Polk Brothers Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Polk Brothers Foundation focuses its attention on public education, poverty, and medical care institutions that have proven track records of success in the Chicago metropolitan area.

IP TAKE: Although the foundation's focus areas seem pretty general, they are actually very specific once you take a closer look. For best results, pitch a program that aligns with Polk's pointed objectives and be prepared to stay in touch in the years ahead.

PROFILE: The Polk Brothers Foundation exists because of decades of success in the family's retail furniture and appliance stores. Since it was established in 1988, the foundation has been run by family members to reduce the impact of poverty and provide Chicago residents with quality education, preventive medicine, and basic human services. The foundation's endowment increased when all the family stores closed in 1992, and the assets have been on the rise ever since.

There are five areas of funding here: workforce development, housing and homelessness, community safety, legal services, and community & economic development.

Polk has partnered up with Chicago Continuum of Care, the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative, and the Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development, among numerous other non-profit organizations. Past Polk Brother Grants include $25,000 to About Face Theatre, $20,000 to the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, $25,000 to the Albany Park Community Center, and $60,000 to the Inner City Muslim Action Network.

Chicago Public Schools and city homeless shelters can find a friend in the Polk Brothers. Current initiatives are the Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy and the 25th Anniversary Fund. Collaborations are in the works for the Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development, Chicago Area Donors to End Domestic Violence, and Chicago Arts Education Collaborative.

Although there are no deadlines to apply for a grant with the Polk Brothers, applications are considered at quarterly board meetings in February, May, August, and November. Be sure to review Polk's application procedure page before submitting a pre-application form. The foundation usually responds within one month to let you know if you've got the green light to submit a full application. Unlike many foundations in the city, Polk actually will consider your capacity-building and capital campaigns proposals. Polk has also considered proposals for technical assistance and training.

Very few awards are made to organizations outside of Chicago, so you'll only be competing against your nearby neighbors. Your social services proposal should aim to improve workforce development, housing, legal services, and youth causes. Polk's education program revolves around Chicago Public Schools and adult literacy programs. Save your standard arts proposal for another foundation, because Polk only likes to fund in-school and after-school cultural programs that supplement education. Although Polk will look at community-based health programs, its staff is most passionate about in-school health services.

Polk wants to stay in touch with its grantees after writing the check, so be prepared to write follow-up reports for the foundation at least once a year. Polk also likes to stick to organizations it is familiar with, so multiyear and repeating grants are certainly not uncommon. For general inquiries, you can reach the foundation staff at 312-527-4684.


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