Circle of Service Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Circle of Service Foundation has four grantmaking focus areas: community services, education, medical research, and Jewish causes, with the exception of a few medical research facility organizations. Nearly all of Circle of Service grantmaking stays in Cook and Lake County, Illinois.

FUNDING AREAS: Medical research, education, community services, and Jewish causes

IP TAKE: Unlike many foundations in the city, Circle of Service will likely consider your unsolicited grant proposal. Pitch a proposal for education or basic needs for the best results.

PROFILE: As you poke around the Circle of Service Foundation's website, you won't find much in the way of the foundation's leadership or how its tradition of philanthropy began. If you dig a little deeper, you'll learn that the foundation was established with the proceeds of the sale of stock by CDW Corp. founder Michael P. Krasny in 1997.

Before accumulating a net worth of around $1.39 billion, this former car salesman found a way to make a fortune buying and selling computers in the early days of technology. In 2007, he sold CDW, a technical gadget and networking equipment company, to Madison Dearborn Partners for $7.3 billion. This boosted the foundation's assets considerably, and he's donated more than $350 million of his company shares to charity.

The Circle of Service Foundation awards over $20 million in grants annually. At the end of a recent year, the foundation reported over $535 million in assets and more than $27 million in total giving. These figures were up from the previous year, which saw $518 million in assets and over $25 million in total giving.

Some of the foundation's past grants in Chicago include $1.4 million to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, $1 million to the University of Chicago, $500,000 to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and $150,000 to the Ounce of Prevention Fund for early childhood development. The foundation tends to hand out around 500 grants each year, ranging in size from $100 to $1 million. A few of the non-Chicagoland grants awarded by Circle of Service include $750,000 to the Israel Project and $300,000 to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both based in Washington, DC and $600,000 to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Center based in New York.

Krasny has had a hobby for woodworking, and since 2009 he's operated a woodworking shop in the Chicago suburbs called Custom Woodworking Design. Seems like a nice way to spend a retirement. While Krasny is busy in the woodshop, a gentleman named Adam Levine is running his philanthropic foundation. And no, this is not the same Adam Levine who sings lead vocals for Maroon 5. This Adam is a suburban lawyer, and since he was appointed president of the foundation, he's been quietly directly grant money to area nonprofits without attracting much media attention.

Circle of Service pours a majority of its grantmaking budget into education and basic needs programs for food and housing. Since Krasny is an active member in the Jewish community and his synagogue, a good portion of the funds go to Jewish community causes as well. Surprisingly, not many funds flow toward technology-based organizations and hardly any grants are made for the arts. Unlike many of Chicago's foundations, Circle of Service will likely accept and review your unsolicited grant proposal. Pitch a program to Levine that exclusively benefits Chicago, Cook County, and Lake County for the best results. Start-ups don't usually fare well, because to be considered, your organization needs to have made more than $75,000 in private revenue the prior year.

If you've never received funds from Circle of Service before, then you'll need to start by completing a pre-application online. Although the foundation doesn't fund environmental causes, it does believe in saving trees, so don't send in unwanted paper via snail mail. Grant applications are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year, and you'll likely get the "yea" or "nay" from the foundation within 45 days of submitting a pre-application. You can reach Adam directly at or any of the below program officers by phone at 847-716-2111 or email at


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