Helen V. Brach Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Helen V. Brach Foundation is one of the few foundations in the city that awards a good portion of its $6 million in annual grant money to animal anti-cruelty organizations. Grant proposals are usually reviewed once a week for the education, youth services, and art categories of Brach funding as well

FUNDING AREAS: Education, literacy, animal cruelty, youth services, and arts and culture

IP TAKE: Brach is one of the few foundations that award grants to animal shelters and anti-cruelty programs for our furry friends. There's a lot of Chicago-style history surrounding this foundation, so do your homework before getting involved.

PROFILE: Very few philanthropic foundations are shrouded in a mysterious murder conspiracy, but the Helen V. Brach Foundation is one of them. Helen married into the E.J. Brach & Sons Candy Company fortune. Her husband, Frank, sold the company in 1966 and died in 1970. Helen started the foundation a few years later as a way to use the fortune to stop abuses against children and animals.

On February 17, 1977, Helen mysteriously disappeared, prompting an investigation that uncovered criminal activity associated with stable owners in Chicago. Although she was never heard from again and her body was never found, she was declared legally dead in 1984. The story goes that the new widow was wooed by a con-man, Richard Bailey, who coerced her into investing in illegal race horses and ultimately ordered her death when he'd gotten enough of her money. Although Bailey was not convicted of Brach's murder, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for defrauding her.

If you're more interested in the drama than the philanthropy, check out TruTV's Gone But Not Forgotten. For the rest of us, the Helen V. Brach Foundation is still operating in the world of money, with plenty to go around after the horse stable scandal. Although the foundation's focus remains on the prevention of cruelty against animals and children, grants are also awarded regularly to education and arts organizations.

In a past year, the foundation reported over $124.3 million in assets and over $7 million in total giving. These grants were between $500 and $150,000, and employee matching gifts accounted for a significant portion of the total giving. For comparion, a prior reporting period listed $122.6 million in assets and more than $6 million in total giving, which was spread across 408 grants between $500 and $75,000 a piece.

Past Brach grants around Chicago have included $268,000 in eight separate grants to the Big Shoulders Fund, $100,000 to Dominican University, $50,000 to the Brookfield Zoo and  $35,000 to the Anti-Animal Cruelty Society of Chicago. Brach keeps most of its grants within the $5,000 to $50,000 range and doesn't typically approve any grants under $5,000.

The modern-day Brach foundation is shrouded in almost as much mystery as the death of its founder. The foundation doesn't have a website and doesn't make itself very accessible to non-profit organizations and the general public. Brach is run today by Chairman Raymond F. Simon, who also serves as the Polk Foundation's vice president and director. R. Matthew Simon is Brach's acting president.

Grant proposals are typically reviewed by Brach's board during its March meetings each year, meaning application deadlines tend to fall on December 31. Although Brach supports environmental causes, the board still wants to have six copies of your proposal in its hands. Application materials include a standard laundry list of documents stating proposal details, salary information, budget figures, qualifications, financial statements, and staff lists. You're best off calling the foundation at 312-372-4417 and asking for its staff contact guy, John Hagnell. There aren't too many foundations in the city that focus on animal cruelty, so if you're running a shelter, it's definitely worth a phone call.

PEOPLE:               

  • Raymond F. Simon, Chairman
  • R. Matthew Simon, President*
  • John Hagnell, Associate Director

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