Grainger: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: W.W. Grainger, Inc. and the Grainger Foundation have philanthropic efforts in disaster preparedness and response, support for programs working in the skilled trades, an employee matching gifts program, and a combined volunteer/financial local giving program. Community grants are in the thousands of dollars and include universities and colleges. The foundation has also made high-profile, multi-million-dollar contributions to the universities attended by W.W. Grainger and his son, D.W. Grainger. It also gives community college scholarship support for training in technical skills and public safety, with a special concern for U.S. military veterans.

IP TAKE: Grainger’s high-level giving is focused on the training of its future workforce, and the foundation gives to pre-selected organizations only. But lower-level funding decisions are made based on recommendations to the foundation by senior local staff, so it may be worth reaching out to them.

PROFILE: W.W. Grainger, Inc. was started in Illinois 1927 by William Wallace Grainger. Today, it is a self-described “leading distributor of industrial supplies, MRO equipment, tools and materials.” Grainger’s philanthropy is channeled through its Corporate Responsibility program as well as the Grainger Foundation. Giving is distributed nationwide in areas where the company has a corporate presence, and includes a wide range of recipients - including those in higher ed.

More specifically, Grainger has four main giving methods: help with disaster preparedness and response, support for programs working in the skilled trades, an employee matching gifts program, and a combined volunteer/financial local giving program.

In terms of higher ed support, the most important realms are Grainger’s Skilled Trades and Matching Gifts programs. In the skilled trades, the most prominent effort Grainger has made is its “Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarship program. Working with the American Association of Community Colleges, every year Grainger “offer[s] two scholarships of $2,000 each at 125 community colleges in the skilled trade and public safety programs.” In addition, Grainger also provides “tools to students after they graduate to help them launch a successful career.” It’s worth noting as well that, “Half of the scholarships offered are earmarked for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Also in the community college realm, Grainger has partnerships with City Colleges of Chicago as well as “One Million Degrees, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to providing comprehensive support to low-income, highly motivated community college students.”

Higher ed organizations are also eligible for funding through the Grainger Foundation’s Community Grant Program. In this case, Grainger Branch Leaders and Distribution Center Directors are asked “to identify charitable organizations within their local communities and make recommendations to The Grainger Foundation to fund grants…[which] normally range from $1,000 to $10,000.” Dozens of higher ed organizations received awards in this range in a recent year.

Grainger has also made some major contributions to several universities in recent years. One of the most notable of these is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative (GEBI). With tens of millions of dollars in Grainger Foundation funding and an initial focus on “bioengineering and big data,” GEBI boasts a scholarship endowment as well as a massive expansion of its Engineering department.

Similarly, a $25 million contribution to the University of Wisconsin-Madison helped establish that university’s Grainger Institute of Engineering, which will engage in research by allocating its funds towards “professorships, faculty scholar awards and postdoctoral fellowships,” and the university’s business school building is named Grainger following a $10 million contribution from David W. Grainger (W.W.’s son) as and the foundation.

It’s worth noting that D.W. Grainger is a U-W alum and that his father graduated from U of I.

On a smaller but still significant scale, the Grainger Foundation has also given awards in recent years to support faculty, research, scholarships, and the like at schools such as MIT, the Michigan Tech Fund, the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of Maryland College Park Foundation. These grant awards have been mostly in the tens of thousands of dollars each.

While Grainger (the company) does host a corporate social responsibility site that provides an overview of its giving, the foundation does not have a clear way to seek funding. Furthermore, according to the Foundation Center, the Grainger Foundation “contributes only to pre-selected charitable organizations” and that “grant requests received from organizations other than those first contacted by The Grainger Foundation cannot be acknowledged.”

That said, it may be worth reaching out to your nearest Branch Leader or Distribution Center Director responsible for making grant recommendations to the foundation.


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    The Grainger Foundation, Inc.
    100 Grainger Parkway
    Lake Forest, IL 60045-5201
    elephone:  (847) 535-2030