Grand Victoria Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Grand Victoria Foundation is supported with voluntary contributions from the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, Illinois, just outside the city of Chicago. The foundation is a statewide grantmaker that focuses on improving systems affecting early childhood education, employment, and natural resources conservation. 

FUNDING AREAS: Early childhood education, employment, and natural resources conservation

IP TAKE: The Grand Victoria Foundation uses its casino funder to redistribute money from gamblers to non-profit organizations serving Chicago, the suburbs, and the rest of Illinois. You'll enjoy a straightforward, yet competitive, application process if you have an environment or education program to pitch.

PROFILE: Although some people in the philanthropy industry may describe their line of work as a gamble, few foundations got their start in a casino. The Grand Victoria Casino in nearby Elgin, Illinois voluntarily donates 20 percent of its annual net operating income to the Grand Victoria Foundation, which helps to turn local communities into vibrant civic hubs. 

While a foundation rooted in gambling money might come as a surprise, it's actually becoming a fairly common practice. Although legislation doesn't mandate it, casinos around the country are feeling the pressure to use incoming funds to do some good around town. It's certainly not easy to get a gambling bill passed in Illinois, so casinos stay on the government's good side with foundations that redistribute money in legitimate ways.

The Grand Victoria Foundation has three grantmaking focus areas: early childhood education, employment, and natural resources conservation. Recent Grand Victoria grants in the area include a little over $1 million (two grants) to the Conservation Foundation toward the purchase of over 250 acres of land on the Lower Fox River and $225,000 to the Chicago Jobs Council for general operating support for their statewide work. By answering "yes" or "no" to five simple questions, you'll know if your organization has a chance at a Grand Victoria grant this year.

Grants at Grand Victoria are administered twice a year for programs in the three focus areas. Since the casino is located in Elgin, additional general operating grants are awarded to Elgin-based organizations three times per year through the Elgin Grantworks program. The foundation also awards land acquisition grants in Illinois on a rolling basis. Pitch a proposal for project funds, technical assistance, or general operations for the best results, because Grand Victoria won't fund capital projects, fundraising events, religious causes, or political campaigns.  Although the arts aren't a priority area for the foundation, some Elgin-based children's arts and theater groups do receive support through Elgin Grantworks. 

At the end of a past year, the foundation reported over $110 million in assets and over $6.3 million in total giving. You can find a list of the most recently awarded grants on the Grants List page.

Grand Victoria is led by a small staff that is passionate about what's going on in schools, nature, and workplaces. They're accessible and will be glad to talk to you before you take your first step in asking for a grant - sending a two-page letter of inquiry.

In fact, what you tell the foundation in your two-page letter is what they consider in determining whether your work matches up with what Grand Victoria funds. If you are invited to apply for a grant, the foundation will send you an application packet with instructions. Grand Victoria usually approves less than fifty grants per year, ranging in size from $10,000 to over $1 million. Current deadline information can be found on the funder's website, and you're welcome to contact any member of the staff with questions throughout the application process. 

PEOPLE: 

  • Nancy Fishman, Executive Director
  • Hannah Clark, Manager of Grants and Program Administration*
  • Sharon Bush, Senior Program Officer, Director of Elgin Programs 

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