The foundation is built on the fortune of Will Keith Kellogg, who invented Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes and other ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 to improve “the health, happiness and well-being of children, without discrimination as to race, creed or geographical distribution.”

In pursuit of that mission, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) considers the broader context in which children thrive—or fail to do so. According to the foundation’s website, “As a grantmaker, we recognize that children live in families and families live in communities. Therefore, our three areas of focused work—Thriving Children, Working Families and Equitable Communities—are dynamic and always interconnected.” The foundation considers these interconnected priorities its DNA.

High-quality early care and education, particularly for children from disadvantaged communities, looms large on the foundation’s agenda. It invests in programs that start even before birth. According to its website: “To support families in giving their children a healthy start, we advance models that are proven to support healthy birth outcomes, quality maternal and infant care, and children’s early development.” Early childhood education is now gaining increased attention in the foundation world, but it’s been a focus at WKKF from the start.

Why you should care

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is not just one of the largest foundations in the U.S., it is also among the oldest: The foundation celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2020. WKKF has assets of $8.2 billion, and in 2020, made over $200 million in new grant commitments.

While WKKF funds organizations in all 50 states and in tribal communities, its founder’s home state of Michigan remains a priority. Additional priority locations include Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as Haiti and Mexico—these areas collectively receive up to two-thirds of the foundation’s grantmaking.

Along with early education, WKKF invests in K-12 education, job creation efforts, small business enterprises, agricultural opportunities in Mexico and Haiti, and in businesses with women, minority and tribal ownership.

Racial equity is another organizational priority for WKKF. It’s an area that La June Montgomery Tabron, WKKF’s president and CEO, has championed. Tabron, who grew up in a family of 10 children in Detroit, is the first African American to lead the organization. She is also the first woman to fill that role. As she told Philanthropy News Digest shortly after she took the reins in 2014, “In so many ways, my own journey illustrates the power and impact of what is possible with the right conditions.”

Where the money comes from

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is built on the fortune amassed by cereal entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, always known as “W.K.” In an era when porridge was standard breakfast fare, Kellogg’s convenient cold cereal products quickly became popular. In 1906, he launched the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which later became known as the Kellogg Company, and by the mid-1920s, Kellogg was a wealthy man. The “Cereal King” devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy.

Where the money goes

WKKF gives money to a variety of entities, large and small. Organizations that fit its giving criteria, which are spelled out on its website, should consider applying. (See WKKF’s Grantseekers page to learn more.)

Within its Thriving Children priority area, WKKF maintains a focus on early childhood education, supporting centers, schools and community programs that “are rooted in a community’s culture and language” and that foster parent involvement in education. Thriving Children also includes grants to support maternal and infant health, oral health, nutrition, and to promote health equity by uplifting community voices.

WKKF’s Working Families priority area provides grants to expand access to high-quality jobs and to inform policy to better secure families’ economic fortunes. To that end, the foundation backs both workforce development and workers’ rights organizations.

The foundation’s third priority area, Equitable Communities, encompasses much of its direct racial equity work. That includes efforts to confront racial bias and advance racial healing, back community-based strategies, and support equity-focused, anti-racist leaders.

In FY 2019–2020, WKKF gave to 1,217 grantees and made 770 new grant commitments totaling close to $252 million. Check out the foundation’s Grants page for more on who, what and where WKKF is funding.

Open door or barbed wire?

WKKF prides itself on its transparency, and in 1951, was one of the first private philanthropies to publish an annual report. The foundation’s website includes a database with details on grants made from 2008 to the present. Audited financial statements are also available for download. The website’s tone is warm and welcoming, and it provides abundant information on the foundation’s funding priorities and how to apply.

Latest big moves 

Today, WKKF announced the finalists in its $90 million Racial Equity 2030 global challenge (learn more about the finalists). The challenge was launched last October to mark WKKF’s 90th anniversary. According to WKKF’s website, Racial Equity 2030 “is a call for bold solutions to drive an equitable future for children, their families and communities. This $90 million challenge seeks ideas from anywhere in the world and will scale them over the next decade to transform the systems and institutions that uphold inequity.”

WKKF received applications from teams in 72 countries. The 10 finalists will each receive a one-year, $1 million planning grant. In the summer of 2022, at least three teams will each receive $20 million, while two more will receive $10 million apiece. (See one foundation leader’s response to Racial Equity 2030.)

Earlier this year, Kellogg launched the Care for All With Respect and Equity (CARE) Fund along with seven other funders. The CARE Fund is a $50 million, multi-year investment in movement-building to create a comprehensive and universal care infrastructure in the U.S. The fund’s goal is to “improve outcomes for kids, promote equity and enable people with disabilities and older adults to live independently with safety and dignity.” See IP’s report on the CARE Fund.

One cool thing to know 

W.K. Kellogg, one of 14 children in a Seventh-day Adventist family, began working at age seven and was apprenticed at his father’s broom-making business at age 13. At 16, he went to work for his older brother, John, who was superintendent at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was there that Kellogg formulated his recipe for corn flakes.

Working for his brother wasn’t easy for the younger Kellogg. John was difficult and demanding, and required W.K. to run alongside when he bicycled around the sanitarium. He also demanded, LBJ-style, that W.K. take dictation while John used the bathroom.

Kellogg would later say, “As a boy, I never learned to play.” His hardscrabble childhood likely inspired his devotion to children, but an accident suffered by his grandson also played a role. The boy fell out of a window and was physically disabled for life. According to The Almanac of American Philanthropy, “Kellogg was astounded that despite his wealth, he could not find adequate medical care anywhere in southern Michigan. In a letter to a Battle Creek physician, Kellogg wrote that Kenneth’s accident ‘caused me to wonder what difficulties were in the paths of needy parents who seek help for their children when catastrophe strikes, and I resolved to lend what aid I could to such children.’”

What it should do next

We are hoping that WKKF and other major funders will use their influence to support the Biden administration’s ambitious economic agenda. Along with other child advocacy funders, WKKF backs many of the initiatives in the administration’s agenda, which reflect priorities they’ve been pushing for decades, as IP previously reported.

Among other initiatives, Biden’s plans will provide direct payments to families and permanently expand child tax credits. They will make pre-K universal for three- and four-year-olds, invest in childcare and paid leave, and support affordable housing—all crucial goals for many Kellogg grantees. Experts have estimated that the initiatives could cut child poverty in the U.S. in half, which would have an extraordinary impact on the lives of countless American families.

But the agenda, which the administration proposes to fund, in part, by taxing wealthy Americans and corporations at a slightly higher rate, faces dogged opposition from most Republicans, many of whom support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s apparent aspiration to block everything the Biden administration tries to accomplish. Some Democrats have also voiced reservations about the cost and/or specific provisions in the plans.

Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, WKKF is legally prohibited from most forms of political lobbying. Still, it can play a valuable advocacy role by getting the word out about the initiatives and amplifying the stories of families whose lives and futures will be improved if they are implemented. WKKF can also help build momentum for transformative change by boosting support for think tanks and advocacy groups making the case for increased federal support for early education.