Chicago Giver: A Look At Richard Driehaus' Philanthropy

Chicago native Richard H. Driehaus has built a career in the Windy City as founder and chairman of Driehaus Capital Management, which has around $11 billion in assets under management. Driehaus Capital is housed on Erie Street in Cable House, a peach-colored building constructed in the 1880s for Ransom R. Cable, who helmed Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company. After Cable passed, the building housed John Carroll Sons, a funeral business. Patriarch John Caroll was one of Chicago's first undertakers and personally drove the horse-drawn hearse that carried Abraham Lincoln through Chicago down to Springfield.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, not only am I a history geek, but as it turns out, so is Driehaus, and a key component of the wealthy Chicago native's philanthropy involves historic conservation and preservation. Driehaus' philanthropy moves through the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, which he founded in 1983, a year after starting his business. The foundation awards about $6 million annually, and while the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, it welcomes letters of inquiry and phone calls. Its website, meanwhile, is refreshingly transparent.

The foundation says it works to benefit individuals and communities by "supporting the preservation and enhancement of the built and natural environments through historic preservation, encouragement of quality architectural and landscape design, and conserving open space. The foundation also supports the performing and visual arts, investigative reporting and government accountability, and makes grants to organizations that provide opportunities for working families who remain poor."

Let's dig into a few of these areas, with a look at where Driehaus has focused his philanthropy:

1. Arts and Culture is a Top Priority

Most of Driehaus' grants target Chicago, and the funder's arts/culture giving is no exception. Recent grantees include the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, Storycatchers Theatre, Gene Siskel Film Center, Oil Painters of America, and Lawyers for Creative Arts. When Driehaus makes grants to national organizations, it often still has a regional slant. For instance, a $60,000 grant to Oil Painters of America went for the Dorothy Mellin Fellowship for Midwestern Artists. And a recent $100,000 grant to Sing London supported Talking Statues Chicago, a public art project that asks the question, "If statues could talk, what stories would they tell?"

It's worth noting that Driehaus also partners with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to provide general operating support to Chicago-area arts and cultural organizations with annual budgets up to $500,000. Some $327,000 was recently distributed to 57 small and medium-sized arts and culture institutions through this program.

2. Historic Preservation is Another Key Interest

Here's another philanthropy-related history lesson: A stone's throw away from Driehaus Capital Management is another building with deep historical significance called the Driehaus Museum. The building itself is the restored mansion of Glided Age banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson. These days, the Driehaus Museum focuses on historic preservation, offering visitors an opportunity to "experience through its architecture, interiors, collection, and exhibitions how the prevailing design philosophies of the period were interpreted by artists, architects, and designers at the waning of the 19th-century and the dawn of the 20th-century."

Other recent grants in this area include the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association, Preservation Action Foundation, and Landmarks Illinois. Driehaus also runs a Preservation Awards program. The Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture, meanwhile, is administered through the University of Notre Dame.

3. Driehaus is Also Interested in Helping the Poor

The goal of the foundation's Economic Opportunity grantmaking area is to "further economic opportunity for the working poor." Recent grants have gone to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Center for Economic Progress, and Woman Employed.

4. The foundation Also Supports Journalism

The foundation states that it "supports serious journalistic inquiry, mostly to Chicago journalists, on many levels—from long-form writing to photography." Recent grants have gone to the Better Government Association, Community Renewal Society, Chicago Public Media, ProPublica, and Community Media Workshop.

In short, Chicago fundraisers—whether focused on the Chicago that was or the Chicago that could be—should definitely be aware of Richard Driehaus and his philanthropy.

Related: Richard Dreihaus Profile

Related: Richard H. Driehaus Foundation: Chicago Grants