In keeping with the broad purposes in their charter documents, the Foundations have chosen to spread their grants over six program areas. Most grants are made in New York City, reflecting its dynamic not-for-profit sector, large and persistent needs, and the staff's and Trustees' "local knowledge." The Bodman Foundation also makes grants in northern New Jersey in recognition of its donors' ties to that state, with an emphasis on Newark and Monmouth County. Over 90% of grants fall into one of the following categories:
- Arts and Culture: Cultural institutions are among New York City's most valued resources. They attract visitors from around the world and are one reason why so many people choose to live here. They are also major employers and vital to the City's economy. The arts were important to Miss Achelis and Mr. and Mrs. Bodman, and so the Foundations have continued to support this area, generally through operating grants to the City's prominent cultural institutions. The Foundations are most likely to support organizations that promote and sustain traditional concepts of artistic excellence.
- Education: The failure of inner-city public education is a national tragedy with enormous consequences for the children in these schools and for society as a whole. The Foundations have long believed that accountability and competition can contribute to the improvement of urban public schools. Therefore, the Foundations have funded charter schools, voucher programs, scholarships to parochial schools, and research that examines the impact of competition and other factors on K-12 educational performance. The Foundations also have an interest in helping young people and adults to realize their dreams of a college education. Finally, the Foundations seek to promote intellectual excellence and balance at American colleges and universities.
- Employment: Chronic unemployment or underemployment is a harsh and demoralizing burden. The welfare reforms of the mid-1990s increased the need for effective job training and placement programs. Such programs are especially critical for ex-offenders, chronic substance abusers, those with low educational attainments, and those suffering from mental or physical disabilities. The Foundations are particularly interested in supporting programs that emphasize the private sector and entrepreneurship.
- Health: It is difficult for small grantmakers to make a significant impact in a field as large and complex as healthcare. Therefore, the focus of the Foundations' grants has been on the health needs of poor children, the disabled, and other disadvantaged populations, as well as on basic biomedical research, where a small grant at a pivotal time in a scientist's research can have a disproportionate impact. The Foundations have also supported the work of policy experts evaluating reforms that would improve the healthcare system and make it more accessible and efficient.
- Public Policy: Funding in this category covers a broad range of issues including: K-12 education (listed under Education), healthcare, families and marriage, crime prevention, prisoner reentry, philanthropy, the environment, welfare reform, and faith and religion. In all areas, the Foundations' grantmaking is guided by a belief in the merits of economic and political liberty, free enterprise, and personal responsibility.
- Youth and Families: The disparate needs of New York City's disadvantaged youth and families are served by hundreds, even thousands, of charitable institutions, ranging from established settlement houses to small neighborhood organizations to local houses of worship. The Foundations support programs that boost academic achievement, provide positive recreational and educational activities for disadvantaged young people, promote good character and values, preserve families, and encourage responsible parenting. In addition, the Foundations have a special interest in programs that prevent criminal behavior, discourage pre-marital sexual activity among teens, and assist vulnerable populations, such as disconnected youth, children who have been in foster care or suffered abuse, the disabled, and the homebound elderly. The Foundations are particularly interested in funding smaller, neighborhood-based organizations that choose to rely on private support rather than government grants or contracts.