The Gheens Foundation

OVERVIEW: This funder supports public education, economic development, medicine, the arts, and social/health services in the Louisville, Kentucky, metro area and in two Louisiana parishes. It accepts unsolicited applications four times per year.

 FUNDING AREAS: Public education, economic development, medicine, the arts, social/health services

IP TAKE: This is a great foundation for Louisville, Kentucky grant seekers to know. It is a big one in the state, and it has a very narrow geographic focus.

PROFILE: The Gheens Foundation prioritizes Metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky, and to the Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in Louisiana. It seeks to “improve the quality of life for all citizens and institutions of Metropolitan Louisville and Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in Louisiana by creative grant-making and philanthropic leadership to meet the present and emerging needs of [these] communities.” It is based in Louisville and was founded in 1957 by C. Edwin and Mary Jo Gheens. Mr. Gheen had a large and successful candy manufacturing company in Louisville and a plantation in Louisiana. This is one of the largest private foundations in the state of Kentucky, with about $6.5 million in grants annually.

Most grants stay in the Louisville area. On rarer occasions, Gheens will consider Kentucky organizations outside the Louisville area. In Louisiana, grantmaking is conducted through the Bayou Community Foundation.

Gheens’ funding priorities are broad, encompassing public education, economic development, medicine, the arts, and social/health services. The foundation seeks to balance current needs with future ones as much as possible.

There are four grantmaking deadlines, typically falling in February, May, August, and November. Applications are due at 5:00 pm on deadline days. Nonprofits can apply once per 12-month period for grants; the application is all online.

In previous years many Louisville-area grants have been between $10,000 and $100,000. Past support has gone to the Boys & Girls Club in Louisville, the Cabbage Patch Settlement House, the Canaan Community Development Corporation, and the Arts & Cultural Events Foundation. See a full list of past grantees here.

The foundation has been valued at about $145 million, and it has made well over $105 million in grants since its inception. It distributes about five percent of its total assets each year. This funder is very open to new ideas—in fact, about 30 percent of grants go to new initiatives each year.

Before her death, Mrs. Gheen selected friends to serve as trustees for the foundation. There are six trustees now. Also, there are four staff members at the foundation: a chair/CEO, a president/treasurer, a secretary, and a grants administrator.  The foundation’s address is 401 West Main Street, Suite 705, Louisville, Kentucky, 40202.


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