Joyce Foundation

Joyce Foundation


* Assets: $1,062,106,276 (2017)
* Grants Received: $0 (2017)
* Grants Awarded: $36,440,380 (2017)

The Joyce Foundation (JF) was established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, sole heir of the Joyce family (of Clinton, Iowa) that derived its wealth from the lumber industry.  Mrs. Kean generally conducted her philanthropy on a small scale (with disbursements totaling less than $100,000 per year), and directed her grants chiefly toward apolitical beneficiaries such as hospitals and health organizations. When she died in December 1972, Kean bequeathed more than $100 million—i.e., some 90% of her estate—to the Foundation.

At that point, a professional staff took control of JF and began to move it toward the political left. At first, universities and cultural institutions were added to its roster of grant recipients. A few years later, radical environmentalist and conservation groups entered the picture, as, eventually, did organizations dedicated to social justice, prison reform, and increased funding for government-provided social services—particularly those targeting nonwhite minorities. The Foundation’s annual giving skyrocketed from less than $100,000 at the time of Mrs. Kean’s death, to $10 million in 1976.

The most famous individual associated with JF was Barack Obama, who served on the Foundation’s board of directors from July 1994 until December 2002.

Today JF supports the development of “policies that both improve the quality of life for people in the Great Lakes region and serve as models for the rest of the country.” To advance such policies, the Foundation channels its philanthropy through six major Giving Programs:

(a) The Environmental Program funds organizations that oppose the use of land for such endeavors as logging, mining, construction, and oil exploration; many of these groups are hostile to a capitalist economic model as well. Warning that the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with human industrial activity and automobile transportation contribute heavily to potentially disastrous “climate change,” this program advocates the increased use of bicycles, mass transit, and high-speed rail as alternatives to motor vehicles. It also supports organizations that seek to publicly expose “the human health effects of coal” while promoting alternative energy technologies such as solar and wind.

(b) The Gun Violence Prevention Program seeks to drive small gun dealerships out of business by placing the firearms industry completely under consumer-product health-and-safety oversight. It also misrepresents the findings of research on gun-related deaths by failing to distinguish between the astronomically high gun-death rates of inner-city gang members, and the very low rates among the rest of the American population. By conflating those two sets of statistics (as well as the very large number of suicides that are carried out with firearms), JF depicts gun violence as a national epidemic—”each year nearly 100,000 people are shot in the U.S., and nearly 30,000 of them die”—thereby suggesting a justification for “effective public policies” that will erode Second Amendment rights. Further, JF laments that while “a growing body of research shows that strong gun laws correspond with lower rates of gun death and injury,” the “‘gun rights’ drumbeat has drowned out … common-sense approaches.”

(c) The Education Program works to “close the [black-vs.-white academic] achievement gap by improving the quality of teachers” employed in “high-need schools” that serve “low-income students and communities of color.” Demanding increased government spending on public education, this program also calls for universal, federally funded pre-school and “early learning opportunities, especially for low-income and minority children”; supports the establishment of charter public schools for youngsters in those same demographic groups; and endorses teacher-preparation programs that permit “alternative certification” for aspiring instructors who are unable to become certified via traditional avenues. Boasting that it “has been a long-time supporter of “school reform,” JF in the 1990s gave many hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the pro-socialist “Small Schools Movement”—school reform initiatives led by the former Weather Underground terrorist-turned education professor, Bill Ayers. Other “school reform” grants awarded by JF included:

  • a $78,000 grant in 1998 to Northwestern University’s Department of African American Studies, for research into the factors affecting student performance at 20 Chicago elementary schools;
  • a $70,000 grant in 1999 to the Center for Improved Education in South Shore, an Afrocentric entity that was one of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge’s “external partners”; and
  • a two-year, $150,000 grant in 1996 to the Center for Improved Education in South Shore.

(d) The Culture Programworks to improve communities” and “catalyze community engagement” by making art “accessible to diverse audiences” and investing in “artists of color.”

(e) The Employment Program supports “skill-building” initiatives that “empower students with the basic and technical skills needed for new, better-paying jobs.” It also promotes “partnerships between industry associations or groups of businesses and educational organizations to create and promote career advancement opportunities … that help low-skilled workers advance in the labor market.”

(f) The Democracy Program (DP) decries “the overwhelming influence of big money on political campaigns,” and urges the passage of ever-stronger campaign-finance-reform laws. It also supports groups dedicated to coalition-building, advocacy, and litigation—i.e., using trial lawyers and activist judges to promote left-wing agendas that cannot be advanced via the legislative process. Further, DP aims to “protect voting rights” by eliminating Voter ID requirements, making it easier for voters to register, and increasing opportunities for early voting.

Among the many recipients of Joyce Foundation funding have been: the Alliance for Justice; the American Bar Association; the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation; the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute; the American Friends Service Committee; the Brookings Institution; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; the Center for Community Change; the Center for Economic and Policy Research; the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio; the Chicago Climate Exchange; the Council on Foundations; the Democracy 21 Education Fund; the Earth Day Network; the Environmental Defense Fund; Environmental Media Services; the Environmental Working Group; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; the Izaak Walton League of America; the Jane Addams Resource Corporation; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Chicago); the League of Conservation Voters; the League of Women Voters; Media Matters for America[1]; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; the National Council of La Raza; the National Network of Grantmakers; National Public Radio; the National Wildlife Federation; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the Nature Conservancy; the New America Foundation; the Nine to Five Working Women Education Fund; Physicians for Social Responsibility; the Proteus Fund; the Public Citizen Foundation; the Rockefeller Family Fund; the Sierra Club; State Voices; SUSTAIN; the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center; the Union of Concerned Scientists; the Urban Institute; the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; the William J. Brennan Center for Justice; the World Resources Institute; and the World Wildlife Fund.

JF also awarded a $400,000 grant (for research into welfare) to the Erikson Institute, a Chicago-based graduate school in child development that was named after the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. Indicative of the Erikson Institute’s radical political orientation is the fact that its board of trustees has included such figures as Tom Ayers (father of Bill Ayers) and Bernardine Dohrn (longtime wife of Bill Ayers).

To view a list of additional noteworthy grantees of the Joyce Foundation, click here.

(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)

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