Meet the Foundation Supporting Health Access in Chicago that you’ve Never Heard Of

There isn’t much glamour in this kind of work, but someone has to do it. Since 1890—that’s right, for over 100 years—the VNA Foundation has been dedicated to community health initiatives in and around Chicago. First as a hands-on care group—VNA stands for Visiting Nurse Association, after all—and later, from 1995 forward, as a grantmaker funding groups doing the hands-on health work, VNAF has been giving out funding to the tune of about $2 million per year.

And here's the beautiful thing is, they’re as transparent as glass. They’re generous and accessible, and if you’re Chicago-based with a health access angle, you need to know about them.

The VNA Foundation funds a wide range of initiatives each year, and its grant range from $1,000 upwards to $150,000, with most grants falling in the $10,000 to $50,000 range. Recent funded projects include everything from funding school nurse positions at disadvantaged schools, to hospice, to support for the AIDS Foundation and the American Cancer Society’s Chicago chapters, to mobile dental care.

VNA seems to have a warm spot in their heart for the smallest organizations doing the grittiest front-lines work of bolstering community health, and favor groups for whom a few thousand dollars means a lot. They don’t discriminate, either, between program, operations, capital, and start-up grants: they take each proposal as it comes, considering it on its merits and giving it whatever support is appropriate. At the same time, they insist that all grants be able to show measurable outcomes. 

Their website is easy to navigate, and chock-a-block with FAQs, lists of recent grants, and clear annual reports so you can see exactly where their money is going. They even offer examples of successful proposals that they found particularly compelling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if every foundation showed off its favorite proposals, for the edification of all prospective grantees? We can only dream.

VNAF has four quarterly deadlines for LOIs, which must be submitted through their grants management system (an online tutorial for how to use it is available.) Though this year’s March deadline has passed, that still leaves the September 18th and December 18th deadlines, as well as the March 19th, 2015 deadline to try for. Check out their guidelines, and good luck!