Farmers Insurance: Grants for STEM Education

OVERVIEW:  Farmers Insurance funds K-12 education through its Thank America’s Teachers program, which supports a wide-range of teacher-driven projects that benefit communities in need. STEM education is a priority.

IP TAKE:  Farmers Insurance frames this as a “contest,” which is apropos for the smaller cash prizes. But once the cash gets big, the application is the same as any fairly rigorous grant application. New grantseekers should prepare and present accordingly. The “contest” part will come later (once you’re a Finalist) when America gets to vote. Past grantmaking indicates that rigorous K-12 STEM projects are well-positioned for significant funding.

PROFILE: Founded in Los Angeles in 1928, Farmers Insurance’s philanthropy prioritizes disaster resilience, education, and civic engagement. The company’s education grantmaking seeks to “invest in our youth” by “improving access to education and job readiness.” Farmers’ Thank America’s Teachers program gives $1 million each year to teacher-driven K-12 education projects. STEM education receives a notable amount of these funds.

This fund distribution breaks down into two categories: a $2,500 level and a much bigger $100,000 level.

The $2,500 grant program is simple—and populist. Grantseekers submit 1,000 words explaining how they would use $2,500 to support a K-12 classroom project. The application is available to any full-time, K-12 teacher at a public, charter, or private school. Once each submission period has closed—there are three per year—proposals are posted on the Thank America’s Teachers website. Votes decide the winners, and anyone can vote once per day. Though this program is officially called a “grant,” most of the time Farmers Insurance describes it as a “contest.”  There are 180 contest winners each year, which breaks down to the top 60 grantseekers with the most votes each submission period.

Past grantees’ STEM-related projects include improved technology access/digital learning for rural students, the creation of a sustainable garden, and the study of the life cycle, which used funds to purchase chicken incubation and other scientific equipment.

For the larger grant program, Farmers Insurance’s gives out six $100,000-prizes each year through its Dream Big Teacher Challenge. While still requiring a full-time K-12 teacher-driven project, the application for this program is far more rigorous. It requires an in-depth discussion of the community the project will serve (both inside and outside the classroom), the project’s expected outcomes, an in-depth project budget (including funding already secured), three letters of support, and a timeline for project implementation. And though this proposal is still teacher-driven, there must be a 501(c)(3) officially attached to receive the funding on the teacher’s behalf. 

While this may sound more like a traditional grant application than a “challenge,” the process really does become more of a “challenge”—or “contest”—after Farmers Insurance rigorously vets the proposals and selects the 15 Finalists. Those 15 Finalists get short video appeals posted on the Thank America’s Teachers website, and yet again America gets to decide the six winners. That makes this $100,000 pursuit an interesting blend of traditional grant hunting coupled with social media management/community rallying.

The $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge lists criteria for proposals (unlike the $2,500 category, which does not). They are Creativity, Economic Need, and Community Impact. Videos of past grantees reflect how these criteria can be effectively bridged, and looking at the scope of past recipients, economic need was emphasized, though creatively the projects varied greatly. STEM-related projects were prevalent. Past winners include a coding project, a digital learning improvement project, a STEAM project (including the "a" for "arts") that ties classroom learning to technology/agricultural/business mentorship, and a student and family technology center.