Steady Does It: How the McGowan Charitable Fund Fights Homelessness

A homeless man in downtown denver

A homeless man in downtown denver

For organizations tackling systemic homelessness, here’s a consistent funding opportunity to look into. Drawing on a respectable asset base of around $150 million, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund has awarded over $135 million in grants since it got its start in 1993. This steady, accessible funder just released a new request for proposals from anti-homelessness organizations, with an emphasis on programs building paths to self-sufficiency. 

One big caveat: McGowan grants only go to organizations operating in one of six regions. The funder supports grantees in its home city of Chicago, and will support programs in certain areas of Colorado, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Kansas City metro region. These strict geographical limits may be why we don't hear more about McGowan’s grantmaking.

Another reason may be McGowan’s slow-and-steady approach. Eschewing big glitzy gifts, McGowan’s giving mainly consists of lots of five- and low six-figure grants to community nonprofits, charities, and educational institutions. In our overview of the McGowan Charitable Fund, we discuss its regular grantmaking schedule, with awards typically going out three times a year. 

McGowan’s grantmaking prioritizes three areas: education, healthcare, and vulnerable communities. Here, we’ll take a look at what McGowan is doing around homelessness, the core of its community giving. McGowan wants to help people escape the vicious cycle of homelessness: how lacking a home makes it harder to access food, health and work, making it harder to get long-term housing. 

This funder focuses on self-sufficiency in its homelessness giving, favoring efforts like job training, job placement, life skills, financial training, mental health services, and parenting support. If you seek money from McGowan, be prepared to track and quantify your impact.

That said, the cold numbers alone don’t convey what even a modest grant can do in cities like the ones McGowan funds. We hear a lot, and rightfully so, about homelessness crises in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. But just because housing is a tad more affordable in Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Kansas City doesn't mean that these places also don't have a persistent homelessness problem.—they do.  

In its 2014-2015 Report, McGowan highlights one of its anti-homelessness grantees, Denver’s Warren Village. As then-Executive Director Sharon McKnight noted, homelessness in cities like Denver can be well hidden: “They live in cars. They live on people’s floors. One of our residents would give her babies to someone, then ride the bus all night.” Serving homeless single-parent families, Warren Village received $110,000 in 2014 and 2015, with another $100,000 coming in during the most recent 2016 grant cycle. 

While most McGowan grants tackle root problems at the community level, that doesn’t mean the funder won’t support food banks and other direct service outfits that support the homeless or underserved. In its June 2016 grants, McGowan includes the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Inc. Directions on how to apply can be found here, with the next round of LOIs due on March 15.