How Will the Polk Brothers’ $20 Million Gift to Navy Pier Impact Other 2014 Grantmaking?

Last year, the Polk Brothers Foundation gave just over $20 million to 350 nonprofits in Chicago. The local funder recently announced a $20 million gift to revitalize Navy Pier, Chicago’s largest attraction, which brings in over 9 million people each year. So with that enormous amount already committed to Navy Pier, what can local nonprofits expect out of 2014 grantmaking?  

In 1935, Sol Polk founded Polk Bros., which grew to 17 neighborhood-based stores and was known for innovative merchandising, creative marketing, and discount pricing. Facing intense competition, the last Polk Bros. store closed in 1992 and the assets were transferred to the Polk Brothers Foundation. Over the past 25 years, the foundation has provided nearly $300 million in grants to Chicago organizations (Read Polk Brothers Foundation: Chicago Grants). The recent Navy Pier gift will create Polk Bros. Park, which includes plans for a fountain, plaza, performance lawns, and promenade that emphasize accessibility and cultural diversity in recreation.

In a July 17, 2014 letter signed by Bruce R. Bachman, Sandra Polk Guthman, and Howard J. Polk, the board members write:

Please know that this legacy gift will not affect the continuing philanthropy of the Polk Bros. Foundation, which has grown to become the third largest funder of Chicago nonprofits, supporting nearly 3,000 organizations that have a tangible impact on the lives of people throughout Chicago and helping to ensure that all Chicagoans have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The Polk Bros. Foundation gives more than $20 million each year to programs and initiatives designed to have a positive effect on the lives of people throughout Chicago, ensuring that all Chicagoans have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This will not change.

According to a March 2014 press release, the Polk Brothers Foundation has over $400 million in assets, and it seems 2014 is set to be a record-breaking year for Polk Brothers funding.

The Polk Brothers Foundation recently developed new program area guides and established its primary focus on providing critical services and programs to underserved Chicago populations, especially public school children and their families. The foundation’s largest funding category is called Strong Communities, which has five focus areas designed to promote safe communities, quality jobs, affordable housing, legal services, and economic prosperity. It plans to continue awarding grants in education, arts access and learning, and health as well. Pre-applications can be submitted throughout the year and are scheduled for review based upon the order received.

“This was a business that was successful because of Chicago, and so we’re turning it around and giving it back to the people of Chicago,” Sarah Polk Guthman, chairman of the Polk Brothers Foundation, told CBS News. Although Navy Pier is a top tourist attraction, around 70 percent of Navy Pier visitors are from the Chicago area. “The tourists are welcome and we’re very happy that they’re coming here. But we’re doing this for the people of Chicagoland,” Polk Guthman said.