Meet the Foundation Supporting Public Health in Chicago that you’ve Never Heard Of

There isn’t much glamour in this kind of work, but even so, someone has to do it. Since 1890—that’s right, for over 100 years—the VNA Foundation has been dedicated to community health initiatives in and around Chicago. First, as a hands-on care group—VNA stands for Visiting Nurse Association, after all—and later, from 1995 forward, as a grantmaker funding groups doing the hands-on health work, VNAF has been giving out funding to the tune of about $2 million per year. And the beautiful thing is, they’re transparent as glass. They’re generous and accessible, and if you’re Chicago-based with a health access angle, you need to know about them.

The VNA Foundation funds a wide range of initiatives each year, and its grant range from $1,000 upward to $150,000, with most grants falling in the $10,000 to $50,000 range. Recent funded projects include funding school nurse positions at disadvantaged schools, hospice care, the AIDS Foundation, the American Cancer Society’s Chicago chapters, and mobile dental care. It seems to have a preference for the smallest organizations doing the grittiest front-lines work of bolstering community health, and favors groups for whom a few thousand dollars means a lot. It doesn't discriminate between program, operations, capital, and start-up grants: The foundation takes each proposal as it comes, considering it on its merits and giving it whatever support is appropriate. At the same time, it insists that all grants be able to show measurable outcomes. 

The foundation website is easy to navigate, and chock-a-block with FAQs, lists of recent grants, and clear annual reports so you can see exactly how it directs its money. It even offers examples of successful proposals that it found particularly compelling. Wouldn’t it be nice if every philanthropy showed off its favorite proposals, for the edification of all prospective grantees? We can only dream. VNAF has four quarterly deadlines for LOIs, which must be submitted through the foundation's grants management system (an online tutorial for how to use it is available.) Though this year’s March deadline has passed, that still leaves the September 18th and December 18th deadlines, as well as the March 19th, 2015 deadline to try for. Check out their guidelines, and good luck!