Coleman Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Coleman Foundation was built upon the Fannie May Candies fortune and primarily supports Chicago-area nonprofits working to improve cancer care, independence initiatives for people with developmental disabilities, and entrepreneurship education. Most grants have been between $2,000 and $250,000 each, and Coleman typically awards over a hundred of them each year.

FUNDING AREAS: Entrepreneurship education, cancer care, developmental disabilities

IP TAKE: Chicago nonprofits definitely have a leg up on the competition when it comes to the Coleman Foundation. With the exception of a few entrepreneurship education grants here and there, almost all grantmaking takes place within the city or the suburbs. Although the foundation’s education and developmental disabilities focus areas are very specific, various types of cancer care and support programs are considered for funding.

PROFILE: Started in 1951, the Coleman Foundation is a Chicago-centric funder that established its current set of three grantmaking priority areas in 1981. The foundation was created Dorothy W. and J.D. Stetson Coleman, who were successful entrepreneurs in the Chicago area and owners of the Fannie May Candies company.

Today, the Coleman Foundation advocates for raising the standard of cancer care in the Midwest through treatment, education, and support services. It also supports programs aimed at helping people with developmental disabilities empowering them to be determined and achieve a higher quality of life. Because the foundation believes that creating a job is even better than just getting a job, it supports entrepreneurship programs that promise a new generation of business owners. An occasional local education program has received Coleman support over the years. The Chicago metropolitan area is Coleman’s primary geographic focus, and although select parts of the Midwest are fair game too, only a limited number of grants escape the city limits.

The Coleman Foundation board looks for nonprofit programs that are practical, financially sustainable, and results-oriented. The cancer care focus area is fairly broad and encompasses treatment programs, education initiatives for patients and personnel, collaborations for psychosocial support and palliative care, and initiatives to better communicate treatment options with patients. Coleman’s developmental disability priority focuses on residential and vocational programs that encourage independence and help residents set and achieve goals. And finally, Coleman’s entrepreneurship education grants support educational institutions that offer program for students to open and operate their own businesses.

Past cancer care grants in Chicago included $420,000 to Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, $207,000 to Swedish Covenant Hospital, and $135,000 to Future Founders Foundation. Human services grants that quarter went to nonprofits in Glenview, Westchester, Evanston, and Lincolnshire. Entrepreneurship education is pretty much the only core initiative that is funded nationally. You can see a more recent list of grants here.

At the end of a recent year, the Coleman Foundation reported over $164 million in assets, and it approved over $5.9 million in grants that year. Most Coleman grants fall in the $2,000 to $250,000 range. To apply for a Coleman grant, relevant nonprofits must submit letters of inquiry, which are accepted throughout the year. Grants are generally approved when the Board meets in February, May, August, and November. To get in touch with the staff, reach out to or call 312-902-7120 with general inquiries and check out the Coleman’s blog to learn more about what the foundation cares about.


  • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)