Blog Article

Exciting Changes to Our Community Grants

Important changes have come to our long-established Community Grants program. There are new guidelines, new deadlines, and new processes – all beginning with our upcoming May 15th grants deadline.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve given more than $10 million in grants to Illinois organizations of all shapes and sizes – including universities, radio stations, libraries, and neighborhood-based organizations. These groups have carried out a remarkable array of great activity with our support, producing documentary films, traveling exhibits, speaker series, walking tours, oral history projects, and much more.

Community GrantsIn the meantime, the nonprofit sector we serve, as well as the tools at our disposal, have changed in remarkable ways. Through an evolving digital landscape, for example, exciting tools for storytelling are very different and more accessible than they used to be. Picking up on these changes, last summer we decided to survey grantees about their priorities, goals and challenges, to see how our modest grants program might better serve them. Respondents told us, loud and clear, what they were most concerned with: harnessing new technology, better engaging audiences, developing more interactive programming, and better assessing the impact that their programs are having.

In response, we’ve increased the range of grants opportunities we are making available. These new grants guidelines are not written in stone – we will see how they resonate with organizations over the coming months and year and then will address how to improve them again. In other words, this is an opportunity, but also an experiment, and we hope to learn and grow over the coming year alongside grantee partners.

Here are the new grantmaking areas:

Vision Grants: These are public humanities planning grants. They are for smaller groups, of annual budgets of $1 million or less. The grants are for planning related to public humanities programs or initiatives, and are for as much as $2,000. We hope to learn more about how strong planning can help to produce high-quality and engaging public humanities programming. (Click here to apply)

Action Grants: These grants are for public humanities projects themselves, and are for as much as $4,000. We hope to learn more about harnessing digital technologies, producing interactive programs, and successfully targeting new audiences. (Click here to apply)

Multiplier Grants: These are our largest grants and go up to $15,000. They are meant to spark collaborative work amongst partners. Our hope is that groups will look at ways to impact a geographic area (be it a town or region), a sector (say libraries or historical societies) or an audience (say young families) collectively with these grants. We hope to learn more about how collaboration allows multiple groups to further their missions more effectively. (Click here to apply)

“Illinois Speaks” Micro-grants: This is also an exciting addition to the grantmaking portfolio, in which groups apply to host a public dialogue. Illinois Humanities offers three things to help a program happen: A micro-grant of $250 to help cover expenses; topic-specific resources; and training in how to host or facilitate public discussion. Illinois Speaks is an outgrowth of our small group engagement (formerly known as Café Society). For this program alone there will be six deadlines per year, and applicants can be as young as 16 years of age. The suggested topics for the first year are “Water and the Public Good,” “The Future of Public Education,” and “The Aftermath of Ferguson, Mo.” We hope to learn more about ways that everyday people can play leadership roles in public dialogue in their communities. (Click here to apply)

You may have noticed that we’ve dropped our media grants. We are still very committed to supporting media making, it’s just that media is no longer broken out into its own category. We’ve also redesigned the grants process. We’ll be taking proposals electronically using three deadlines for most grants categories, are beginning the process with a letter of inquiry rather than full proposal, and will be making grants in a single payment.

But perhaps the biggest opportunity of all is that for the next eighteen months, we are partnering with Danielle Allen of Harvard’s Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Lab (HULA) to work with individual grantee partners to bolster the assessment of their projects and programs. We believe that humanities organizations can be strengthened, and become more viable, by bolstering their engagement and growing their audiences. Grantees who are interested will be eligible for consulting on their evaluation work. We will share the findings from this exciting work over the coming year.

For more information, contact Mark Hallett at Illinois Humanities at