Our History

Supporting Community Needs since 1953

Founded as the Rockford Community Trust by a group of civic leaders who sought to establish a community "nest egg" for long-range community needs, the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois has grown dramatically in recent decades. CFNIL now serves four counties and invests over $4 million every year into the communities of Northern Illinois through grants and scholarships. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of hundreds of local donors, CFNIL provides a stable and growing source of dollars for charitable activities that benefit the people and places of our region. 


In 1953 it was called the Rockford Community Trust. It had a name, a little money and some very big plans.

Recognizing the potential of the fledgling organization, it became a founding member of the National Committee on Foundations and Trusts, predecessor to the Council on Foundations and along with the Chicago Community Trust and Milwaukee Community Foundation.

It has grown into an organization of ever-increasing resources and extends to the Boone, Ogle Stephenson and Winnebago counties.

It has more than $90 million in assets, has made grants totaling more than $60 million and manages over 447 charitable funds.

Today, this Community Foundation is the largest endowed scholarship and grantmaking foundation that serves the diverse needs of Northern Illinois. Throughout the years, the Foundation has remained true to its original mission of helping donors realize their charitable dreams and improving the lives of people in Northern Illinois. We attract, grow and preserve endowment for the people of Northern Illinois.

In May 1953, the city’s most distinguished leaders serving on the boards of the Rockford Community Chest and the United War Chest Board create the Rockford Community Trust. It is funded with $12,351. The Trust’s purpose is to accept and distribute charitable gifts and bequests, to ensure that the donor’s wishes are carried out in perpetuity, and to build a permanent “nest egg” for long-range community needs.

Early grants include:

  • $1,650 to Freeman School to provide playground and therapeutic equipment for disabled students
  • $1,000 to the Winnebago County Chapter of the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis to purchase supplies of Salk vaccine to combat the community’s polio epidemic
  • The Trust acts as custodian for the Washington Park Community Center Building Campaign, managing more than $30,000 to promote and complete the project

The first significant gifts are made to the Rockford Community Trust.

The Barber-Colman Foundation contributes $3,000.

The Winnebago County Medical Society’s Victory Over Polio Committee gives $11,000, which is used to establish a children’s dental clinic and provide community support services.

The Trust awards over $124,500 to charitable causes in the community, including its first grant to a cultural organization – $600 toward the establishment of the Rockford Chamber Orchestra – and $5,000 for the first community-wide needs survey conducted by the Community Welfare Council.

The Trust’s assets grow from $64,580 to $315,800.

The first Grants Committee is established to review grant applications.

The Trust makes grants totaling over $742,500, including:

  • $2,500 to the American Red Cross to purchase equipment for a CPR course
  • $1,000 to District 205 for an elementary schools supplemental music education pilot project
  • $1,000 to Rock Valley College for its Educational Resources Center
  • $4,600 to the Blackhawk Area Council of the Boy Scouts for outreach programs
  • $4,000 to Illinois Growth Enterprises
  • $4,500 to Rockford Symphony Orchestra for its “Symphony Goes to School” program

The Trust celebrates its 25th anniversary.

The Trust reaches $1 million in assets.

Significant contributions enhance the Trust’s impact:

  • $40,000 from the Gannett Foundation to stimulate the Trust’s growth through the hiring of its first paid staff and the establishment of an office at 333 E. State Street.
  • $3.4 million from former shareholders of the Barber-Colman Co., including:
  • $1 million permanent endowment for United Way of Rock River Valley
  • $1 million permanent endowment for Rockford College scholarships
  • $800,000 Barber-Colman Management/Community Needs Fund
  • $600,000 Howard D. Colman Memorial Fund
  • $250,000 from an anonymous donor establishes the Arts and Humanities Fund to support innovative arts projects and encourage new art forms. The Fund’s first grant is to Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s Kinderkonzert series.

The Trust moves its offices to the 13th Floor of the Talcott Building, 321 W. State Street.

The Trust receives significant grants from prominent national foundations to create significant new resources for the community:

  • $500,000 from the Ford Foundation, which is matched by $1 million from the community for neighborhood development and to establish the Rockford Area Affordable Housing Coalition
  • $120,000 from the Mott Foundation to help support the Trust’s growth and administration
  • $200,000 from the Ford Foundation to support youth philanthropy and create the In Youth We Trust Program

The Trust changes its name to the Rockford Community Foundation.

The Trust makes its largest grant ever, $15,000, challenging the community to raise $100,000 for band uniforms for District #205’s four high school marching bands. An anonymous donor provides another $100,000 to create the permanent Band Wagon Fund for the ongoing support of District #205 high school band programs.

The Rockford Community Foundation changes its name to the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois to more accurately reflect the region it serves, which encompasses Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago counties.

The Community Foundation purchases the 946 North Second Street Stone House with a bequest from Verona Swenson. With many generous designated gifts for the building from caring individuals, the Foundation restores an architectural treasure for use as its permanent office and as a landmark for philanthropy in the region.

The Carroll H. Starr Endowment Challenge was initiated to inspire non-profit charitable organizations to establish endowments in order to help stabilize their institutions and build capital for ongoing needs.

The Community Foundation establishes the Katrina Fund to raise dollars for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. A total of $246,021 dollars is raised and distributed to the Red Cross and Salvation Army to assist in rebuilding lives in the Gulf States.

The Natural Disaster Fund is established in response to the flooding that devastated Rockford’s southeast side.

The Eunice Wishop Stromberg Spelling Bee Endowment Fund is established to provide annual grants to the Regional Board of Education to support the winner of the Regional Spelling Bee trip to Washington D.C. to compete in the National Spelling Bee. With a $50,000 lead gift from the Stromberg Endowment, the greater Rockford community is challenged to raise another $50,000. The campaign surpasses its goal.

Rock the Air region-wide campaign is initiated with a $100,000 lead pledge by the Community Foundation. The purpose of Rock the Air is to inspire Embry-Riddle to build its 3rd campus in Rockford. The goal was $1,000,000. More than 800 pledges from ten states were made. Although Embry-Riddle did not locate here, the entire region came together to promote its worthiness as an aerospace center.

The Community Foundation receives a bequest of $24 million from Dr. Louis and Violet Rubin. The Dr. Louis and Violet Rubin Endowment Fund will provide grants to Human Services, Education, Medical Education and Research.

The Community Foundation in partnership with the Rockford Public Schools reaches the $300,000 BandWagon 2 goal. The endowment supports middle school music programs in District #205.