The Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: The Kaplan Family Foundation expanded grantmaking beyond its original Chicago focus to California and the Rocky Mountain West. The Chicago portfolio is centered on education, and specifically local students making the high school-to-college transition and getting students through college.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, environment, arts & culture

IP TAKE: Applicant programs really need to be connected to Chicago Public Schools or a local college to be considered for an education grant. 

PROFILE: The Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation is one of those traditional Jewish, multi-generational funders that’s closely linked to Chicago. Driven by lifelong learning and social justice through Tzedakah, the foundation was established by Mayer Kaplan, who left the Soviet Union in the 1900s. His fortune came in the form of mattresses, as he opened a small factory in Chicago that became a franchise of the Sealy Mattress Company. The foundation was officially established in the 1950s by Mayer and his son, Morris, and a significant portion of its resources came from the 1986 sale of the Sealy Matters Company.

The board has been led by five generations of Kaplans, and three generations sit on the board today. Years ago, the foundation focused grantmaking pretty exclusively on the city of Chicago by funding programs in education, social services, the arts, the environment, and community organizing. But since 2009, Kaplan has broadened its geographic reach and narrowed its interests by supporting organizations in other places that family members live. This change allows family members living in California and the Rocky Mountain West to engage in grantmaking, too.

These days, Kaplan grantmaking in Chicago is solely focused on education. The Kaplans also make some education grants in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, environment grants are focused on Wyoming and Colorado.

Education in Chicago

In Chicago, education grantmaking is focused on students making the high school to college transition and getting students through college. Consideration is limited to education organizations within the city limits. Programs for high school students should prepare kids to apply for college, support them during their first year of college, and improve the college advising process. Chicago Public Schools and organizations working with CPS are the big targets here.

Once students get into college, Kaplan is interested in helping them stay there, especially during their freshman and sophomore years. Foundation grantmaking at this level helps students connect with college resources and earn a degree. 

Kaplan used to make grants to help students get associate degrees, job certifications, learn trades, and otherwise gain job skills through non-college opportunities. However, the foundation is no longer funding these causes, at least at this time.

Past grantees include the Gary Comer Youth Center, the Noble Network of Charter Schools, Roosevelt University, Urban Prep Academies, and the Associated Colleges of Illinois. Local education grants tend to be between $25,000 and $50,000.

The foundation made $2,460,557 in total grants in 2014. Chicago education grants made up $511,500 of that amount. No Los Angeles education grants were reported in 2014, and the yearly environmental total out west topped out at $110,000.

Other Chicago Grantmaking

However, several well-established arts and culture organizations also received Kaplan funding in 2014, even though arts and culture is not an established program area. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Public Media, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Ravinia Festival Association all received general operating support grants in 2014. Each of these grants was either $5,000 or $10,000, adding up to $35,000 for arts & culture support that year.

But it's less clear where the bulk of 2014 grantmaking actually went. The foundation allows trustees and staff to make discretionary contributions to organizations of their choosing, and they gave 62 grants totaling $1,799,333 that year.

At the end of 2013, the foundation reported over $38 million in total assets, a nearly $3 million boost from the previous year. Foundation investments are managed by Kaplan Family Investments, led by CFO Alan Tinsmon, as well as Monticello & Associates.

Organizations can apply for a grant once per year, and requests for general operating support, program support, and administrative/overhead support are considered. Overall, most grants are in the $40,000 to $75,000 range. Deadlines for letters of inquiry from new Chicago applicants often fall in May and full proposal deadlines in July. LOIs are accepted electronically at proposals@kapfam.com.

Although there are 14 board members at the Kaplan Foundation, there are just two staff members. Executive director Dinaz Mansuri can be reached at 847-681-5059 or dmansuri@kapfam.com, and program officer Shira Salman can be reached at 847-681-5056 or ssaliman@kapfam.com.

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