Foreground Rural Initiative Professional Development Grants

Foreground Western Hub members 2023

2023 09 13 Foreground Western Hub Mtg4 HERO2

Up to $750


Individuals and Organizations


Jul 1, 2024


Oct 31, 2024

This Foreground Rural Initiative opportunity invests in the capacity-building, leadership, and professional development of our partners in rural areas and small towns across Illinois to support their success and sustainability.

Award Timeline

The entire grant review process typically takes three weeks from the time the application is received until applicants are notified about funding. A professional development opportunity must happen between July 15, 2024, through December 31, 2024. Applicants are limited to one award per grant cycle.

  1. Proposals are reviewed. Applicants may be invited to share more details about their desired professional development opportunity.
  2. Successful applicants are notified.
  3. Applicants review and sign grant agreements. Once the signed agreement is received, grant funds are issued. 
  4. Within 30 days of the conclusion of the professional development opportunity, grantees must complete a brief narrative about the opportunity.
Eligibility and Guidelines


  • Individuals and organizations should be based in or serve primarily rural populations and small towns.
  • Individuals and organizations must be a Foreground Rural Initiative partner.
    • Foreground Rural Initiative partners are qualified applicants who previously applied for a Foreground Rural Initiative grant opportunity or are members of a Foreground hub.
    • Note: A previous Foreground Rural Initiative grant award is not necessary.
  • Individuals and organizations are not allowed more than one professional development grant in this cycle.
  • Organizations must be nonprofit and tax-exempt.

Questions about your eligibility? View our Frequently Asked Questions or contact us.


Foreground Rural Initiative Professional Development Grants cover expenses related to professional development opportunities. The type of professional development opportunity is wide open to include anything that helps you or your organization to further your goals and mission, such as:

  • attending a conference or other professional gathering, 
  • taking part in a training, workshop, or other professional development session, and 
  • bringing in a coach to help build staff skills in specific areas. 

Funds can be used for registration fees, training materials, honoraria, and stipends for food (no alcoholic beverages) and travel-related expenses. Equipment purchases and programmatic or organizational overhead are not covered by this grant.

Funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Professional development opportunities must occur between July 15, 2024, through December 31, 2024.

How to Apply

Apply using our grant application portal, Foundant.


  1. Applicants should submit one application per cycle.
  2. Deadline*: 5:00 p.m. CST on October 31, 2024. 

*When the grant deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline will move to the next business day.


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 the professional development opportunity's desired outcome, and how they will know if it was successful. Within 30 days of the conclusion of the professional development opportunity or grant period, grantees must complete a brief narrative about the opportunity.

Grantee Resources
  1. Complete your final report via our grantee portal.
  2. Official IH Logo (August 2021 version "Illinois Humanities" is bolded)
  3. Grant Acknowledgement Language: This program was made possible in part by a grant from Illinois Humanities.
  4. Resources for grantee partners and grant seekers.
Ellisville opera house foreground grantee

Photo courtesy of Foreground grantee partner, the Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization.

Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial

A memorial in Kaskaskia, Ill.

Contact Us

Fairouz AbuGhazaleh
Director of Statewide Programs

Matt Meacham
Manager of Statewide Engagement

Grantee Partner Spotlight

2021 Delta Upsilon Volunteers scaled2
Western Illinois University Fraternity, Delta Upsilon, helping move the collection in preparation for renovation work.

Western Illinois Museum

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Western Illinois Museum

Founded in 1974, the Western Illinois Museum’s mission is to “nurture our history and culture.” It is now a hub of community activity. The Museum received an Illinois Humanities Grant to provide financial stability during a time of expansion and renovation of its space.

Learn More

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you define "rural?"

For the purposes of this initiative, Illinois Humanities considers an organization “rural” if it meets at least two of the following four criteria:

  1. It is located in a county with a population density of 150 or fewer residents per square mile;
  2. It is located either in an unincorporated area or in a village, town, or city with a population of 7,500 or fewer residents;
  3. It is located at least 20 miles from the nearest city with a population of 75,000 or more;
  4. It has an explicit mission to serve rural communities or people who reside in rural locations.

We will continue to develop these criteria based on input from partner organizations and consultants.

What do you mean by "community-building?"

In many historically under-resourced communities, there is a strong need to bring people and organizations together to help shore up history–and help people imagine what a culturally and civically vibrant future might look like. This often requires bringing people together from across generations, ethnic differences, and disciplines. We are interested in these areas, and the role that cultural work–in the arts, in the humanities–plays in furthering this creative work.

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
  • Lobbying
  • 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, Multiplier, 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, Multiplier, 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 (unless otherwise indicated) 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 with over 3,000 awards given, totaling over $22 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 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.