Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation: Grants for Chicago

OVERVIEW: Patrick and Shirley Ryan are well known throughout the Chicago area, and they mostly fund programs for the arts, education, youth services, and Catholic churches.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, arts, Catholic churches and schools, youth services

IP TAKE: Although Patrick and Shirley Ryan are one of Chicago's most prominent power couples, they prefer to keep their grantmaking fairly low-key.

PROFILE: Established in 1984, the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation is a private family foundation in Illinois. Like many philanthropists in Chicago, Patrick Ryan made his fortune in the insurance business. He started selling insurance policies after college and founded Pat Ryan & Associates in 1964. In 1982, he merged Ryan Specialty Group and Combined International to create Aon, which was the largest reinsurance broker in the world. Patrick retired in 2008 to focus on Chicago's bid attempt for the 2016 Olympics. Since then, Ryan's companies have been expanding and acquiring groups like Atlantic Star Intermediaries and the United Kingdom's Direct Group. Most Ryan Foundation grants go toward education, the arts, Catholic causes, and youth services.

The Ryan Foundation does not have a website to guide grantseekers. Past foundation grants spread around Chicago include sums to Northwestern University's family therapy program, Alain Locke's charter school initiative, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. In terms of education, they have worked an education reform organization, Resources for Learning, do develop portfolio assessments for Chicago teacher certification programs, draft new charter school standards, and create an assessment and accountability system. The couple is immersed in national and local politics and also passionate about sports in Chicago.  The Ryans have contributed extensively to the athletic department at Northwestern University, Patrick's alma mater, renovating the Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field. They have also held a percentage of ownership of the Chicago Bears NFL football team.

The Ryans tend to grant a few awards each year in the $10,000 to $25,000 range to smaller schools and music organizations, such as the Music Institute of Chicago and the Providence Saint Mel School. Review the foundation’s recent tax records to learn more about local giving. Grantmaking is not restricted to only Chicago, but this is where the bulk of funds continues to go.

The foundation does not accept unsolicited applications and contributes only to pre-selected organizations. The best way to get in touch with the foundation is by phone at 312-893-6600.


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