Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: Retired Merill Lynch investment banking big shot Charles Ashby Lewis and his wife, Penny Bender Sebring, established a family foundation in their name in the mid-1990s. Grantmaking is almost exclusively limited to the city of Chicago and the northern suburb of Evanston, and education and youth services have been their highest priorities. 

FUNDING AREAS: Youth services, education, higher education, human services

IP TAKE: Urban schooling has been one of the biggest points of focus for the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation over the years. Grants tend to go to large, well-established nonprofits, and grants in the millions of dollars aren’t uncommon. Unfortunately, the foundation doesn’t have a website or accept unsolicited grant requests.

PROFILE: The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation was established in Evanston in 1996, and giving is mostly limited to Chicago and the northern suburb of Evanston. At the end of a recent year, the foundation reported over $9.7 million in assets and more than $1.6 million in total giving. Assets and giving have remained fairly steady over recent years. Although only a limited amount of information is available about foundation priorities and strategies, youth services, education, and human services are at the heart of Lewis-Sebring giving.

Charles Ashby Lewis serves as the family foundation’s Chairman today. Prior to assuming this role full-time, he spent 34 years at Merill Lynch & Co. as the investment banking giant’s Vice Chairman. He’s otherwise active in the Chicago community and philanthropy sector too.

In addition to being a Trustee and Board member at the University of Chicago, he’s a Life Trustee of Amherst and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a Trustee of the Museum of Science and Industry, a member of the Panel of Judges for the Purpose Prize; and a Life Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Illinois Chapter. During President Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, he was a member of the National Finance Committee and wrote commentaries on the campaign and the administration.

Charles’ wife, Penny Bender Sebring, is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago. She co-founded the Consortium on Chicago School Research as part of the Urban Education Institute.

The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation made news when it teamed up with Col. Jennifer Pritzker (one of many Pritzker names to know in Chicago) to contribute $2.5 million for a youth development center in Evanston. The real estate developer and Chicago billionaire, Pritzker, donated the land to support the project, valued at $1.5 million, as well as an undisclosed cash gift. Meanwhile Lewis and Sebring chipped in $1 million to support the effort. The lucky recipient is a nonprofit organization that serves youth in need, Youth Organizations Umbrella, which is building its headquarters at 1911 Church Street.

The Lewis-Sebring couple has strong ties to Evanston, as they and some of their children and grandchildren live in the suburb. However, the foundation also gives heavily in the city of Chicago. Public education is a Lewis-Sebring priority, and the foundation has been a prominent supporter of The Chicago Public Education Fund. In 2010, the foundation awarded a $5 million grant to the University of Chicago to support its work to improve urban schooling in Chicago and nationwide.

Other foundation grants have gone to the University of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. As you can see, Lewis-Sebring giving tends to gravitate toward big-name and well-established institutions in the city that already have a pre-existing relationship with the couple. Most foundation grants range in size between $10,000 and $100,000 each.

Unfortunately for grantseekers, the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation doesn’t have a website and doesn’t make its grantmaking processes known to the public. This is another one of those private foundations that only contributes to pre-selected organizations and doesn’t have staff members on call. General inquiries can be directed to 847-855-5300.  

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