How Education Groups in Chicago Can Tap Into the Sealy Mattress Fortune

Have you ever slept on a Sealy Mattress? If so, you’re already a little bit familiar with the Mayer & Morris Kaplan Foundation.

In the early 20th century, a man named Mayer Kaplan fled the Soviet Union and opened a small mattress factory in Chicago. His son, Morris, joined the family business, which became a franchise of the Sealy Mattress Company just after the Great Depression. The foundation was established in 1955, and most of the foundation’s assets came from the sale of Sealy in 1986.

Related: IP's Profile of the Kaplan Family Foundation

With a home base in suburban Highland Park, the Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation focuses grantmaking efforts on Chicago and other communities where family members live. Although this foundation is deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah (obligations to help the less fortunate, foster self-reliance, promote equality, and all that good stuff), grantmaking is not a religious endeavor.

In fact, this foundation has historically funded the arts, education, social services, and community organizing in Chicago. However, the foundation’s reach expanded in 2009 to get family members living in California and the Rocky Mountain region involved, too. At this time, education grantmaking is focused on Chicago and Los Angeles, while environmental grantmaking takes place in Colorado and Wyoming. These are the only two program areas at the Kaplan Family Foundation.

So for Chicago nonprofits, it’s important to know that Kaplan has two main education priorities: transitioning high school students into college and helping college students complete college. You can learn more about the education program criteria on the foundation website. Kaplan also has an interest in funding career and non-college alternatives like certifications and skilled trades, but it is not currently accepting proposals for these types of programs. Education grants are only made to organizations within the city limits of Chicago and Los Angeles. Chicago-area environmental concerns are not of top priority to Kaplan, and the foundation isn’t even accepting applications from Wyoming or Colorado groups at this time.

Recent Chicago education grants range in size between $30,000 and $50,000 each, and Kaplan awarded about a dozen of those in 2014. Kaplan actually advises potential education grantees to request an amount between $40,000 and $75,000. Some past grantees include the Associated Colleges of Illinois, Urban Prep Academics, Target HOPE College Preparatory Academy, and the Gary Comer Youth Center.

Although arts & culture isn’t listed on Kaplan’s website as a priority, the funder gave five grants totaling $35,000 in this category in 2014, as well. All of these grants were for general operating support and went to high-profile institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

At the end of 2013, the foundation reported over $38.5 million in total assets, a $3 million jump boost from the previous year.

There are different sets of deadlines for current grantees seeking renewals and new applicants in both Chicago and Los Angeles. There’s an electronic letter of inquiry process to follow, so check out the foundation’s deadlines and proposal procedures pages to get started. You can also reach out to Program Officer Shira Saliman at or Executive Director Dinaz Mansuri at