Ann & Robert Lurie Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Lurie Foundation awards most of its grants to health-care centers and hospitals. The foundation favors well-established organizations with a track record of success over start-up or mid-range nonprofits.

FUNDING AREAS: Health, youth services, higher education, and environment

IP TAKE: As a former pediatric nurse and wife of a colon cancer patient, Ann Lurie directs her foundation's grantmaking toward health care and hospitals. Her large grants make news, and the other recipients are handpicked and well-established.

PROFILE: There are a lot of powerful people in Chicago, and Ann Lurie fell in line as Chicago magazine's No. 48 in 2013. But Ann wasn't always calling the shots and topping the charts. Before real estate and diversified investments mogul Robert Lurie proposed, Ann worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse in rural Florida and then at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She moved to the city in 1973. Robert passed away in 1990 after a battle with colon cancer. So it should come as no surprise that the Ann & Robert Lurie Foundation focuses its grantmaking on health care and hospitals.

Established in the mid 1980s, the Lurie Foundation was designed to take education and human services organizations into consideration as well. However, the foundation got on every Chicago organization's radar in 2007, when Ann Lurie approved a $100 million grant to fund the construction of the Ann & Robert Lurie Children's Hospital in downtown Chicago. Lurie's been making substantial ripples ever since that enormous wave. Some of the largest Lurie grants in Chicago have included$20 million to the Children's Memorial Foundation, $10 million to maintain the Lurie Garden at Chicago's Millennium Park, and $50,000 to Riders for Health. She's also approved smaller continuing grants to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Gilda's Club cancer support program.

Lurie's grantmaking strategy is to give big and do a lot of the legwork herself. Philanthropy is a full-time gig for her. However, she does collaborate with other fundraising professionals, eleven affiliated organizations, and a team of volunteers to further the mission of her namesake hospital. She hand-selects well-established organizations that have proven track records, and she doesn't welcome unsolicited proposals. "I want to go out there and look for a soup kitchen. I don't want 80 soup kitchens coming to me," she said in a Forbes interview. She went on to explain, "I focus on organizations that have a proven ability to do well in their field — not to transform the mediocre but to help a few agencies improve their services."

Like many philanthropists, Lurie understands that there's a lot of give-and-take in her line of work. She spends a good portion of her time writing letters to other businesses asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars to support her causes. "I have an underlying philosophical notion that private philanthropy is really a personal thing," she told Crain's Chicago Business. "I know how I feel when I'm solicited by a business colleague or a friend — it's a difficult position to be put in."

But even though Lurie may understand what it's like to be told "no," it's still difficult to get your grant proposal considered. The Lurie Foundation gives out only about eight to 10 grants each year, which usually range in size from $50,000 to $100,000. At the end of a past year, the foundation reported over $5.9 million in assets and more than $5.2 million in total giving.

This is a separate entity from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago Foundation, which has a foundation staff and fundraisers work with 11 affiliated organizations and a team of volunteers to secure contribution that advance the mission of the hospital.

Although the $100 million grants are the ones making news, they are rare, and most yearly giving totals top out at barely $1 million. Prominent hospitals and well-established homeless organizations are given first dibs in the Chicago area. The best way to get in touch with the Lurie Foundation is by phone at 312-466-3982.

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