Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Democracy Program Grant Opportunity

The essentials

Through 12pm CT on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 the Democracy Program is accepting Letters of Inquiry (LOI) to support programs and organizations working in our three Focus Areas: Strengthen Local Journalism, Engage Youth Civically, and Invigorate Public Institutions. On our website, you can find a brief summary of each Focus Area. You can also read more details about each Focus Area on the Foundation’s blog (see a full list of articles below). Grant requests may be for work in any Focus Area and should be over $50,000.


How to apply for a grant

Visit the Democracy Program’s “Apply for a Grant” page where you will find our funding criteria (e.g. you must be a 501(c)(3)nonprofit), a timeline for our review process, and a link to the online portal through which you must submit your LOI.


What's an LOI?

The LOI is the first stage in our two-stage application process for evaluating grant requests. The first stage of the process serves as an introduction for the Democracy Program staff to your organization and the work you propose to undertake during the grant period. The LOI provides helpful information on your:

  1. Organization: your mission, history, core activities, and financial health
  2. Outcomes: the change you want to achieve during the grant period and why it's needed
  3. Equity Impact: how your approach to your work will integrate community voice and help reduce racial/ethnic disparities in the region
  4. For applicants seeking a program grant, we also ask about your:

  5. Strategy: the activities you will undertake to achieve your outcomes
  6. Rationale: what evidence you have that these activities are the right approach


We collect this information through an online portal. Via this portal, you’ll fill out some questions about the administrative aspects of the grant (e.g. the grant amount and term, organizational tax status, application contact person). The core of the application is the Stage 1 Narrative, a short-answer questionnaire that addresses most of the questions listed above. You will need to download this form, enter your responses, and upload the completed form to the portal. Finally, we ask you to upload a copy of your organization’s annual budget, and if you’re requesting program support, a copy of your program budget.


What do we look for?

As we read LOIs, we try to answer a couple questions of our own:

  1. Strategic Fit: How might the proposed partnership and work advance the Democracy Program’s mission and strategy? To what extent does this work address the inequities we see in journalism, youth civic engagement, and public institutions?
  2. Evidence: What evidence do we have that the proposed work can succeed? What data support this approach and does the organization have the experience, capacity, network, and committed partners to achieve the desired outcomes.
  3. What can we learn? Given our limited resources, we are forced to pick among many worthy projects. Successful LOI applicants enter a months-long review process, generally because they have a strong strategic fit, offer compelling evidence, and hold the strongest promise to help the fields in which we are working advance.


There are many aspects of a successful application that can prompt curiosity and we encourage applicants to consider how their organization’s perspective, approach, network, and other features distinguish it, but also position it as an additive piece of the constellation of partners we support in our three focus areas.


Next Steps

If the Democracy Program reviews your application and determines that there is a compelling rationale for a prospective or continued partnership, you will receive an invitation to submit additional application materials. An invitation to the second stage of the application process is not a commitment to fund the proposed organization and/or work. Instead, it’s a commitment to learn more about your work so that the staff can determine if there is sufficient evidence to bring a final recommendation to fund to McCormick’s Board of Directors. Ultimately, the Board votes to decide on all funding decisions.


Learning more

To learn more about the Democracy Program’s strategy and how you might be able to support its advancement, visit our website and read our recent articles about our strategy:


Strengthen Local Journalism

Vision: Creating an information-rich region

Strategy 1: Telling the untold stories

Strategy 2: Enhancing collaboration, community engagement, and entrepreneurship

Strategy 3: Investing in human capital

Strategy 4: Defending press freedom


Engage Youth Civically


Invigorate Public Institutions

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Invigorate Chicagoland's Public Institutions


The third and final pillar of the Democracy Program’s strategy centers on invigorating public institutions with an emphasis on inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability to Chicagoland residents (see previous posts on youth civic engagement and local journalism).


By inclusive we mean representative and considering the needs and interests of Chicagoland’s diverse communities. Transparency entails a presumption of and deep commitment to full public access to information pertinent to public policy and governance. Accountability relates to institutions’ prioritizing public trust and responsibly using information from the media, watchdog groups, and the public at large to improve performance.


Chicago City Hall


We believe that local institutions will produce policies, governance, and constituent services shaped by, and responsive to the region’s diverse communities by developing high-capacity civic leaders. Also critical to this end is improving the transparency and accountability of public institutions. Finally, we must deepen Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in democratic processes and ensure inclusion of underrepresented communities through both policy and practice.


We seek to develop civic leaders representative of the communities they serve, who cultivate constituent participation in elections and public policy, and advocate for and implement inclusive policies. Currently, the Democracy Program is evaluating the extent to which existing civic leadership programs meet these goals. Ideally, public institutions will develop leaders internally, prioritizing public accessibility, responsiveness to constituents, and construction of inclusive policies.


In our efforts to ensure accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of public institutions, we partner with organizations that possess deep knowledge of government practice, paired with authentic forms of community engagement, to empower civic action.


Turning to efforts to deepen participation and inclusion in public institutions, we currently have investments in three priority areas: expanding Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in elections and Census 2020, improving the accessibility of public institutions through inclusive policymaking processes, and providing pathways to citizenship and protected status for local immigrant communities.


We are committed to modernizing and ensuring the integrity of election processes to ensure more representative participation and ballot security. Census 2020 is only nine months away, and we are part of the Illinois 2020 Count Me In Coalition led by Forefront to ensure a complete and accurate count for Illinois. Our grant to Forefront supported sub-grants to nonprofits statewide for outreach to hard-to-count constituencies (HTCs). The Coalition’s efforts were critical to the state’s recent $29 million appropriation for Census outreach.


We opposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census form for fear that it would inhibit participation among HTCs. Although it appears that the question will not be placed on Census forms, the damage has already been done in eliciting fear within immigrant communities. Therefore, we endorse expanded engagement with these constituencies to achieve a complete count.


Participation in government beyond elections is critical to a healthy democracy, and several current partners specialize in engaging residents in the policy making process. For example, Participatory Budgeting (PB) Chicago leads residents in city wards and schools through a process where they identify and vote upon infrastructural needs. Already present in nine wards and a growing number of CPS schools, PB Chicago anticipates continued expansion in the aftermath of this spring’s municipal elections. Beyond PB, the Democracy Program is exploring other emerging innovative methods that public institutions can use to better engage Chicagoland residents and underrepresented communities.


The Democracy Program strives to ensure that Chicagoland’s immigrant communities are mobilized to take full advantage of existing opportunities to secure citizenship and protected status. More broadly, we seek partnerships to further engage our state’s immigrant and refugee populations in the democratic process. In the long term, we are supportive of federal comprehensive immigration reform, believing that it is beneficial for both immigrant communities and society at large.


By developing high-capacity civic leaders, ensuring institutional accountability, transparency, and effectiveness, and deepening participation and inclusion in our local democracy, we will ensure that Chicagoland public institutions are inclusive, transparent, and accountable to the communities they serve.