OVERVIEW: The Woods Fund of Chicago is the Chicago-exclusive branch of the Woods Charitable Fund, which focuses on the donor's original hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. Almost all Woods grants are awarded to public policy, anti-racism, and community development organizations in the Chicago metropolitan area.
IP TAKE: Woods grants are fairly small yet accessible to nonprofits in the city of Chicago. You're better off sending your arts and culture proposal to another foundation that places more of a priority on that focus area. This is the foundation to pitch your civil rights and antiracism proposal.
PROFILE: Another product of old money, the Woods Fund of Chicago was established in 1941 and reported more than $50 million in contributions to 436 Chicago-area nonprofits from 1994 to 2010. The Woods Family was originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, and later moved to Chicago. The family established the fund to serve both locations, with a focus on children, families, and civil rights. The primary focus of Woods's grantmaking is on enabling work and reducing poverty within the city. Although the majority of funds go toward programs that organize communities and advocate public policy, a few arts and culture grants are occasionally awarded as well.
Woods typically awards between $2 million to $3 million in grants every year, and it pays specific attention to nonprofits that work to eliminate structural racism. At the end of a past year, the foundation reported over $68.8 million in assets. Giving is limited to the Chicago metropolitan area, so you'll be facing a lot less competition here than at many of the city's other foundations.
These have been important issues to the Woods Fund:
- Fighting poverty
- Fighting structural racism
- Racial justice
- Community organizing
- Affordable housing/low-income housing
- Criminal justice reform
- Early childhood education
- Government accountability
- Immigration reform
- Income supports/security
- Juvenile justice
- Neighborhood safety
- Public school reform
- Workers' rights
- Workforce development
In early 2014, the foundation launched a two-year initiative called Right on Justice with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council and the Adler School of Professional Psychology's Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice. The goal of this initiative was to put an end to "punitive policies at the school and community level and advance restorative justice alternatives to school push out and criminalization of communities of color, reforming the justice system, and building capacity for restorative justice solutions."
Woods awards almost all its grants for general operating support, rather than specific program development. The grants are not as large as those awarded by other area foundations, usually ranging from $10,000 to $60,000 a piece. The fund gives out about 100 of them each year.
The Woods Fund believes that systemic change is the only way to eliminate racism and poverty, so make sure your proposal revolves around it. To be seriously considered, the proposal should break apart racial divisions on politics, policies, and community groups. The fund is interested in making policy more than maintaining the status quo. Proposals that benefit Chicago's South Side and that advocate for public education reform tend to fare well at Woods.
The application guidelines are detailed on Woods's forms and deadlines page, and the foundation accepts applications twice per year. Letter of inquiry forms and letter of application forms can be downloaded directly from the website. If you have general questions, you can reach the program officers at 312-782-2698.
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