William G. McGowan Charitable Fund: Chicago Grants

OVERVIEW: Although McGowan is a national funder, a good number of grants are regularly awarded in the Chicago area. Priorities include education, vulnerable communities, and healthcare and medical research.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, healthcare & medical research, human services

IP TAKE: Healthcare and medical funding are a big part of annual grantmaking, with a focus on cardiac care. Education has received pretty consistent support and is broadly focused on graduation rates and pre-K to grade 12 programs.

PROFILE: Established in 1992, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund is a family foundation. McGowan was the founder and chairman of MCI Communications and expanded the company from a local radio service to a $9.5 billion telecommunications giant. This fund was established upon his death from heart disease in 1992.

There are three grantmaking program areas at the Chicago-based McGowan Foundation: human services, education, and health care and medical research. Typical grant recipients include both community organizations and leading academic institutions. McGowan provides community grants to organizations that serve the elderly, disabled, homeless, and poverty-stricken through job training, education, wellness, and community building. The foundation committed over $1.4 million to community grants in a recent year, and most of these grants were between $10,000 and $50,000. Local community grant recipients included the Young Men’s Educational Network and Food Desert Action.

McGowan has focused its education grantmaking on poor, disadvantaged neighborhoods, addressing achievement gaps, and boosting graduation rates. Pre-K through grade 12 programs have been considered for grants. More recently, there's been a focus on early childhood education programs, out-of-school programs, charter and faith-based alternative schools, and teacher training. Learn more here.

Health care and medical research grantmaking is focused on institutions that advance cardiac disease research and heart disease prevention programs. The founder, William McGowan, succumbed to a six-year battle with heart disease after two heart attacks and a heart transplant. The foundation launched an obesity-prevention initiative in fall 2013 called Healthy Way to Grow, which is a collaboration with the American Heart Association and the nonprofit children’s health system, Nemours. This program was launched in six communitiesin Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, and Nevada. McGowan committed over $1.5 million to healthcare grants and $1.3 million to medical research in the program's first year. Learn more about the program here.

Although McGowan is a national funder, a good number of grants are regularly awarded in the Chicago area. The Chicago area focus is on the neighborhoods of Austin and North Lawndale, as well as the suburban city of Aurora. Outside of Illinois, McGowan grants are restricted to specific parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Western and Upstate New York, and Northeast Pennsylvania.

This funder has awarded over $135 million in grants. This is a foundation that likes to partner up with other funders that share similar program areas and collaborate on joint projects. In addition to the grantmaking programs, McGowan has a fellowship program for top-ranked MBA students who are dedicated to ethical leadership and societal concerns.

Fortunately for grantseekers, McGowan does accept unsolicited letters of inquiry through an online system. It does not, however, make a habit of supporting advocacy, building funds, capital campaigns, endowments, sponsorships, grants to individuals, international grants, or the arts. And it doesn’t fund multi-year awards, either. The board of directors considers new grant requests three times per year, and letter of inquiry deadlines are November 15, March 15, and July 15.

There are only three people on staff at the McGowan Charitable Fund – an executive director, fellows program director, and administrator. To get in touch with the McGowan staff about grants, call 312-243-3198 or email diana.spencer@williammcgowanfund.org.


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