Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation is the philanthropic vehicle of real estate billionaire Neil Bluhm. Most of Bluhm's philanthropy is focused in Chicago.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, arts & culture, Jewish causes

IP TAKE: Bluhm has been ramping up its giving in recent years, from giving just over $2 million in 2010, to around $7 million more recently. The foundation has no website, and its listed staff are all family.

PROFILE: Neil Bluhm grew up in a cramped Chicago apartment. His father left the family when he was 13, and Bluhm's mother raised him and his sister on a bookkeeper's salary. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received a law degree from Northwestern University. After graduating, Bluhm worked at a Chicago law firm where he made partner. With three kids and a big mortgage on his house, he left the legal world and partnered with his college roommate in hopes of striking it rich in real estate. Today, he owns marquee shopping territory along Chicago's Michigan Avenue, plus the Ritz and Four Seasons. He also owns property in Houston and Los Angeles.

Bluhm established the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation in 2007, and runs the foundation with his three children. The foundation has gradually upped its grantmaking from around $1 to 2 million a year, to as high as around $7 million each year for the past few years.

Bluhm has been big on education in the Chicago area. Northwestern University is no stranger to Bluhm’s support, and received $25 million, perhaps Bluhm's largest grant to date. Another $15 million went to the law school to fund student financial aid programs and a legal clinic in his name. Leftover funds went to Northwestern’s cardiovascular institute, the music school, and the Holocaust Educational Foundation. Northwestern Memorial Foundation also received $2.1 million. Northwestern University School of Law, meanwhile, received $100,000. Bluhm is a life trustee at Northwestern. Many recent grants have been between $2,000 and $2.6 million.

Other education outfits in Chicago receiving funding from Bluhm recently include Year Up-Chicago, and the Erickson Institute. Bluhm also seems keen on arts education, giving to Marwen Arts Campus, Intonation Music Workshop, and Urban Getaways, which describes itself as giving "high-quality, accessible arts experiences to young people."

Speaking of arts, Bluhm is an avid art collector with a reported $100 million collection. He's a life trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago and is president of the board of trustees at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Back in the early 2000s, the Art Institute of Chicago received at least $20 million. These days, huge giving towards that outfit appears to have tapered off, but around $1 million did go to the museum in a past year. 

Other Chicago area arts outfits receiving funding recently include Chicago Children's Museum, and the Harris Museum of Music and Dance. In addition, Bluhm, who was born into a Jewish family, has supported Jewish causes such as the United Jewish Fund.

Looking ahead, Bluhm, who's in his late 70s, also has three children who are active in philanthropy and civic life. Bluhm's daughter Leslie cofounded Chicago Cares, a local volunteer program, and also started the Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellowship with her husband, which supports social entrepreneurs under 35. 

The foundation doesn't have a website or public grant guidelines. But the contact person is Mary Ann Casey, and the best way to get in touch is by snail-mailing a letter to the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation, 900 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1600, Chicago, IL 60611

PEOPLE:

  • Neil G. Bluhm, Trustee
  • Andrew G. Bluhm, Trustee
  • Leslie N. Bluhm, Trustee
  • Meredith A. Bluhm-Wolf, Trustee

CONTACT:

Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation
900 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 1600
Chicago, IL  60611