About the Arca Foundation

Welcome Message Photo

We face a moment of great turmoil, where the challenges we confront in the US and abroad seem overwhelming and at times intractable. Ever-growing racial, economic and democratic inequality, an alarming rise in the concentration of corporate power and climate change are threatening global health, human rights and peace and security.

Despite these challenges, we are motivated by the possibilities we see before us. As evidenced by dynamic new US-based social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, the Dreamers and #Occupy, the emergence of courageous global climate activist networks, and the continued development of innovative communication and organizing tools – there is a generational shift taking place where citizens are building power and successfully challenging the status quo.

We believe it is important for philanthropy and for Arca, with its rich history of funding experimental and innovative approaches, to support the development of networks as they work to engage the excluded, foster debate among the silenced, promote transparency, and drive social change.

Since 1952, the Arca Foundation has worked to promote social equity and justice, and has helped to support initiatives that affect public policy on a range of critical issues. While our program foci evolve over time and the strategies for affecting change may shift in response to the sociopolitical environment, we remain committed to the belief that access to knowledge, vigorous public education and citizen engagement are essential to democracy.

The Arca Foundation staff and board look forward to working with you in our efforts to promote more equitable, accountable and transparent policies.

Our Focus Areas


  • Domestic

    For the period of 2019-2021, Arca will work to make measurable shifts toward advancing racial and economic justice and democratic inclusion at the local and state level in the US South (Florida and North Carolina) and in the US Midwest (Michigan and Wisconsin).

    The shifts will represent a movement away from the influence of concentrated corporate power on the policy agenda and toward the equitable engagement of historically under-represented communities in shaping the public policy debate. It is our belief that when historically under-represented communities engage in issue education, grassroots organizing and other forms of non-partisan civic participation, communities of color and working-class people can influence a policy debate that works to advance economic, environmental, racial and democratic equity.

    Our state-focused funding will prioritize 501(c)(3) organizations that meet some/all of the following criteria:

    1) support local people of color and working-class leadership;
    2) engage in issue education and organizing in communities of color and other underrepresented communities;
    3) work in regions with a more limited funding base, such as rural communities;
    4) systematically integrate pressing environmental concerns with pressing racial and economic concerns;
    5) pull back the curtain on corporate power and who controls money and power in America, creating greater transparency around the interests behind public policy and inequality; and
    6) work to shift the policy debate on democratic inclusion, wealth, poverty, and race.

  • International

    The Arca Foundation has a modest international portfolio that supports 501(c)(3) organizations working to advance a more just US Foreign Policy that prioritizes human dignity and building peace over militarization. From the period of 2019-2021, the Foundation will accept proposals from 501(c)(3) organizations working to address inhumane and militaristic US policy in the Persian Gulf and its far-reaching influence in political, academic, and corporate spheres.

Our Storied History


In 1952, at the foundation’s inception, founder Nancy Susan Reynolds articulated her unique approach to philanthropy in explaining, “I have been troubled and dissatisfied with the manner in which I have given to charitable enterprises. Each cause may be worthy in itself, but such isolated giving does not achieve the results that the same amount could realize if concentrated in one field or a few related ones. Foundations do not work in such a haphazard fashion. The natural diversity of opinion found in any group leads to more thorough planning and eventually achieves more continuity and sustained interest.”

Foundations need to be experimental. They need to take risks . . . and face some of the more critical and controversial issues. We must be prepared to venture into areas of uncertainty if we are to remain a vital instrument in the field of philanthropy.

– Nancy Susan Reynolds, Founder

Image used courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Image used courtesy of Reynolda House Museum of American Art

The Nancy Susan Reynolds Foundation was later renamed the Arca Foundation. Arca is Latin for treasure chest and Italian for ark, a vessel affording safety and protection. Arca’s founder felt strongly that foundations should not attempt to substitute for government; they should avoid taking the safe path.

Nancy Susan Reynolds’ deliberate and focused point of view has driven Arca’s philanthropy for 65 years. Throughout its history, the foundation has sustained its commitment to experimentation, always seeking to transform ideas into action and continually looking to activists, academics, policy makers, and intellectuals to inform its grantmaking. In supporting organizations working on eliminating toxins from our water and households, Central American human rights, US-Cuba policy, ending the death penalty, campaign finance reform, media policy reform, financial reform, Pentagon budget reform and racial justice, the Arca Foundation has carefully and strategically chosen areas of concentration in which to invest its resources, ever remaining committed to the guiding principles and vision of its founder.