Working to improve quality of life, promote community vitality and achieve a fair society.



The Joyce Foundation supports efforts to protect the natural environment of the Great Lakes, to reduce poverty and violence in the region, and to ensure that its people have access to good schools, decent jobs, and a diverse and thriving culture. We are especially interested in improving public policies, because public systems such as education and welfare directly affect the lives of so many people, and because public policies help shape private sector decisions about jobs, the environment, and the health of our communities. To ensure that public policies truly reflect public rather than private interests, we support efforts to reform the system of financing election campaigns.

The Joyce Foundation was created in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean of Chicago. The Joyce family wealth, based on lumber and sawmill interests, was left to the Foundation when Mrs. Kean died in 1972. Over the years, the Foundation has continued to respond to changing social needs, contributing approximately $820 million in grants to groups working to improve the quality of life in the Great Lakes region.


Our program areas are Education, Employment, The Joint Fund for Education and Employment, Environment, Culture, Democracy and Gun Violence Prevention. We focus our grant making on initiatives that promise to have an impact on the Great Lakes region, specifically the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A limited number of environment grants are made to organizations in Canada. Education grant making in PK-12 focuses on Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis; The Employment Program primarily focuses on federal and state policy grants, but will make some grants to support targeted metro-level progress in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Culture grants are primarily focused in the City of Chicago, except for the Joyce Awards, which extend to other Midwest cities. We do not generally support capital proposals, endowment campaigns, religious activities, commercial ventures, direct service programs, or scholarships.

The Joyce Foundation is committed to improving public policy through its grant program. Accordingly, the Foundation welcomes grant requests from organizations that engage in public policy advocacy. Federal tax law prohibits private foundations from funding lobbying activities. The Foundation may support organizations engaged in public policy advocacy by either providing general operating support or by funding educational advocacy such as nonpartisan research, technical assistance, or examinations of broad social issues. The Foundation encourages grant applicants to describe the nature of advocacy activities in their grant applications and reports, so the Foundation can ensure that it is in compliance with federal tax laws. For further information on the relevant federal tax laws, grant applicants should consult their tax advisors.


Research shows that too many students, especially low-income and minority children, fail to complete high school, and those who do graduate often lack the knowledge and skills necessary for college success. The problem begins at a young age, where research shows an achievement gap between poor and non-poor children exists by kindergarten entry. The problem is exacerbated in elementary and high school when disadvantaged students often have the least effective teachers. The Education Program works to ensure all students—especially those who are low-income and minority—are prepared for life success by improving the quality of teachers they encounter in school, enhancing early education policies, and supporting policies that ensure high school students have a seamless transition from high school to college and careers.

Teacher Quality: We support efforts to improve federal, state, and district policies to ensure students, especially those in high-need schools in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis, have access to teachers who are highly trained, properly evaluated, and well supported. Joyce supports efforts to develop policies that help attract high-caliber candidates into the profession, ensure they are properly trained and evaluated, and provide educators with the support and career opportunities they need.

Kindergarten Readiness: The Foundation supports policy initiatives that ensure all children, particularly those who are low-income and minority, are academically and developmentally ready to succeed when they enter kindergarten. Efforts include research, public education, policy development, and advocacy to:

  • Develop cost-effective ways to engage families and help strengthen parent-child interactions and early learning outcomes; and
  • Ensure preschool children have access to excellent teachers.


Economic opportunity is a core American value. However, recent economic trends, including the widening income gap and the rise of involuntary part-time and contingent work, coupled with the evidence of weak economic mobility, raise serious concerns. The economy is changing rapidly and disadvantaged adult workers with few skills may face even more trouble accessing good job opportunities in the future. We seek to expand economic opportunities for disadvantaged individuals, and promote competitiveness and economic vitality in the Great Lakes region.

Research shows that skills and credentials are correlated with positive life outcomes for individuals and families. Therefore we focus on two key issues:

  • building foundational skills necessary for underprepared adults to succeed in college and other forms of training necessary to access good jobs;
  • supporting the creation of partnerships between industry and education and workforce development entities so they can respond to labor market changes with nimble and creative placement and training solutions.

Foundational Skills: To improve the basic skills and technical training of underprepared adults in the region, the Foundation supports the evaluation and scaling up of promising adult education efforts, with a particular focus on technology-based solutions. These skills are essential for success in the twenty-first century work environment.

Industry Workforce Partnerships: To ensure that occupational training for underprepared adults  is addressing what employers need, the Foundation supports efforts to (1) expand partnerships between industry groups and educational organizations; (2) promote the integration of work-based learning into education and training programs; (3) conduct research on the value of employer investments in employee skill development, particularly among entry-level and low-wage workers; and (4) reform federal and state policy around enabling and incentivizing such policies.

Cross-Cutting Data and Policy: To improve policies that support the expansion of foundational skills and industry workforce partnerships, the Foundation supports a limited number of projects that aim to improve workforce data collection and use in the policymaking process and federal and state policy advocacy.

Joint Fund for Education and Employment: In order to support more children, youth, and adults in becoming college and career ready, the Joint Fund focuses on: 1) creating clear paths within and between secondary and postsecondary institutions that incorporate academics and real world learning applications; 2) building personal success skills necessary for academic, work, and life success; and 3) promoting strategies to increase student engagement in learning. More information can be found here. 

The program does not accept proposals to support direct-service programs.

Joint Fund for Education and Employment

While high school graduation rates have risen  over the past two decades, too many high school graduates are not academically prepared for college and do not complete a degree. Approximately two-thirds of high school seniors are not proficient in reading or math. Not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of entering community college students end up in developmental education; there, many fall off the college path. Without a college degree, those students’ prospects for family-sustaining wages and career stability dim dramatically. This problem will only become more severe. Due to changes in the economy, employers are demanding ever-increasing skills, both cognitive and personal success skills, and workers will need to be more resilient as dislocations occur at an increasing pace. Innovations in teaching and learning have strong potential to help increase student engagement, teach a combination of cognitive and personal success skills, and improve education and employment outcomes.

The Foundation therefore invests in three areas:

  1. Pathways. Bridge the gap between high school and college to: (1) build high school students’ academic preparedness for college and (2) encourage students to enroll in and persist through college. Our focus will be on efforts that align K–12 and postsecondary pathways and promote career exploration through exposure to the world of work and real-world simulations.
  2. Personal success skills. Build individuals’ personal success skills (interpersonal and intrapersonal skills) in ways that promote academic achievement, social and emotional well-being, college retention, and/or workplace success. We will strive to understand how the non-academic skills crucial to individuals’ success can be measured and taught by building on the most recent research in this field.
  3. Teaching and learning. Improve teaching and learning in ways that will promote academic preparedness, college attainment, and skill-building. It seems increasingly likely that current teaching approaches will need to evolve if all students are to acquire the full set of cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills necessary for academic and workplace success. We are interested in approaches that emphasize real-world application of skills, develop learner agency, personalize learning, and use technology intelligently within a well-designed overall learning experience. We will support efforts to identify, document, measure, and spread promising approaches.

The program does not support direct-service programs.


The Environment Program is committed to speeding the Midwest’s transition to a thriving, low-carbon economy; protecting and restoring a healthy Great Lakes environment which sustains the millions of Americans and Canadians who live along and depend upon the Lakes; and broadening the base of support for strong environmental policies in our home region.

Energy Efficiency: Energy efficiency remains the fastest, cheapest way to reduce Midwest carbon pollution and offers many co-benefits such as job creation and cost savings. Policy and market failures currently prevent energy consumers and energy utilities from capturing the full value of energy efficiency, but they can and should be fixed.

The Joyce Foundation will support opportunities to dramatically reduce carbon pollution from the Midwest power sector between now and 2030 by maximizing the use of energy efficiency alongside cleaner power generation in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Proposals will be considered for projects:

  • leveraging state policies—including energy efficiency resource standards, power sector carbon pollution standards implementation plans, smart grid deployment, and new utility business models—to reduce carbon pollution through increased and more effectively targeted utility investments in building energy efficiency; and
  • building on Chicago’s leadership in energy efficiency deployment, including scaling up building efficiency efforts within Chicago and disseminating lessons learned from those efforts to increase adoption of energy efficiency in other communities.

Great Lakes: The Joyce Foundation will seek and support funding opportunities to protect and restore the Great Lakes by considering proposals at the local, state, regional, and national levels that address the following areas:

Prevent the Introduction and Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species into and around the Great Lakes Basin

  • Strengthen federal and state ballast water policy.

  • Prevent movement of aquatic invasive species between Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins via Chicago Area Waterway.

  • Encourage a new vision for the St. Lawrence Seaway that may include modified operations.

  • Increase state collaboration on aquatic invasive species prevention and management.

Reduce Polluted Runoff from Cities and Farms

  • Reduce nonpoint source pollution from urban landscapes (Milwaukee).

  • Reduce nutrient pollution from agricultural landscapes (Western Lake Erie Basin).

  • Explore market based strategies for reducing polluted runoff from agricultural lands.

  • Explore legal and regulatory strategies for reducing polluted runoff from agricultural lands.

  • Support strategic pilots and policy shifts to promote green stormwater infrastructure.

  • Promote water quality monitoring, science, and research.

Make the Great Lakes a Policy and Funding Priority

  • Ensure effective Great Lakes Compact implementation.

  • Support state and regional groups to defend and advance policies to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

  • Support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other federal and state Great Lakes funding efforts.

  • Convene critical partners to enable maximum progress on these issues.

Building Public Will for Environmental Protection: The Joyce Foundation understands that the current base of support in our region for effective environmental public policies is too weak and too narrow to ensure success in the coming years, especially as the Midwest population becomes more diverse along with the rest of the United States. The Foundation will support a limited number of targeted interventions to educate, engage, and mobilize potentially influential constituencies in support of our environmental policy priorities.


The Culture Program works to improve communities through the arts, support art that reflects and challenges the community, and make art accessible to diverse audiences. We fund organizations working toward this end in the following areas:

Promoting Access: This funding category supports cultural institutions with concrete measurable plans to increase the participation of people of color in their audiences, boards, and staff through systemic analysis, interventions, and long-term change.

Strategies: We seek proposals and projects around diversity consulting, board training/recruitment and placement, staff professional development, on–the–job training, artist-driven community engagement projects, exhibitions/performances by artists/performers of color, and salary support for arts administrators, fellowships, internships, and artists of color. 

Capacity Building: This funding category supports initiatives to strengthen infrastructure and human capital of community-based arts organizations set in and primarily serving communities of color.

Strategies: We seek proposals and projects that build and diversify boards, strengthen fiscal expertise and improve strategic planning. Additionally, we will seek proposals that address human capital development—meaning recruitment and retention of top talent, compensation strategies, on–the–job training, critical skill building, mentoring middle managers for senior leadership, and succession planning.

Creativity: This funding category supports artists of color to create new work in partnership with nonprofit organizations. We will consider residencies, scholarships and other efforts to nurture artists’ work throughout their careers.

Strategies: Staff will seek proposals and projects around art school scholarships, artists’ residency programs, professional development, and commissions on a smaller scale outside of and in addition to the Joyce Awards.


The goal of the Democracy Program is to preserve and strengthen those values and qualities that are the foundation of a healthy democratic political system: honesty, fairness, transparency, accountability, competition, informed citizen participation, and policy decisions made in the public interest. Accordingly, the Foundation seeks to support efforts to strengthen democracy in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin in one or more of the following policy areas:

  • Campaign Finance: Increase transparency in campaign financing; foster electoral competition; encourage greater participation in government and politics by voters, donors, and candidates; and make it easier and more affordable for all candidates to communicate with voters about their qualifications and policy views.
  • Election Administration: Guarantee election integrity by vesting election administration authority in nonpartisan and independent agencies; improve registration systems; and certify the security, accessibility, usability, and reliability of voting devices.
  • Electoral Systems: Offer voters a meaningful choice by fostering competitive elections, provide for fair or proportional representation for communities of color, women, and political parties, and enhance accountability of legislators to constituents.
  • Fair Courts: Safeguard the independence, impartiality, integrity, and diversity of state courts through the adoption of new judicial selection procedures and clearer standards of conduct.
  • Voting Rights: Establish a fundamental right to vote; extend the franchise to all adult citizens; reduce barriers to participation, including discriminatory purging, stringent identification requirements, and voter-challenge procedures.


Gun violence is a serious public health and safety challenge, with more than 100,000 Americans injured or killed by guns every year. Mass shootings are becoming more frequent, and the daily toll of gun crime, homicides, suicides and accidental shootings impacts families and communities from large cities to small towns. Firearms policy is a critical component of efforts to improve public health and safety and build sustainable communities. Research demonstrates the link between access to guns and gun violence: where guns are more readily available, rates of gun death and injury are higher than they are in places where gun access is more strictly regulated. The Joyce Foundation makes grants to strengthen evidence-based public policies to reduce gun violence, in the following areas:

  • State Policy Reform: In order to strengthen state gun violence prevention policies to reduce access to firearms by persons who pose a danger to themselves or others, we support state-based policy research, advocacy, coalition building, grassroots engagement, messaging, media and communications, and legal support for organizations working in Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and in select other states that present unique opportunities. The Foundation also supports strategies to protect and defend policies from legal challenges.
  • Stakeholder and Public Engagement: The Foundation supports efforts to build engagement by key stakeholders and the public in gun violence prevention, especially law enforcement and other groups impacted by gun violence.
  • Research and Data Collection: The Foundation supports efforts to build the body of research and data to inform gun violence prevention policy and practice. We will consider projects that concern gun violence in all its forms, including suicide, homicide, criminal use of guns, and gun accidents, and that are likely to result in policy-relevant information, to assist policy development, evaluation and enforcement.
  • Innovation/Opportunity Grants: A small portion of program funds is reserved for promising emerging policy-oriented opportunities to reduce gun violence.


The Special Opportunities Program supports communications-oriented projects that (1) enhance public understanding of the Foundation’s issues, (2) bridge two or more of the Foundation’s programs, or (3) reflect concern for social equity or regional cooperation.


The President’s Discretionary Fund is used to make small, expeditious grants that advance the Foundation’s priorities, and to support other activities of interest to the Foundation. Competition for discretionary funds is very high.


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