What the Chicago Foundation for Women Supports around the City

It might seem obvious what types of causes the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) funds and where it centers its support. But there’s more to this local funder than meets the eye.

Four female philanthropic leaders started a series of planning meetings back in 1984 that layed the groundwork for this foundation. Back then, only 3 percent of philanthropic dollars were being spent to address women’s needs and issues.

Today, CFW creates networks of small investor-individuals, corporations, and other foundations to raise money for its grants. This is a funder with a history of providing early seed money to organizations that propose innovative, creative solutions to the problems faced by underserved women and girls. In 2014, the foundation worked with nearly 2,000 donors and local partners and funded 150 projects in 4 counties, which served more than 53,000 women and girls.

Here are a few key things to know about this Chicago-centric funder:

Giving Priorities

There are three main priorities that CFW stands behind:  economic security, health, and violence prevention. Over half of CFW’s support went toward economic development in 2014 (51 percent). About 26 percent went toward anti-violence programs and 23 percent went to health organizations.

The foundation supports small, mid-size, and large organizations, too, with a nearly equal percentage of funding going to nonprofits with budgets between $500,000 and $5 million. As a general rule, more support goes to direct services than to advocacy efforts.

The Chicago Metropolitan Area is in Focus

Unlike some Chicago-centric funders, CFW lets its grantmaking extend out to the suburbs. Grants are made in the Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry, and Will. However, CFW doesn’t stop there. Regional, statewide, and global grants have been awarded as well over the years, but on a rare basis.

Specialized Giving Councils

Over the years, CFW has partnered with the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Alphawood Foundation, and the Enterprise Fund to facilitate grantmaking. In addition to these partnerships, there are several giving councils in place. Giving Councils connect specific, underserved communities with grant support and introduce new issues, new points of view, and new leaders to the larger philanthropic community. There are currently Women of Color, LGBT, Young Women, and North Shore Giving Circles.

Staff, Board, and Unsolicited Inquiries 

CWF has a surprisingly large support team, with 26 board members and 14 staff members. The foundation is led by K. Sujata, the president and CEO. Another key name to know is Monique Brunson Jones, who’s the director of programs.

You’ll need to complete a prospective applicant eligibility quiz to get started, and there are spring and fall grant cycles. This year, freedom from violence and health grants are included in the spring cycle and economic security grants are in the fall one. There are also ongoing small grant opportunities available through the Enterprise Fund, the Strategic Response Fund Eva Janzen Powell and Smith T. Powell Health Series.

Unsolicited letters of inquiries are accepted and you can read through the specific requirements on the CFW’s How to Apply page. Interested grantseekers should reach out to Program Officer Lora York at 312-577-2814 or lyork@cfw.org with any questions.