What Do Big Changes at McCormick Mean for Grantseekers?

For many years, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation offered separate grantmaking programs for journalism, civics and civic education. The foundation has traditionally seen journalism as a way to increase civic engagement; it separately approached civic education as a means to promote lifelong civic engagement.

However, a recent foundation shift has consolidated these two programs, cut back a program director’s role, and eliminated the jobs of two senior program officers. Clark Bell, who has headed McCormick’s journalism program for two decades will now step into an advisory role and retire at the end of 2015. John Sirek, who currently leads the civics program, will take charge of the new umbrella program.

“Our colleagues in our civics and journalism programs worked for months taking a hard look at how, working together, we could have more impact on how well our democracy works, how well the government responds, and how engaged citizens are,” said McCormick President and CEO, David Hiller. “The insight at the end of that is that we should not only work together but put those two areas together.”

These realizations came after the success of a joint project between the journalism and civics programs called “Democracy Center.” Foundation program officers identified programmatic overlap and the foundation swiftly advanced plans to consolidate.

Yet in the midst of this shakeup, McCormick announced over $5.8 million in new grants to support journalism, veteran’s affairs, civics, and early childhood education. Not unexpectedly, most of these new funds are going towards journalistic programs, including a $300,000 to Chicago’s Columbia College, $200,000 to the Illinois First Amendment Center/Illinois Press Foundation, and $100,000 to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Meanwhile, recent support for civics was limited to a single $250,000 grant to the Children’s First Fund for a Chicago Public Schools Global Citizenship Initiative.

Now that McCormick has consolidated its journalism and civics programs, how evenly will grants be divided between similar, yet competing, interests that stood on their own for so long? McCormick has over $1.5 billion in assets, and programs focused on journalism have typically seen much more support than civic programs. But with the lines now blurred between journalism and civics, perhaps there will be more opportunities at McCormick for civics-focused nonprofits.

The aforementioned grants are a representative example of how McCormick journalism support is consistently focused on Chicago and Illinois. While operating independently, McCormick’s civics program primarily served Chicagoland youth between the ages of 12 and 22. Therefore, we expect to see the focus of this umbrella program remain on the city of Chicago and not shift to any sort of broader geographic strategy at this time.

 “Our belief is that if we keep our eye on that big picture—what are the kinds of things that support a well-functioning Democracy—and think of it holistically in that way, we can do a better job for our community,” Hiller explained.