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Community Grants Program

Grant Information Grant Status: Closed Applications Open: June 14, 2024 Applications Close: August 15, 2024 Awards Announced: Week of November 25, 2024 Learn How to Register & Apply

Since 1953, the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois has made more than $80,000,000 in grants and scholarships to nonprofits and students. This is possible through the generosity of CFNIL’s donors—individuals, families, and organizations committed to improving the region’s quality of life. Endowed gifts create reliable funding for current needs and future opportunities. That’s the power of endowment!

Some donors choose to support specific organizations, while others provide scholarship funding that helps students get to and through school. Some donors decide that they want their legacy gifts to address the challenges and opportunities of future generations. These endowed gifts support Community Grants, CFNIL’s largest and broadest grantmaking program.

This page reflects our 2023 Community Grant Program Guidelines. Community Grants are made in seven Focus Areas: Arts & Humanities, Career Pathways, Complementary Education, Health, Human Services, Sustainable Communities, and Youth & Families. 

View the Grant Resources page to learn more about applying

We rely on your feedback to guide our grantmaking process. Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions or comments. While we would be happy to clarify any aspect of our application, CFNIL does not offer specific guidance on the design or implementation of your proposed activity during the open application period.

Announcing the 2023 - 2024 Community Grants Program awards

$1.74M awarded to 82 agencies to benefit the people of Northern Illinois. Check out the report below for more details!

CFNIL Community Grants Program report 2023 - 2024

Review Community Grants Program Guidelines

The application for Community Grants has seven sections:

  1. Summary: The basic information about your proposal, including your proposal’s Focus Area.
  2. Proposal Plan: A detailed description of your activity.
  3. Community Need: Why the activity is needed and who it will serve in terms of location, age, ethnicity, and gender.
  4. Proposal Budget: A detailed proposal budget and narrative.
  5. Evaluation Plan: Measuring Results: The activity’s anticipated results and the plan to track and measure those results.
  6. Organizational Background: General organizational information including financials for requests over $5,000.
  7. Grant Applicant Agreement: The terms and conditions of applying for and administering a grant from CFNIL’s Community Grants Program.

Sections 1, 6, and 7 are not scored by reviewers. Sections 2 - 5 are scored on a 1-5 scale. The Proposal and Evaluation Plan: Measuring Results section's scores are weighted. 

While all applications must be submitted through the Web Portal, CFNIL provides PDF and Word versions of the application. Many applicants find it easier to initially work on the application in Word and then copy and paste responses into the Web Portal. 

Download the PDF version of the application.

Download the Word version of the application

CFNIL accepts proposals in seven Focus Areas. CFNIL's strategic focus is Career Pathways and Complementary Education, which are funded at a greater level. Remaining funds are allocated to Arts & Humanities, Health, Human Services, Sustainable Communities, and Youth & Families. Funding priorities are for proposals that support the unique emphasis of each Focus Area:

1. Arts & Humanities

  • Increase the availability of and access to artistic and cultural experiences, especially those that represent the diversity of our community’s culture.
  • Celebrate the region’s history and preserve historical integrity.

2. Career Pathways

  • Define the region's workforce needs in terms of skills and competencies.
  • Increase student access to and engagement with career information and their related academic pathways.
  • Foster collaboration among regional educators, employers, and workforce/economic development entities.

3. Complementary Education

  • Provide more learning hours, reinforce classroom instruction, and advance student development through school-approached programs.
  • Increase the capacity, coordination, outreach, and transportation infrastructure of school and school-approved programs.
  • Support before- and after-school, summer school, and enrichment programs.

4. Health

  • Improve the quality of and access to health services.
  • Support community wellness.
  • Conduct research to promote the health and well-being of our community.

4. Human Services

  • Serve the basic needs of individuals and families.
  • Provide services to persons with developmental disabilities, especially activities that promote inclusion.
  • Promote the equitable treatment of others.

5. Sustainable Communities

  • Promote neighborhood and economic development.
  • Support efforts to ensure safety and access to quality, affordable, and permanent housing.
  • Preserve our natural environment, especially activities that increase the region’s understanding and appreciation of the environment.

6. Youth & Families

  • Provide pathways to self-sufficiency.
  • Strengthen families.
  • Support intellectual, emotional, physical, and social development.

Application questions will vary depending on the type of proposal submitted:

EVENTThe duration of the charitable activity is less than a week. Weekend-long concert or one-day block party.
PROJECTThe duration of the charitable activity has a beginning and ending date and lasts between one week and three years. A summer-long camp or a two-year archiving initiative.
PROGRAMThe duration of the charitable activity is ongoing. A year-round health facility. All proposals related to educational activities that occur annually, like after- or summer-school programs.
You are purchasing equipment, a commodity, or making a minor capital improvement that will allow you to serve or further your ability to serve your clients. If the purchase is part of a larger charitable activity, such as purchasing books for a reading program, choose Event/Project/Program as appropriate. NOT eligible for multi-year grants. Van to transport clients; food for pantry; school backpacks for at-risk youth; ADA-compliant bathroom remodel.

An organization may apply for a multi-year grant if seeking funding for charitable activities within Career Pathways, Complementary Education, or Health Focus Areas.

CFNIL reviewers need the clearest possible description of anticipated results and indicators of success to meaningfully evaluate your application. To see examples of Measuring Results, Measuring Results, visit the Grants Resources page. 

The key elements of the Evaluation Plan: Measuring Results section of the application include the Program Rationale and up to three Result Statements. CFNIL uses the term "Result Statement" to include the Result, Indicators of Success, Targets, Methods for Measurement, and Benchmarks for each specified Result:

  • Program Rationale: Explanation of how the proposed activities will lead to the Results listed in the proposal.
  • Result: The change or improvement the activity is intended to produce. How will participants benefit?
  • Indicators of Success: The data collected to show evidence of a change as a result of the proposed activity. This may include outputs and outcomes. Outputs may be used in an instance when measuring outcomes during the funding period (12 months) would be impractical.
  • Targets: Does not refer to your target population. It is a number or percentage of the Indicators of Success that defines your desired achievement. It will look much like the Indicators above but will include target numbers.
  • Methods for Measurement: How you will collect the data that shows evidence of change.
  • Benchmarks: A point of reference against which your results will be compared.

To be eligible to apply for funding from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, an applicant must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, a religious organization, a unit of government, or a public university/college.

Proposals must describe charitable activities that primarily, but not exclusively, benefit the residents of Boone, Ogle, Stephenson, or Winnebago Counties. The more you request, the greater scrutiny your proposal will receive. CFNIL uses a tiered application format based on the request amount. Applicants requesting over $50,000 will submit a full application with audited financials. Applicants requesting $5,001 through $50,000 will submit a streamlined application with just the most recent 990. Applicants requesting less than $5,000 will have the shortest application and no organizational financials are required. CFNIL reserves the right to request additional financial information during the grant cycle if needed.

CFNIL does not fund charitable activities that promote a religion or require participation in a religious activity as a condition for receiving services.  However, grants may be made to faith-based organizations for non-religious purposes.

CFNIL will fund:

  • Expenses that are directly related to the design and implementation of a proposal. Income and expenses related to the proposal must be itemized using the integrated budget form in the application.
  • The purchase and installation of capital assets (i.e., assets that have a useful life greater than one year and which will be depreciated on the applicant’s books).
  • Wages for staff or contractors to the extent that the request is appropriate to the proposal’s scope and implementation.
  • Indirect costs that do not exceed 15% of the amount being requested in the proposal. Indirect costs are defined as expenses that cannot be easily attributed to the funded charitable activity but are essential to the operation of the grantee. Examples include utilities, insurance, general administrative support, and the portion of a building that is used to support the general operations of the organization.

The CFNIL Community Grants program will not fund proposals for general operations; endowment building; large-scale capital campaigns*; budget deficits; individuals; for-profit organizations; partisan political activities; or proposals that discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national/ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran’s status, disability, or any other factor prohibited by applicable law.

*CFNIL may fund a capital project if the request comprises at least 25% of the total cost.


  • Must have been in active service to the public for at least one year as of December 1st of the year in which they are applying. For 501(c)(3) organizations, active service begins on the “Effective Date” found in an organization’s IRS Determination Letter.
  • Must be current on all interim and final reports for grants from CFNIL’s Community Grants Program. If the organization is currently being funded with a CFNIL grant and a final report is not yet due, the organization must submit an interim report. Learn more about reporting on the Grants Resources page.
  • Must submit a “Pre-Authorization Form” if working with or within a school district. This document asks for detailed information about the partnership between the applicant and the district, specifically the district’s role in designing the charitable activity and allocating resources toward its completion.
  • May submit up to three unique proposals. For the purposes of this limit, organizations and their corresponding foundations will be treated as one entity even if they have separate EIN numbers. 

CFNIL is committed to a fair and objective proposal review process.

Volunteer advisors from the community review and recommend grant proposals for approval by the CFNIL Board of Trustees. CFNIL Trustees, volunteer advisors, and staff adhere to carefully considered conflict of interest and confidentiality policies throughout the review and approval process. Due to the volume of proposals considered, CFNIL cannot routinely meet with grant applicants as a part of the review process. CFNIL may meet with any applicant when a review committee has determined that a meeting or a site visit will facilitate the review process.

Grant award decisions are final. CFNIL Trustees, volunteer advisors, and staff are prohibited from discussing the details of committee deliberations with any grant applicant. 

View the Proposal Review Guidelines

Occasionally, CFNIL’s application will request that you upload an external document, i.e. a quote for a budget item or a relevant report. Please upload these documents as PDFs. 

View PDF Tips

Questions? Issues with your application? Contact Lisa!

Lisa DeLang, CFNIL Program and Administrative Associate
Lisa DeLang
Program and Administrative Associate
Phone: 779-210-8210
Email: Lisa DeLang