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Community Grants Program

Grant Information Grant Status: Open Applications Open: June 14, 2024 Applications Close: August 15, 2024 Awards Announced: Week of November 18, 2024 Learn How to Register & Apply

Since 1953, the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois has made more than $85,000,000 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. 

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 2024 Community Grant Program Guidelines and describes eligibility, how to apply, and what kind of charitable activities are funded. Community Grants are made in eight Focus Areas: Arts & Humanities; Basic Needs & Compassionate Support; Career Pathways; Complementary Education; Equity, Dignity, & Respect; Health; Sustainable Communities, and Youth & Families. 

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.

2024 Community Grants Workshops and Work Sessions

Thinking about applying for a 2024 Community Grant? A first-time applicant or looking for guidance? In addition to the ever-available option to just drop us an email or give us a call, there are two remaining"official" opportunities to work with CFNIL staff this Community Grants season:

  1. Evaluation Plan and Budgeting Workshops: Join us for a practical workshop that will provide guidance on the Evaluation Plan and Budgeting aspects of CFNIL's Community Grants Program application. Three identical sessions will be held:
  • Wednesday, July 24th at 9 am FULL!
  • Tuesday, July 30th at 3 pm
  • Wednesday, July 31st at 3 pm

Learn More and RSVP for an Evaluation Plan & Budgeting Workshop

  1. Community Grants Application Work Session: Looking for even more hands-on, one-on-one assistance? Sign up for a one-hour time slot, bring your laptop, and work directly with CFNIL grant staff:
  • Thursday, August 1st, 9-10am, 10-11am, or 11am-12pm
  • Tuesday, August 6th, 9-10am, 10-11am, or 11am-12pm

Learn More and RSVP for a Community Grants Application Work Session

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How To Apply

Applications must be submitted through CFNIL’s Web Portal by 5 p.m. on August 15, 2024. To learn how to register and apply using the Web Portal, visit cfnil.org/grant-resources. Funds for awarded grants will be available by the end of November 2024; ensure funds are not needed until after December 1, 2024. Contact Program and Administrative Associate Lisa DeLang at edelang@cfnil.org or 779-210-8210 with questions. 

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Application Overview

The application for Community Grants has seven sections:

  1. Summary: The basic information about your proposal, including your proposal’s Focus Area (see below).
  2. Proposal Plan: A detailed description of your activity.
  3. Community Need: Why the activity is needed and who it will serve.
  4. Proposal Budget: A detailed proposal budget and narrative.
  5. Evaluation Plan: 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 $10,000.
  7. Grant Applicant Agreement: The terms and conditions of applying for and administering a grant from CFNIL’s Community Grants Program.

While all applications must be submitted through the Web Portal, CFNIL provides a PDF version for your reference.

Download the PDF version of the application.

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Eligibility and What We Fund

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.

The 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 $10,001 to $50,000 will submit a streamlined application with just the most recent 990. Applicants requesting less than $10,000 will have the shortest application, and no organizational financials are required. If needed, CFNIL reserves the right to request additional financial information during the grant cycle.

CFNIL will fund:

  • Expenses that are directly related to the design and implementation of a proposal. Revenue 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. Applicants are encouraged to include 15% of their request amount to cover indirect costs.

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

The CFNIL Community Grants program will not fund proposals for fundraisers; 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 amount comprises at least 25% of the total cost.

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Focus Areas

CFNIL accepts proposals in eight Focus Areas. CFNIL's strategic focus is Career Pathways and Complementary Education. Remaining funds are allocated to the remaining six Focus Areas. Funding priorities are for proposals that support the unique emphasis of each Focus Area:

1. Arts & Humanities

  • Increase the number, type, and quality of arts, crafts, and cultural experiences and educational opportunities. 
  • Promote access to high-quality arts & cultural experiences, especially those that represent our community’s diverse culture. 
  • Celebrate the region’s history and preserve its historical integrity. 

2. Basic Needs & Compassionate Support

  • Serve the basic needs of individuals and families, such as food, clothing, and temporary shelter.
  • Alleviate suffering and provide hope and aid to individuals and families.

3. Career Pathways

  • Promote post-secondary readiness and attainment through academic support, mentorship, and soft skill development. 
  • Increase student access to and engagement with career information and their related academic pathways. 
  • Define the region’s workforce needs and develop a skilled workforce through job training, internships, apprenticeships, and other educational opportunities. 
  • Foster collaboration among educators, employers, and workforce/economic development entities. 

4. Complementary Education

  • Strengthen educational opportunities for all ages within the region.
  • Increase the capacity, infrastructure, and educational quality of schools and school-approved programs.
  • Provide more learning hours, reinforce classroom instruction, and advance student development.
  • Support before-and after-school, summer school, and enrichment programs with an academic focus.

5. Equity, Dignity, & Respect

  • Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the region.
  • Support, protect, and enhance the lives of underrepresented, vulnerable, or exploited populations, including, but not limited to older adults, survivors of trauma, and marginalized youth.
  • Provide services to persons with disabilities, especially activities that promote inclusion for people with developmental disabilities.

6. Health

  • Promote public health and general wellness.  
  • Improve the quality of and access to physical and mental health services. 
  • Conduct research to promote the health and well-being of our community. 

7. Sustainable Communities

  • Promote economic activity, strong neighborhoods, and public safety.  
  • Preserve and enhance our community’s built environment and ensure quality, affordable, and permanent housing. 
  • Preserve our natural environment and increase the region’s understanding and appreciation of the environment, including animal welfare. 
  • Increase the capacity and infrastructure of our non-profit and public sector. 

8. Youth & Families

  • Provide pathways to self-sufficiency for individuals and families. 
  • Strengthen families by providing access to vital services, caregiver education, and other support. 
  • Support the emotional, physical, social, and character development of youth through mentorship, life skills training, and other programming. 

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Types of Proposals

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 annual educational activities, like after- or summer-school programs.
Purchasing equipment or a commodity, or making a minor capital improvement to serve or further your ability to serve 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.

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Multi-Year Grants

If proposing charitable activities within Career Pathways, Complementary Education, or Health Focus Areas, an organization may apply for up to three years of funding. If you intend to apply for a multi-year grant, contact James Patterson, Senior Program Director, at jpatterson@cfnil.org or 779-210-8206.

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Evaluation Plan: Measuring Results

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, 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. aCFNIL 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.

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Grant Requirements


  • 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 religious organizations, units of government, and public universities/schools, active service begins on the date that the organization was established. 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. Visit cfnil.org/grant-resources
  • Must submit a “Pre-Authorization Form” found in the “Working with a School District?” section at cfnil.org/grant-resources if working with/within a school district or providing services to school districts such as field trips. If working with or providing services for multiple school districts, you may provide executed “Pre-Authorization Forms” from the top three districts. The form 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. 

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Proposal Review Guidelines

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

Volunteer community advisors 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

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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