Fellowship Guidelines

The Nathan Cummings Foundation


Fellowship Guidelines

Learn everything you need to know about the Fellowship.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) Fellows are bold leaders with visionary ideas to create a more just, vibrant, democratic and sustainable society. Each fellow receives up to $150,000, and over the course of an 18-month Fellowship, works to turn an inspired idea in the field of social justice into a world-changing reality. Their work reflects NCF’s identity and DNA, and relates to at least one of the two major challenges NCF is dedicated to addressing - the climate crisis and inequality. Their projects align with at least one of the Foundation’s four focus areas, which work together to advance our vision of a healthy planet and democracy:

Our Fellows push NCF beyond our boundaries and open productive new lines of inquiry. They ask provocative questions, challenge conventional wisdom, and develop new ideas, approaches and strategies to the most challenging issues of our time.

Our Fellows are our thought-partners, informing the Foundation’s work and have the use of a dedicated office at NCF’s New York City headquarters, and access to our staff and our network of partners and experts in the field.


We welcome a diverse pool of applicants representing practitioners in a variety of fields. Applicants should hold a deep understanding of their subject area, possess a clear analysis of their field and be able to demonstrate a proven history of professional accomplishment and risk-taking.

Selection Criteria

Our selection committee will base their evaluation of each application on the following criteria:  

  • the project topic and relevance to the challenges of today;
  • the project's alignment with the Foundation's DNA, issue and focus areas;
  • the potential to forge a breakthrough solution;
  • and the applicant's ability to carry out the proposed work.

Project Topics

The NCF Fellowship supports innovative individuals who share our commitment to creating a more just, vibrant, sustainable and democratic society.

By finding solutions to two major challenges of our time – the climate crisis and growing inequality – NCF aims to transform the systems and mindsets that hinder progress toward a more sustainable and equitable future for all people, particularly women and people of color.

  • Climate Change:  From the Paris climate agreement to Puerto Rico, the world has declared the climate crisis one of the greatest challenges in our history. It will take all of our ingenuity and resolve to build an inclusive clean economy that lifts people out of poverty and moves everyone, especially those on the front lines, out of the devastating path we now face. We will address the climate crisis from an equity perspective and hold accountable the entrenched interests that have left our nation’s infrastructure and communities vulnerable and have stalled the energy and economic transformation we need. We’ll invest in solutions at the local, state, national and global level and join forces with diverse, enlightened leaders to chart a new course for a sustainable future.
  • Inequality: Millions of Americans face overwhelming obstacles shaped by social hierarchies of race, ethnicity, gender, income, education level or zip code, which restrict their opportunities. In order to address inequality, we will invest in work that reduces implicit bias and discrimination in our public policy, systems and markets. We are particularly concerned about the effects of criminal justice policies and practices on the economic security of hard-working families. With our partners, we seek new and effective pathways to: improve quality of life for people and level the playing fields of opportunity. We challenge ideas, policies, practices and systems that perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes, criminalize people in poverty, and make it possible for a few to hold a vastly disproportionate share of the nation’s income, wealth and assets.

NCF invests in four focus areas that together advance our vision of a healthy planet and a healthy democracy.

  • We will accelerate a just transition to a more inclusive clean economy, where communities on the frontlines are creating solutions to the climate crisis and where prosperity for all people is not at odds with a healthy environment.
  • We are determined to advance racial and economic justice by unlocking markets that have excluded generations from economic opportunity, reforming systems that criminalize too many and lifting up new models of democratic inclusion.
  • We will use our influence as an investor and grantmaker to increase corporate and political accountability, spurring greater transparency and more democratic systems and structures.
  • We believe in the transformative power of the arts, contemplative practice and religious traditions to change hearts and minds. We seek to move people to act for social change by amplifying voice, creativity and culture that can build empathy, nurture compassion and shift narratives about race, class, gender and ethnicity, who has power and how we value the planet.

The topic of a Fellow's project should support the work of the two major challenges we seek to address and at least one of the four strategic areas of focus. The Foundation is particularly interested in innovative efforts that cut across our issue areas or impact multiple focus areas. Successful projects will challenge conventional thinking and present an innovative idea that has the potential to revolutionize the way the Foundation approaches its work and advances its strategies (visit our website to find out more about current and former NCF Fellows).

Project Outcomes and Products

Applicants should have a clear idea of the audience they would like to reach and the impact the project will have on the desired community. Projects should be creative and identify activities and communication strategies that will reach the target audiences. Effective projects will include lessons that can be applied to a broad range of settings.

While the work product may be as diverse as the problems applicants seek to remedy, the projects should be clear, concrete, actionable and inspiring. A Fellow's work might include the creation of a product such as a book or report, white paper, blog, video, public hearing or presentation, the launch of an initiative, campaign or nonprofit organization, or other creative work product.

Expectations and Support

Fellows bring fresh perspectives to NCF's staff, board, and network of grantees and philanthropic partners. Fellows are encouraged to use the Foundation’s office to host briefings, lectures, conferences, programs and events to highlight the cutting-edge products produced by their research and broaden the Foundation's understanding of an extensive range of challenges.

Fellows will initially receive $100,000 to carry out the goals of their project. Upon satisfactory completion of the first twelve (12) months, NCF staff will consider extending the partnership with Fellows for an additional six (6) months to allow them to continue to build their project.

Excluded Activities

The Fellowship program does NOT fund enrollment for degree or non-degree study at academic institutions, including dissertation research. The Fellowship program does NOT cover the Fellows’ health benefits and does NOT account for taxes owed to the IRS for the grant award. The Nathan Cummings Foundation is a private foundation. As a private foundation, NCF cannot support lobbying activities. Projects that include lobbying activities will not be funded.