Rosemary Keefe, Illinois Tool Works Foundation

TITLE: Director of Community Relations, Illinois Tool Works

FUNDING AREAS: Arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and youth programs

CONTACT: 847-724-7500

IP TAKE: Keefe has been trying to get her foundation to communicate better and decide upon common grantmaking goals. Although the goals are still somewhat undefined, STEM education proposals fare well. Make sure your program benefits communities in which Illinois Tool Works (ITW) operates.

PROFILE: Rosemary Keefe might not be all that handy with a box of tools, but she has gained a lot of handy experience in corporate America over the years. Keefe, who now serves as director of community relations of for Illinois Tool Works, assumed the position when her predecessor, Mary Ann Mallahan, retired in 2008. At that time, Keefe was chosen for her passion and experience in community building, which makes sense given a major aspect of the job is overseeing the Fortune 200 company's foundation.

At ITW, Keefe is responsible for corporate funding, foundation funding, in-kind gifts, pro bono operations, volunteer programs, and leadership placement. She's the spokeswoman for the corporation's foundation and serves as an example of volunteerism to ITW employees.

Keefe serves as a board member at the American Cancer Society, Ruby Bridges Foundation, the College of Lake County, and America Scores. Prior to joining ITW, this mother of four pursued a career as a trained chef, running her own restaurant from 1993 to 2008. She got most of her relevant experience by spending 15 years as Hewitt's global leader of corporate social responsibility. Back in the day, she also spent eight years as vice president of human resources for American Express.

Contrary to what you may think, ITW manufacturers much more than the products found on your garage workbench. The company makes automobile products, construction products, paper, and food and beverage products. In 2012, the corporate foundation gave more than $23 million to charity. However, almost all of that was attributed to employee matching gifts and United Way contributions. Only $3.4 million went toward grants and pledges.

In a 2009 video interview, Keefe explained that the main problem with ITW's philanthropy is that it's "highly decentralized" and that communication about national programs is difficult. Her solution to this problem has been to seek local ownership and place local needs in the hands of local employees. Even though the foundation's name sounds local, ITW is a global company that gets 30 percent of its revenue from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and 20 percent from Asia and the Pacific regions. Although the United Way receives most of the foundation's support, Keefe has been instrumental in making its operations as locally based as possible.

Over the past couple of years, Keefe has been trying to get ITW to narrow down the giving priority areas and bring continuity to the grantmaking program. As a general rule, she's definitely looking for non-profit organizations that operate where ITW employees work and live. As with many Chicago foundations, geography matters. Keefe also wants to make sure that grantees' causes are of interest to ITW employees. Within those parameters, nonprofits need to pitch programs to ITW that align with its core competencies, whether in the construction industry or in alleviating hunger.

Keefe works with the other foundation staff to narrow down grant and pledge recipients in a wide, somewhat undefined, mix of charitable causes. Grants equate to funding for one year and pledges are for five years. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education grant proposals tend to fare better than most others. To learn more about ITW's funding opportunities, check out the community relations portion of the ITW website.

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