Chicago Foundation for Women: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: This funder supports economic opportunity, access to healthcare, and domestic violence causes that directly impact women and girls in the Chicago metropolitan area. Most support comes in the form of direct services, followed by advocacy efforts.

FUNDING AREAS: Women and girls, economic opportunity, access to healthcare, and domestic violence causes.

IP TAKE: Your best bet with this funder is a direct service economic opportunity grant, but CFW will consider a variety of causes as long as they directly benefit Chicago-area women and girls – including education and the arts.

PROFILE: Iris J. Krieg, Lucia Woods Lindley, Sunny Fischer, and Marjorie Craig Benton are the creators of the Chicago Foundation for Women, which got its start in the mid-1980s. They recognized that women’s issues such as economic opportunity, access to healthcare, and domestic violence were seriously under-addressed in Chicago, and they set out to do something about it. Only 3 percent of philanthropic dollars were being spent on women’s needs back in 1984, and women were dramatically underrepresented in the broader philanthropy industry, too. The foundation made its first grants in 1986, totaling $50,000.

These days, CFW focuses on three issue areas: work and economic security, freedom from violence, and access to healthcare. These were the issues that originally guided the founders, and they are just as relevant today as they were 30-plus years ago. For this funder, investments in women and girls translate into more stable communities, families, and workforces. This type of grantmaking is also an investment in future generations of healthy kids with bright futures, and perhaps even lower costs for healthcare, social services, and safety.  

CFW’s economic security program looks at support services like financial education, quality affordable child care, and affordable housing. Funding comes through the Eleanor Network, which is an alliance of 27 agencies that address the needs of women and girls. The Eleanor Foundation transferred its assets to CFW in September 2012 to establish this network. Pregnancy discrimination and women in the manufacturing industry are also issues that CFW cares about.

The foundation’s health program addresses teen pregnancy, single-parent households, sex education, and pregnant women in the prison system. The violence program addresses the side effects of crime-free housing laws and safe temporary housing for domestic violence victims.

The bulk of CFW giving has been going to economic development causes, with health and violence support at a more even split. The foundation has traditionally supported a range of organization sizes, from groups with annual budgets under $500,000 to ones that have budgets of over $5 million. This is a funder of direct services more than anything else, but advocacy and training certainly have their place in CFW grantmaking, as well. The foundation provides early seed money to innovative groups that find creative solutions to persistent problems that face women and girls. You can view recently awarded grants on the What We Do – Grantmaking page.

CFW partners with other funders to provide its support, including the Polk Brothers Fund for Emerging Organizations, the Enterprise Fund, issue-specific partnerships with the Alphawood Foundation, and giving councils. Grant amounts typically range from $15,000 to $150,000, with Chicago metro area nonprofits in Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry, and Will counties considered for grants. However, the activities of these nonprofits can even extend to statewide purposes.

In a recent year, CFW worked with more than 2,000 donors and local partners and funded 150 projects in four counties, serving 53,000 women and girls. Since 1985, the foundation has made thousands of grants, totaling tens of millions of dollars to help women and girls thrive and become catalysts of social change. CFW provides both general operating and program support, and arts or education programs are considered as long as they emphasize a social justice mission for women and girls.

There are two grantmaking cycles, with violence and health in focus in the spring, and economic security in the fall. CFW considers both new and renewal applicants for multi-year grants that relate to advocacy opportunities. The first step in applying for a grant is to take an eligibility quiz and then keep track of upcoming deadlines. Questions about the grantmaking process should be directed to Program Officer Lora York at or (312) 577-2814.

To keep up with what this funder is doing, follow the foundation on Twitter at @ChiFdn4Women. General inquiries can be directed to the staff at 312-577-2801 or via online form.


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