Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.



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.


The Joyce Foundation's program areas are Education, Employment, Environment, Culture, Democracy and Gun Violence Prevention. Grant making focuses 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 K-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. The Foundation does 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.


The Education Program works to close the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and communities of color from their peers by improving the quality of teachers they encounter in school, enhancing early reading policies, and exploring such innovations as charter schools.

Program priorities are:

Teacher Quality: The Foundation supports efforts to improve federal, state, and district policies so that high-need schools in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis can attract and retain first-rate teachers. Efforts include research, policy development, advocacy, and evaluation related to reform of recruiting and hiring systems, alternative routes into teaching, teacher support, reform of teacher and principal evaluation and tenure systems, and reform of teacher compensation and pension systems.

Early Reading: The Foundation supports policy initiatives to ensure that students read well by the end of third grade to help close the achievement gap. Efforts include research, public education, policy development, and advocacy designed to:

  • Create more effective policies and measures of student and teacher performance on important reading skills in grades pre-K–3.
  • Provide pre-K–3 teachers with more training before and after they enter the classroom on how to most effectively teach reading.
  • Integrate effective early reading policies with other Joyce Foundation teacher quality strategies.

Innovation Grants: A small portion of program funds is reserved for other outstanding opportunities to close the achievement gap, especially policy-oriented efforts to expand the supply of high-quality charter schools in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis.


The overarching goal of the Employment Program is to establish the Midwest as the leader of the most innovative and effective employment education and training strategies in the country. Grant making specifically supports efforts to increase skill and credential attainment by low-income adult workers in three primary program areas:

Basic Foundational Skills: In order to provide underprepared adults in the region with the basic foundational skills needed to be successful in 21st century work and technical training, the Foundation supports the evaluation and scaling efforts of promising adult education programs that build basic foundational skills, particularly in the context of work and occupations.

Industry Training Partnerships: In order to ensure that occupational education and training for underprepared adults is valuable in the labor market, the Foundation supports efforts to:

  • Expand partnerships between industry associations and educational organizations to create certifications, promote them within the industry, and build them into educational programs;
  • Research return on investment from employer policies promoting employee education and skill development, particularly among entry-level and low-wage workers;
  • Reform federal and state policy around enabling and incentivizing such policies ; and
  • Align economic and workforce development and make workforce programs demand-driven through planning and coordination.

Innovation Fund: In order to create step-change improvement in pursuit of the program’s goals, the Foundation supports the development, testing, and promotion of new education and training ideas.

The Employment Program supports some cross-cutting efforts such as those that aim to improve workforce data collection and use, and city level strategies that would support progress on the program’s overarching goal. Target metropolitan regions include Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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


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:

  • The introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in and around the Great Lakes Basin;
  • Polluted, non-point source runoff from agricultural lands and cities. Watershed-based investments related to reducing nonpoint source pollution will continue to focus on the Greater Milwaukee River Watersheds and the Western Lake Erie Basin. The use of green infrastructure as a way to better manage stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows in urban areas; and
  • Funding of and support for Great Lakes restoration and protection policies. This includes implementation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative related work. Support for state and regional work to defend and advance policies to protect and restore the Great Lakes with an emphasis on reducing polluted runoff from cities and farms, promoting the use of green infrastructure and making the case for maintained or increased state and federal investment in Great Lakes restoration.

Energy Efficiency: The Joyce Foundation will seek and support funding opportunities to put the Midwest on a path to adopt all energy efficiency measures that are cheaper than generating more power by 2020. Proposals will be considered for work at the local, state, regional and, on a very limited basis, national levels that address the following opportunities:

  • Leveraging state policies—including energy efficiency resource standards, smart grid deployment plans, and decoupling measures—to drive increased and more effectively targeted utility investments in building energy efficiency; and
  • Identifying, testing, and replicating the most effective building energy efficiency delivery models, whether those are focused at the community level, on a particular type of building, or a group of energy consumers with shared characteristics.


Gun violence claims 30,000 persons in the United States every year, including lives lost in gun homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings. An additional 60,000 Americans are injured by guns annually. This public health and public safety crisis takes an enormous toll on families, and offends the right of all Americans to be safe in their communities. Evidence-based policies and practices that limit easy access to illegal firearms, and curb the lethality of firearms, can help reduce gun deaths and injuries.

The Foundation supports local, state, regional, and national projects that:

  • Advance state-based policy advocacy and organizing to secure effective gun violence prevention policies and practices;
  • Improve public engagement in support of effective gun violence prevention policies and practices;
  • Build effective coalitions to secure support for gun violence prevention policy reform among groups most impacted by gun violence;
  • Support Second Amendment legal strategies to uphold effective gun violence prevention policies and practices; and
  • Encourage policy-oriented research and data collection to support effective gun violence prevention policies and practices.


The overriding 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, accountability, competition, and maximizing informed citizen participation. Accordingly, the Foundation seeks to create political cultures in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin which make it possible for more citizens, not just those who are wealthy and well-connected, to run for public office; offer voters real candidate and policy choices at election time; protect voting rights; respect the independence and impartiality of the courts; guarantee the fairness and reliability of elections; and provide citizens with the information needed to make reasoned decisions.

To promote these ends, the Foundation supports organizations and coalitions in the Midwest that are willing and have the skills to:

  • Contribute to the development and promotion of broad, multi-issue political reform agendas within the target states, including improvements in the laws and practices governing campaign finance, elections, redistricting, judicial selection, voting rights, and local news coverage of government and politics.
  • Engage in activities necessary for effective advocacy including: policy research and development; public and policy maker education; civic engagement, particularly in underrepresented communities; coalition building; news media outreach; and participation in official proceedings, including litigation.
  • Work collaboratively with other reform and civic groups, academic and legal experts, and policy makers to advance shared goals within their states and across the region
  • Participate in activities designed to enhance their capacities in the areas of strategic planning, organizing, coalition building, fundraising, advocacy, and communications.


Promoting Access: To encourage mid-sized and major cultural institutions to increase the participation of people of color in their audiences, boards, and staff

Community-based arts: To strengthen the infrastructure and leadership of culturally-specific and community-based arts organizations.

Supporting Creativity: To stimulate the commissioning and production of new works that would be relevant to audiences of color, and support the artistic development of artists of color.

Innovation: To seek and test new ideas emerging in the arts field that heighten digital engagement, use compelling storytelling vehicles to relay the power of art and create partnerships outside of the typical art realm leading to diverse arts audiences.


The Special Opportunities Program supports communications-oriented projects that enhance public understanding of the Foundation’s issues, projects that bridge two or more of the Foundation’s programs, or projects that 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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