Grantees include Jewish organizations like the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Photo: Thomas Barrat/shutterstock

Now in his 90s, Newton Minow has been known around Chicago as an attorney and as a former chair of the Federal Communications Commission. He’s also a philanthropist. Minow and his wife Josephine created the Minow Family Foundation (MFF) in 1967 and have quietly given to local organizations since that time. Seeing as this grantmaker has always maintained a low profile and doesn’t have a website to guide grantseekers, here’s what Great Lakes-area nonprofits should know about the Minow family’s giving.

The Chicago connection

Newton Minow was born in Milwaukee and attended Northwestern University for his undergraduate and law degrees. He has served as senior council for the Chicago-headquartered law firm Sidley Austin LLP, and also as Honorary Counsel General of Singapore in Chicago. Minow and his family have deep ties to the Chicago area, where the bulk of MFF’s giving is centered. However, the foundation has also been known to award unrestricted operating grants to national organizations like the American Diabetes Association and the American Constitution Society.

Three main interest areas

The Minow Family Foundation is not overly transparent about its grantmaking preferences and strategies, which leads us to look to recent tax filings for insights. MFF has given to a variety of organizations over the years, but education, the arts and Jewish causes are three prominent topics of interest. In the past, grants have gone to Catholic K-12 schools, after-school programs and major arts institutions in Chicago, such as Lyric Opera Chicago and the Chicago Symphony. The founders have Jewish roots and MFF gives to local Jewish organizations as well, including the Illinois Holocaust Museum and the Jewish Federation of Metro Chicago.

A Democratic political donor

Newton Minow is known for being active in politics and publicly supporting Democratic candidates and campaigns. Back in the 1960s, people got to know Minow as a well-respected but controversial figure who criticized commercial television. Minow was a major supporter of Barack Obama during his presidential candidacy and has personal connections to the Obama family. Because of Minow’s support for nonprofit, civic and educational institutions, Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. It’s possible that Minow’s political leanings could sway the foundation’s support towards more liberal organizations and progressive programs.

An accessible local grantmaker

Despite MFF’s nearly nonexistent web presence, this is an approachable and accessible grantmaker. According to recent tax records, MFF welcomes unsolicited grant applications sent by mail to the foundation’s address on Dearborn Street in Chicago. There are no submission deadlines or limitations on awards, and although a letter form is suggested for the application, no special materials are required. MFF has been awarding about a quarter of a million dollars a year lately, with most grants ranging anywhere from $100 to $25,000 each.

Check out more details about the Minow Family Foundation and other under-the-radar local grantmakers in our Chicago & Great Lakes Funding Guide.