John D. & Alexandra C. Nichols Family Foundation: Grants for Chicago

OVERVIEW: The John D. & Alexandra C. Nichols Family Foundation's grantmaking heavily involves Chicago arts and culture organizations. The Nichols couple also supports education, youth, health, and human services. 

FUNDING AREAS: Arts and culture, education, youth, human services, health 

IP TAKE: The foundation does not appear to accept unsolicited proposals and keeps a low profile. Networking will be key for getting this funder's attention. 

PROFILE: John D. Nichols and his wife, Alexandra, move their philanthropy through the John D. & Alexandra C. Nichols Family Foundation. John D. Nichols is the former CEO of Illinois Tool Works and Marmon Holdings Inc., a charitable vehicle which strongly focuses on Chicago and its suburbs, especially Winnetka, where the family resides. Grantmaking areas of interest are arts and culture, education, youth, human services, and health.

This foundation does not have a website to guide grantseekers. However, the couple, via their foundation, heavily support arts and culture organizations in Chicagoland. Some of the family's major gifts have come with naming rights. Especially important grantees include Writers Theatre, home to the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre; Lyric Opera, where there's an endowed chair in the Nichols' name; and Harris Theater, where Alexandra serves as chair. Other grantees have included Landmarks Illinois, WTTW Chicago Public Media, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Winnetka Historical Society, Chicago Philharmonic Society, and Millennium Park, Inc. The Nichols couple also provided significant funding for the restoration and preservation of the original 14-story Sears Tower, which is now named the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Tower. 

The Nichols family also supports arts schools in Chicago like Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Music Institute of Chicago, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). The couple, via their foundation, gave a $500,000 multi-year gift to SAIC to provide general support to all SAIC programs at Homan Square. The couple gave a past $14 million gift to Art Institute of Chicago. Apart from arts education, the couple has also supported Chicago public education. 

The Nichols family also earmarks funds for health and human services in the Chicago area like Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital Foundation, NorthShore University HealthSystem Foundation, Winnetka Community House, and Greater Chicago Food Depository. In terms of youth organizations, one important grantee is UCAN, home to the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Center. The couple also have been steadily involved Junior Achievement of Chicago. Nichols joined the JA board of directors in 1982 and was chairman from 1984 to 1987. 

In a recent year, the Nichols Family Foundation gave away around $3.1 million. Grantseekers can learn more about this funder’s giving by examining the foundation’s recent tax records. The foundation focuses grantmaking on the Chicago area. Away from Chicago, Nichols also supports his alma mater, Harvard.

It does not appear that the foundation accepts unsolicited grant applications. The foundation’s phone number is 847-441-6592.


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