The American Express Foundation began in 1954 to contribute toward philanthropic causes in global communities. As of November 2018, the charitable organization offers three grant programs that help nonprofit organizations with leadership training and development, encourage community service activities and work toward preserving places of historical or cultural value in a community. To qualify for one of these programs, your organization must be tax exempt, need the grant for a qualified activity, be in a prioritized location and meet other requirements. The process involves an initial online application process before you hear back from American Express about submitting a project proposal.

American Express Corporate Responsibility Program

American Express runs a corporate responsibility program that focuses on giving back to the community through donations and volunteer work, supporting nonprofit organizations, preserving historical places and holding initiatives that encourage consumers to interact with local businesses. In addition to offering a special American Express directory that increases awareness of local organizations, American Express has created three grant programs in the areas of leadership development, community service and historical place preservation.

The company has estimated that it has put around $1 billion toward charitable causes since the founding of the American Express Foundation. Its work has benefited such organizations as schools, disaster relief organizations, museums, environmental protection projects, social services agencies, performing arts academies and civic organizations. American Express's budget for philanthropic causes can vary each year and have different allocations depending on the organizational focus, such as education or the arts. It also sponsors specialized grant programs as necessary based on need. For example, it contributed around $2.5 million to principal leadership programs in 2015.

Leadership Development Grants

One emphasis of the American Express corporate responsibility program is training leaders who work for nonprofits and social-purpose organizations. The American Express Foundation focuses its grants on helping to teach leadership skills, foster diversity and offer continuing business education for community leaders. Qualifying for this specific grant requires that your organization wants help creating a leadership development program, needs training to acquire and retain leaders or wishes to improve its diversity in leadership.

The programs it sponsors include the American Express Leadership Academy, online leadership training through +Acumen and Leaderosity and alumni support programs. The American Express Leadership Academy gives leaders in fields such as health care, education and the arts the chance to attend in-person training seminars worldwide. The organization's sponsored online-training programs provide a supplement to these seminars. Graduates of the academy participate in relationship-building activities that include a private LinkedIn group for networking, an online storytelling platform for leaders and an annual global summit.

Community Service Grants

Volunteerism is another important part of the American Express corporate responsibility program, and it offers support to organizations that want to get the community involved in service activities. The company's community service grants focus on helping organizations acquire and retain volunteers so that they can have a positive impact on those in the community. American Express has also placed an emphasis on helping out with disaster relief. The American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and other major charities have received assistance for preparing for natural disasters and helping communities recover from the effects.

Qualifying projects might involve having American Express employees help out your organization or support causes in the organization's community, which is a program American Express has named Serve2Gether. An example of a Serve2Gether mission might be having American Express employees offer business consulting services to make your company operate more efficiently. Grants also go toward promoting individual philanthropy to important causes and encouraging others to take part in civic organizations.

Place Preservation Grants

The American Express Foundation's third grant program focuses on preserving historical places and is only available to organizations that get a personal invitation. Emphasis is placed on cultural heritage sites, historical landmarks and historical communities. Organizations who qualify must need the grant to preserve or restore a qualified place, to improve community access to it or to reduce negative impacts from the environment.

This grant program is part of an international effort where American Express monitors historical monuments around the world, partners with organizations such as the National Trust for Historical Preservation and operates the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign. American Express notes that it has spent over $20 million since 2016 on its efforts in restoring historic sites in major cities in the United States alone. It also focuses on using community volunteers in the restoration process to increase public awareness and interest.

Organization Qualification Guidelines

To qualify for any of the grants from the American Express Foundation, your company first needs to have tax-exempt status or be a government or public sector agency. For your company to qualify as tax exempt in the U.S., it needs to be either a nonprofit organization or a charity that falls under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS guidelines or a supporting organization or charity that falls under section 509(a). International organizations also have to be nonprofits under local regulations. Furthermore, your company cannot be a private foundation, and it must receive public financial support. Any qualifying organization must also declare that it does not use discriminatory practices. This applies to disability, age, race, sexual orientation, gender, veteran status and other areas with legal protection.

In addition to meeting these standards, you also have to declare that your grant request does not fall under areas that the American Express Foundation refuses to fund. For example, you can't request a grant to pay for professional publications, college scholarships, advertising, religious activities, political campaigns, sports sponsorships or business traveling. Grants are also not available for endowments, fundraising activities or traveling art exhibitions.

As of November 2018, American Express focuses on giving grants to businesses in specific locations. These include Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C., South Florida and New York City in the U.S. Examples of some qualifying international locations include Canada, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, China, India and Japan.

Starting the Application Process

The process for applying for an American Express Foundation grant begins with completing the eligibility quiz and registration form on the American Express website. This form walks you through verifying that your organization is an approved type, certifying that your company does not discriminate, confirming that you're not requesting a grant for a private foundation and confirming that you don't sponsor any terrorist activities. After confirming that you're not asking for a grant for excluded activities like individual needs, American Express asks questions about your organization's location and where your requested project will be based.

After completing the form's questions, American Express will let you know right away if your organization possibly qualifies for a grant and will offer an opportunity to begin the proposal process. You'll need to select whether you want a leadership or community service grant and confirm that your project falls within the grant's activity guidelines. You'll then be asked to look up your company's registration number, which refers to your employer identification number and your state.

American Express then gathers your contact information and reaches out to you to discuss your project needs. You will then learn more about the grant proposal process and American Express's requirements and deadlines. For your proposal, you can expect to explain why the proposed project is important for your organization or community, what your goals are, what the expected time frame looks like and what your organization or community expects to gain from American Express's support.