Beatrice Joyce Kean

About Us

The Joyce Foundation works with grantee partners to develop and advance policy reforms that promise to improve quality of life, promote community vitality, and strive for a fair society. Our grant making is driven by a belief that communities are stronger when they share benefits broadly among their people. That requires our public systems to get a few essentials right.

Joyce invests in quality public education, especially for children growing up in poverty; expansion of economic opportunity for disadvantaged workers; and a more representative democracy with broad public participation. We support policies to secure a clean and healthy natural environment, and research-based strategies that can prevent gun violence by reducing the easy accessibility of firearms. And, we support artists and arts organizations that enrich our culture with stories rooted in communities of color.

In advancing social and economic change, we invest in research to evaluate promising strategies. We learn from research findings to support advocacy that translates insights into policy – betting on good ideas, taking risks, and testing innovative solutions. 

Based in Chicago, the Joyce Foundation focuses much of its grant making in a six-state Great Lakes region -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. We also collaborate with government, advocates, and other funders to achieve policy impact beyond our home region.

Our History

Joyce is a private foundation established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean of Chicago, the sole heir of the Joyce family of Clinton, Iowa. 

The family’s wealth came from the lumber industry, including timberlands, sawmills, and wholesale and retail building material distribution centers. When Mrs. Kean died in December 1972, she left the vast majority of her estate, nearly $100 million, to the modestly-endowed foundation she had established to pursue philanthropic interests.

By 1976, under the guidance of a professional staff, annual giving had risen from less than $100,000 to $10 million. The foundation gradually expanded its areas of grant making to address key issues affecting the Great Lakes region.

As of December 2016, the Foundation had $930 million in assets and will make approximately $45 million in charitable distributions in 2017.

Education Program History

Our Education Program focuses on making sure students enter kindergarten ready to succeed, and have high-quality teachers throughout their Pre-K-12 education. These strategies are especially important for students in low-income communities, who often enter school far behind their peers, consistently land in classrooms with the least effective teachers, and often fail to graduate high school prepared for their futures. All students should graduate high school ready to succeed in college, the workforce and in life. By supporting research, innovative policies and advocacy, the Joyce Foundation aims to close this achievement gap. 

Joyce, a long-time supporter of Chicago school reform, also supports public education in other Midwest cities – currently, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. In the past, we have also focused on Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland. 

Over the years, we have explored a variety of strategies to achieve our Education Program vision, including school finance, parent organizing, educational technology, charter schools, and early childhood education. We also have consistently supported research identifying and evaluating promising innovations.

With research showing that having a first-rate teacher has an enormous impact on student achievement and life outcomes, Joyce now concentrates the bulk of its grant making on improving teacher quality. But we also support other strategies for addressing the achievement gap, such as making sure children are kindergarten ready and supporting greater student engagement in learning.

Employment Program History

In a rapidly changing, uncertain economy, it is difficult for disadvantaged workers with few skills to find good jobs. An estimated 36 million American adults lack the basic skills to succeed in college or most family-supporting jobs. To improve employment outcomes for disadvantaged workers, our Employment Program works to improve practices in education and training, and forges partnerships with employers on apprenticeships and other ways to upgrade employee skills in the workplace.

Over the last two decades, the foundation has tested strategies to boost workers’ skills, focusing in particular on disadvantaged adults such as women on welfare, low-skilled workers, ex-offenders, and others who face significant barriers to joining the workforce. Joyce-funded research on welfare reform and transitional jobs were major contributions to the field. Joyce's five-year Shifting Gears initiative in six Midwest states has increased access to credentials for low-income adults by streamlining postsecondary, adult basic education, and skills-development systems. 

More recently we have supported efforts to increase graduation rates and employment outcomes at community colleges by inspiring innovation through the Aspen Prize and in promoting training partnerships with major industries. In the face of the nation’s economic and fiscal challenges, Joyce continues to explore innovative strategies for expanding successful training models and control in costs. 

Environment Program History

The air and freshwater resources of the Great Lakes region face constant threats, often ones that can affect the health and safety of the region’s residents. The Joyce Foundation is committed to safeguarding these resources through cleaner energy systems and the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes. Over the last few decades, Joyce has supported a network of advocacy groups that have won major policy advances, including the federally-funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, binational commitments in the Great Lakes Compact, preventing the construction of numerous proposed coal power plants, and securing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in energy efficiency investments by Midwest utilities.

In the past, the foundation also sought improvements in broader national policies that affect the Great Lakes region, such as transportation, agriculture, and industrial pollution.

Gun Violence Prevention Program History

Each year nearly 100,000 people are shot in the United States and more than 30,000 die. The Joyce Foundation supports the advancement of sound, research-based strategies to reduce this toll. Starting with a prototype at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a pilot program at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Joyce helped establish a central database, the National Violent Death Reporting System, now a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We also have funded research exploring the relationship between guns and problems such as suicide, domestic violence, and risks to children.

We have supported policy and advocacy by state groups, physicians, and law enforcement groups. Research shows that most Americans, including most gun-owners, favor reasonable laws to keep firearms away from criminals, domestic abusers, and others at risk of violence. The foundation is continuing its work to educate the public, policy makers and the media about the toll of gun violence in American communities and evidence-based solutions to prevent it.

Democracy Program History

More than 50 years after passage of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, democracy advocates are still fighting to protect and expand access to the ballot. The Joyce Foundation has long been vigilant about the vitality and integrity of American democracy, from funding presidential debates to supporting work on such concerns as voter registration and full participation in the U.S Census. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the foundation focused its efforts on fighting the influence of big money in politics.

Joyce has supported the growth of a strong network of public interest groups in Midwest states, which collaborated for several years through the Midwest Democracy Network. We have funded national groups, such as Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Cato Institute. More recently, Joyce’s grant making has expanded beyond campaign finance reform to include judicial independence, protection of voting rights, a modern election administration system, and fair electoral systems – all essential elements of a strong democracy.

Culture Program History

If the arts are to be integral to local communities and their economies, they must reflect a range of local cultures, voices, and challenges. For the last 20 years, Joyce’s Culture Program has focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the arts. Our program is focused primarily in Chicago, supporting arts groups such as Black Ensemble Theater, the Cambodian Heritage Museum, Silk Road Rising and the National Museum of Mexican Art. We have also encouraged larger arts and culture institutions to expand audiences, boards and staffs to reflect Chicago’s rich diversity and encourage people of color to pursue career paths in the arts.

Through the annual Joyce Awards program, we also encourage inclusion, equity and diversity in the arts throughout our region. Since 2003, the Joyce Awards have funded nearly 50 projects in which Midwest arts groups and nonprofits have commissioned new works in partnership with artists of color.

What We Fund

We focus on initiatives that make an impact on the Great Lakes region.

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For The Media

Explore our resources for members of the media. 

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Our Annual Reports

Explore our annual reports.

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