General Operating Grants
Pictured: Executive Director of The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, Kim Vigue
General Operating Grants support organizations that are firmly rooted in the humanities. From cultural and ethnic organizations to museums, libraries, and consortiums, these organizations broaden possibilities and increase access to the public humanities. These unrestricted funds empower growth and sustainability by providing recipients with more flexibility and freedom to allocate resources wherever they need them most.
The entire grant review process typically takes eight weeks from the deadline until groups are notified about funding. Applicants review and sign grant agreements. Once the signed agreement is received, grant funds are issued in two to three weeks. Within 30 days of the conclusion of a project or grant period, grantees must complete a final grant report.
Eligibility and Guidelines
- Must be a humanities-based organization
- Find examples of and learn how we define "humanities organization" in our Frequently Asked Questions section below
- Must be a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization or have a fiscal sponsor
- Organizations must be Illinois-based
- Organizations must have an annual budget of $250,000 or less
- Can not have an open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant
Grants decisions will be made based on whether organizations have a mission involving the humanities, organizational size, geographical balance, and whether an organization represents a historically disinvested or economically under-resourced community, such as rural or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities.
We are committed to serving all geographic areas within the state of Illinois; hence, approximately half of General Operating Grants will be distributed to Cook County-based organizations, and half to organizations located outside of Cook County.
How to Apply
Apply using our grant application portal, Foundant.
- Applicants should submit one grant application per cycle.
- Recurring Deadline*: 5:00 p.m. CST on September 15th
*When the grant deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline will move to the next business day.
Evaluation and Documentation
Evaluation and documentation are important to us, and we are eager to see how grant applicants define success and plan to measure progress toward it. We ask grant applicants to describe in precise terms the project's desired outcome, and how they will know if it was successful. Within 30 days of the conclusion of a project or grant period, grantees must complete a final grant report.
We ask all Grant recipients to document their initiatives or events by taking photos, recording audio or video, and sharing their experience with us. We want to share with others the great work that grantees are doing and frequently feature stories of grantee partners in our news and on social media @ILHumanities.
Grantee Partner Spotlight
Les Amis du Fort de Chartres
Officially designated as the oversight agency for Fort de Chartres by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Les Amis du Fort de Chartres received an unrestricted Illinois Humanities grant to recoup losses sustained during the pandemic.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you define a "humanities organization?"
General Operating Grants are specifically designed for nonprofit, tax-exempt humanities organizations that have budgets of $250,000 or less. The following categories have been adapted from the Humanities Indicators project led by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Information on the Humanities Indicators project can be found at amacad.org.
- Cultural and Ethnic Organization: This category includes organizations dedicated to the study, preservation, and/or dissemination of the history and culture of ethnic groups.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include the American Indian Center, Haitian American Museum, African American Museum of Southern Illinois, and Ukrainian National Museum.
- History Organizations: This category includes historical societies (and their support organizations), historical preservation groups (and their support organizations), historic houses, folklore/folklife organizations, place-based learning organizations, cultural sustainability organizations, and other organizations with a historical focus.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include the Bronzeville Historical Society.
- Humanities Education: Organizations that offer classes, seminars, and workshops in the humanities (which include but are not limited to literature, languages, history, philosophy, religious studies, art history, and interdisciplinary humanities programs – like ethnic studies, gender and sexuality studies, and American studies).
- Examples of past grantees in this category include Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Humanities Festival, etc.
- Humanities Museums: This category includes organizations that acquire, preserve, research, exhibit, and provide for the educational use of works of art or objects/artifacts that are related to the study of humanities content.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include the Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities, the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum, the American Writers Museum, the Atlanta Public Library and Museum, and the Alton Museum of History and Art.
- Libraries and Archives: These organizations include operating libraries and archives (excluding those that are purely science- and medicine-focused). Libraries can be treated as museums or libraries.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include the Lithuanian Archives Project, Rebuild Foundation, Read/Write Library, and Chillicothe Public Library.
- Literature Organizations: This category includes organizations that promote the study or appreciation of books and/or literature and the promotion of literacy.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include Guild Literary Complex, 826CHI, Chicago Books to Women in Prison, and Metro East Literacy Project.
- Media, Journalism, and Documentary Organizations: Organizations that are committed to covering humanities themes and/or telling the stories, happenings, and histories of communities that are informed by the members of those communities, challenge predominant narratives, and/or nurture critical analysis of media.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include 60 Inches from Center, South Side Weekly, Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, and Kartemquin Educational Films.
- Consortiums, alliances, and collectives of the above-named groups.
- Examples of past grantees in this category include the Chicago Cultural Alliance, Landmarks Illinois, and the Illinois Association of Museums.
What is your definition of the humanities?
The humanities are the examination of what it means to be human through the interpretation and discussion of all forms of thought, interest, and expression.
We value traditional humanities disciplines, such as art history, literature, history, and philosophy. However, our emphasis on the public humanities means that we look at the humanities as more than an academic discipline. For us, the public humanities are a mode of inquiry and conversation that aims to engage, support, or challenge the ideals, beliefs, tensions, and prejudices of the communities in which we live. We believe that important thought can happen outside of the academy–in neighborhood institutions, schools, churches, and at kitchen tables across the country.
We are especially interested in instances of the public humanities that promote civic engagement–in raising critical issues facing everyday people and conducted with the hope of increasing their thirst for staying engaged. Rather than being defined by rigid disciplinary boundaries, it is the humanistic lens, which emphasizes curiosity, questioning, and dialogue, that matters.
Does your organization have a working definition of the public humanities? Share it with us–we’re eager to explore how others are addressing this complex question.
What activities and expenses does Illinois Humanities not fund?
Illinois Humanities supports public humanities programs, initiatives, and organizations. We do not fund:
- Activities that promote a specific political position or ideology
- Alcoholic beverages
- Businesses, for-profits
- Capital projects (i.e., renovation or purchase of buildings or land)
- Endowment contributions
- Foreign travel
- Major equipment purchases (though equipment to assist a specific program is admissible)
- Out-of-state programs that have no specific relevance or thematic connection people in Illinois (though technically a grant recipient or fiscal agent can be located elsewhere in the U.S.)
- Programming that falls outside of the humanities
- Social services (though a social services agency may apply for funding of a humanities project)
Can I have more than one active grant with Illinois Humanities at a time?
In general, grantees may have one open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant at a given time. Before applying for a new grant, current grantees should be sure to conclude their open grant by submitting a final report.
A grantee may have an open Vision, Action, or General Operating grant and still receive an Activate History microgrant, Envisioning Justice, or Foreground Rural Initiative grant.
Note: If your organization acts as a fiscal agent for another, you may have an open grant and still receive funding for any grant offered by Illinois Humanities.
Who can apply?
Nonprofit organizations can apply for Illinois Humanities grants. This includes 501(c)3 organizations and nonprofits under state law, as well as libraries, schools, faith-based organizations, and universities. We do not accept grant applications from individuals* or for-profit companies. If you are unsure about whether you can apply, reach out to us.
Why does Illinois Humanities have a grant-making program?
Illinois Humanities has been making grants since its inception in 1973. In the past 46 years, Illinois Humanities has made nearly 2,800 grants for a total of more than $17 million. We are proud to have helped support dozens of documentary films, conferences, exhibits, training programs, oral history projects, and scores of other activities. We are firm believers in the many organizations and individuals throughout the state of Illinois that value the humanities, culture, and dialogue as community-building activities, and wish to help them to fulfill their missions, carry out high-quality programming, and grow their organizations. We are indebted to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly for the support that allows this grantmaking program to exist.