Behind Grainger’s Corporate Support for Community Colleges

Although community colleges were originally designed to prepare students for a four-year degree, they've evolved to provide opportunities for students who might otherwise never receive any post-secondary education. Students who work full time, students from low-income families, first-generation students and older students have redefined how practical and useful a community college education really is in today's economy.

There are around 1,655 community colleges across the United States and at least 50 in Illinois, where one Chicago-area corporation is making local community colleges a priority. Located in suburban Lake Forest, Grainger has developed a corporate social responsibility program that handed out $22 million in cash and product donations just last year. The corporate funder has identified two company giving priorities: technical education and community college scholarships for students pursuing industrial trades, and disaster preparedness and response. 

Grainger partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges in 2006 to launch the Grainger “Tools for Tomorrow” scholarship program, which aims to increase the number of students pursuing careers in skilled trades. Each year, Grainger awards 200 scholarships of $2,000 each to attend community colleges around the country. A sizeable portion of these grants go toward technical education and around half of them are earmarked for military veterans. Some of the Chicago area recipients include the College of Lake County, College of DuPage, Elgin Community College and the Junior Achievement of Chicago.

Many corporate funders these days are focused on bolstering the skills of tomorrow's workforce with an eye on their own labor needs, and it's particularly understandable that Grainger has zeroed in on the skilled trade niche: This is a company, after all, that makes tools and machinery. 

Aside from its community college support, the corporation has awarded more than $14 million to the American Red Cross since 2001 and it is the national founding sponsor of the “Ready When the Time Comes” program in Canada and the United States.

Grainger has 23,700 team members and offers a three-to-one charitable gifts match, up to $7,500 per U.S. employee. Through Grainger’s Community Grant Program, the company awards global grants for health and human services, food banks, disaster relief and technical education in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. In 2013, the Grainger Foundation made 900 global grants totaling $6.1 million.

All Grainger grantmaking is led by Senior Corporate Philanthropist and Public Affairs Manager, Laura Coy, who joined the company in 2008. She brought over a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector to this role, previously serving as Associate Director of Major Gifts for the National Alzheimer’s Association, Senior Manager of Major and Planned Gifts for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, and the Director of the Annual Fund Campaign for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Today, Coy manages the American Red Cross Program, the community college scholarship program, the employee charitable gifts program and the corporate strategy for citizenship and environmental sustainability.

When asked about her biggest professional challenge on the job, Coy told Crain’s Chicago Business, “Doing more with less.” She said, “We'd love to fund scholarships at every community college across the country, but it's not feasible. So we partnered with the Aspen Institute to create a best practice for other companies to partner with community colleges.”

To learn more about Grainger corporate giving and its community college grant programs, visit the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility page