What This Jewish Women's Funder Cares about in Chicago Right Now

Two years ago, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JFW) hired a new leader, Ellen B. Carmell. Back then, we noted that Carmell was a progressive who gets the importance of advocacy and has an arts background. Thus far, this has worked well with the foundation’s ideals of a strong gender focus and empowering women.

Related: Chicago’s Jewish Women’s Foundation has a New Leader: So What Next?

Carmell still leads the foundation as its executive director today, and we wanted to take a look at how recent grantmaking has played out. To close out 2016, the foundation committed $345,000 to 21 projects that aim to improve the lives of Jewish women and girls. It currently has three areas of focus: economic security and legal reform; education and leadership development; and health and wellbeing.

In the realm of economic security and legal reform, JWF grantmaking often touches on economic empowerment, financial literacy, legal advocacy, professional development, business development and micro-enterprise. One representative grantee was WePower: The College for Women, which received a grant to advocate for women's representation in Israeli government.

JWF’s health and well-being grantmaking frequently includes topics like domestic violence, violence against women, health education, and screening and prevention programs. Programs that pursue social justice initiatives and strengthen the Jewish identity do well with this funder. Meanwhile, the foundation’s education and leadership development program is all about teen mentoring, advocacy and leadership programs, community empowerment, and service-learning. JWF has recently supported efforts to document the personal testimonies of sexual assault survivors to help other victims understand they are not alone.

The bulk of this year’s grantees are based in Chicago, but other grants went to groups in Israel, New York, Argentina, and Russia. Yet priority still remains on the Chicago metro area. Regardless of location, grants tend to be between $10,000 and $25,000 in size. A full list of grantees can be viewed here.

JWF has a tendency to provide renewal grants to organizations that it has supported in the past, so this is a good funder to get in with for the long-term. For example, JWF recently awarded a renewal grant to the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore Section for its Jewish Community Against Sex Trafficking Coalition Chicago efforts. Chicago groups also tend to fare well with JWF’s Ellie Fund, and new grantees for this fund include Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network and the University of Chicago Medicine.

This foundation has a wide basis of support. There are over 330 trustees, including more than 40 multi-generational families involved in philanthropic dealings.

"JWF serves as a forum for Jewish women to be heard, to learn, to act, and to lead," said Nancy Kohn, JWF Chair. "Sitting at our philanthropic table are women representing different perspectives and generations, but who share a deep commitment to advancing Jewish women and girls."

Impressively, the foundation has a pledged endowment of almost $9 million. JWF has now entered into its 20th year of grantmaking, awarding $3.5 million to 153 projects thus far. We are expecting big things out of this Chicago-based funder in 2017 since it's an anniversary year.

Revisit the foundation’s how to apply section of its website soon for information about upcoming deadlines. Last year, the deadline to submit a letter of intent was in May. Then, full proposals are generally due in July.