Plan Nationally and Implement Locally: The Insurance Industry’s Giving in Chicago

A while back, we introduced you to the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation Texas/Southeast Division, which has awarded over $1 million in community grants since 2012 in that area. At that time, I connected with Sarah Conway, the executive director of the Texas/Southeast division, to learn more about the group’s giving for children at risk, education, and veterans.

Read: How the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation Gives Locally in Texas

However, IICF is active right here in Chicago as well through its Midwest Division, which is worth a closer look as well. Big causes here are socio-safety and education, as well as low income and at-risk children and families, but that’s just the beginning.

Last fall, IICF caught our attention when it hosted an event at Chicago’s Hard Rock Café where insurance professionals competed in a “battle of the bands” to raise money for local charities around the city. Loosening up their collars and singing their hearts out, these local professionals raised over $37,000 and awarded $25,000 to local nonprofits, such as Boys Hope Girls Hope and the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

But this was just one examples of IICF’s involvement in Chicago communities. That event kicked off IICF’s Week of Giving in Chicago, in which insurance industry professionals in the area volunteered hours of service to local community organizations.

Earlier this spring, 16 local nonprofits were presented with grants from the IICF Midwest Division Community Grants Program during the Blazing the Trail Dinner held in Chicago. More than $225,000 was awarded at this time with grants going to Chicago groups like Chicago Scholars, the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, OneGoal, and the Sue Duncan Children's Center. Funds from the Community Grants Program are distributed to local nonprofits that serve health, education, and safety initiatives for the local community. Since its inception in 2011, the IICF Midwest Division has awarded over $1.3 million in community grants across the Midwest region.

To learn more about what this group is doing around town these days and in the months ahead, I connected with IICF’s executive director of the Midwest Division, Mary Cummins, to ask a few questions. Cummins recently met with the Midwest Board to assess what the greatest needs in the Chicago area are right now and what the foundation plans to do about them.

In regards to IICF’s Midwest Division grant making, how much support does the organization provide to Chicago area nonprofits, compared to organizations in other parts of the Midwest?

Since its inception in 2011, IICF’s Midwest Division has awarded over $1.3 million in community grants across the Midwest region. This region includes 12 states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas).

By virtue of the fact that our Division is based in Chicago, many of our Board members reside in and serve this community. Therefore, IICF receives a significant amount of grant nominations for Chicagoland area nonprofits. Of note, since 2015, IICF Midwest has granted over $325,000 in grants to nonprofits largely centered within the Chicago area.

That said, our dedication to serving other areas in the Midwest continues to strengthen, most notably through our Ohio Chapter. In fact, in 2015, IICF’s Ohio Chapter awarded $72,500 in grants to eight nonprofits across the state, representing a 61 percent increase in grant dollars awarded from the prior year.

In your opinion, where are the greatest needs in Chicago right now?

There is no shortage of need for local nonprofits in Chicago. We continue to see an increase in funding support requests from nonprofits serving a socio-safety and education need to low income and at-risk children and families. Nonprofits that receive a portion of their budget from state funding are seeking more support from foundations like IICF.

Can you share a local Chicago grantee or two that your foundation has recently supported that is meeting that need?

In perhaps one of our most heartwarming grant stories to date, the IICF Midwest Board of Directors set a call to action to support Illinois nonprofit Children’s Home + Aid earlier this year. This was in direct response to recent program cuts due to the State of Illinois budget impasse, which affected the amount of funding this nonprofit received from the state.

Board Vice Chair Jeff Lange has been a longtime champion of Children’s Home + Aid and knew their Healthy Families Illinois Program was in critical need of funding. The IICF Board thus voted to make this organization a beneficiary of on-site fundraising that occurred at its annual gala dinner.  On the evening of March 10’s dinner, Jeff Lange and other IICF Midwest Board members energetically rallied the crowd through a paddle raise fundraiser, ultimately raising $30,000 in support of this nonprofit. The generosity of the insurance industry of the Midwest was shining brightly during this evening, as the community came together to support an organization that serves more than 40,000 children and families by helping them overcome obstacles such as poverty, abuse, and neglect.

This dedication of IICF’s members to serving their local communities extends beyond Chicago, as evidenced by another grantee story a few states away in New Jersey. In spring 2012, nine-year-old Seamus was diagnosed with Leukemia. Due to complications, unplanned hospitalizations, and treatment setbacks, the physical and emotional struggles of Seamus’ life saving cancer treatment were met with financial burdens for him and his family. Because of funding from IICF, Family Reach, an organization that serves as a lifeline for families fighting cancer, was able to pay three months of mortgage payments for this deserving family. The significant financial help allowed Seamus’ family to focus on providing Seamus with the best possible chance at getting healthy again. This touching story is such a great example of the commitment of IICF’s members to supporting organizations that make an incredibly personal impact on the lives of individuals and families in need.

What is the theory of change behind your foundation's grant making?

IICF provides support for outstanding charitable organizations that help address critical community needs. As a nonprofit organization funded by the insurance industry, our organization is dedicated to giving back to the communities in which funds were initially raised. For example, all of the money that was raised during a recent trivia event we held will be packaged into grants for organizations right here in Chicago. IICF’s philosophy is to plan nationally and implement locally, with the goal of bringing insurance professionals together to work side by side within their communities for the common good.

What characteristics do your grantees tend to share?

The IICF grantees truly are a varied group. With a diverse representation of insurance professionals within our organization, IICF is able to source grants to a wonderful selection of small and large nonprofits that truly exemplify the best of what their community can has to offer. Every organization that we work with impacts the community at a grassroots level.

Of note, the nonprofits that IICF provides funding to have a mission based in one or all of the following areas of Health, Safety, and Education. These organizations benefit from grants ranging from $10,000-$50,000. No matter the grant amount, all of the organizations we work with display a fantastic ability to optimize the funds they receive to create a ripple of positive change within their respective communities. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to prospective grantees about your foundation?

IICF hosts philanthropic roundtables twice a year—with the most recent one being held in Chicago—in order for members of the organization to come together to discuss ways to best engage with local communities. At IICF, we like to share the stories behind the funding – the real-world impact that is created. Positive growth numbers and measurable outcomes are important to see. Complimenting these results with real life stories of people being helped is powerful and drives support from our organization.

Secondly, IICF would like to collaborate with its nonprofit partners and provide more volunteer opportunities to our insurance industry constituency. We are fortunate to be able to harness the giving strength of this mighty industry that is continually seeking opportunities to volunteer. The IICF Midwest Division is hoping to roll out a monthly volunteer opportunities schedule in the next year for further engagement of our volunteers in the insurance industry. Whether reading to children at Chicago’s Literacenter or putting on a “Battle of the Bands” at Chicago’s Hard Rock Café to raise funds for local nonprofits, these insurance professionals have shown an eagerness to roll up their sleeves and serve the communities and nonprofits that IICF supports in the Midwest.

Ultimately, IICF's Midwest Division grant focus areas are health, education, and safety. To learn more about IICF's giving in Chicago and throughout the Midwest, check out the foundation's Division Events page, Midwest Division Fact Sheet, or reach out to Mary Cummins at The next deadline for IICF Midwest Grant Nominations is September 1. But keep in mind that organizations must be recommended by an IICF board member.