Behind the Pritzkers’ Latest $2 Million Grant

Just when we were starting to miss seeing the Pritzker family name in Chicago headlines, here it is attached to a new $2 million grant.

The lucky recipient this time is WBEZ, the Chicago NPR station that’s been looking to fund a new digital expansion plan for a while now. Chicago Public Media (CPM) is the radio station’s parent company and this is the largest donation that either has ever received for their operating budget. Right now, WBEZ has a $24.5 million operating budget.

Although Goli Sheikholeslami is still considered a newcomer as CPM’s CEO, her pitch clearly had an impact on the Pritzkers. It called for a digital build-out that will remake the digital interface, build the tech team from four techies to eight, and update the overall content management system across digital platforms.

“Forty million Americans listen to public radio every week, so the radio is still very important to us, but in order for us to really thrive and think about our future, the opportunity is to expand our service onto digital devices,” Sheikholeslami said in an interview.

This new Pritzker money will be spread over the next three years, but like many Pritzker grants, there’s a catch. WBEZ is required to match Pritzker’s grant with an additional $2 million of its own from fundraising and contributions.

But the NPR affiliate is certainly no stranger to Pritzker family support. In 2010, the Pritzker Fellowship Program was established to recognize the Pritzker Foundation’s leadership support of Chicago Public Media. These two-year fellowships include a $20,000 stipend and are awarded to aspiring radio producers, journalists and storytellers.

If you’re anything like us, you’re wondering exactly which of the Prizker family billionaires are behind this big media grant. There’s the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation led by Penny Pritzker, the Pritzker Early Childhood Education Foundation led by J.B. Pritzker, and several others that dip further off the radar.

On this grant's list of benefactors, you'll find the names of Thomas, Penny, Jean, and Nicholas Pritzker. So it seems that support for public radio and digital media is a family affair that transcends individual foundations and giving programs. The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, for example, focuses the bulk of grantmaking on education and health & fitness, but squeezes WBEZ 91.5 giving into its arts & culture grantmaking program.

Keep up with Pritzker grantmaking coming from all directions by following IP’s Local Chicago section.