Foundation FAQs

Answers to common questions.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy and to the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago.

MacArthur is one of the nation's largest independent foundations. Organizations supported by the Foundation work in about 40 countries. In addition to Chicago, MacArthur has offices in India and Nigeria.

John Donald MacArthur (1897-1978) was one of the three wealthiest men in America at the time of his death, and was sole owner of the nation's largest privately held insurance company, Bankers Life and Casualty Company of Chicago. He also owned extensive property and several businesses in Florida and New York City. His wife Catherine Teresa MacArthur (1909-1981) was John's partner in life and business. She held positions in many of his companies and served as a director of the Foundation.

About John and Catherine MacArthur Right Arrow

No, there is no relation between General Douglas MacArthur and John D. MacArthur.

The MacArthurs’ longtime friend and attorney William T. Kirby convinced John that a foundation would allow his money to go to good use long after he was gone. On October 18, 1970, the documents for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation were completed. When John died of cancer on January 6, 1978, the Foundation assumed his assets, estimated at $1 billion. In less than a year, the board began to award grants.

In the United States, private foundations are charitable organizations that provide grants to organizations or individuals, helping those in need or working to solve social problems. Foundations can operate locally, nationally, or internationally and enjoy considerable flexibility in choosing where to work and what to support. Private foundations act independently of any private business and of the United States government; they receive no government support. Many private foundations, like MacArthur, have endowments that are the sole source of funds for the grants they make.

A grant is an award of financial support. It can be provided for a specific project or general operations. It can be awarded to an individual or to an organization. Grants must serve charitable purposes.

MacArthur’s grantmaking aims to address complex societal challenges in a strategic way. Drawing on the expertise of our Staff and experts in the field, the Foundation formulates specific strategies that guide decisions about how and where our funding can have significant impact. These strategies are reviewed and adjusted over time.

MacArthur supports people and organizations working to address a variety of complex societal challenges. Our grants are generally long-term, strategic investments, focused on building evidence about what works and finding solutions to often intractable problems.

While some foundations work on a small number of issues, MacArthur is a multi-purpose foundation with grantmaking in fields that are often interrelated.
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Guided by long-held values, we support creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. For us, this world is one that is just, where actions are moral, rational, and fair; verdant, where the planet and its people flourish; and peaceful, meaning without violence and war. These aspirations require urgent and powerful action that has lasting impact on a major scale.

MacArthur has a global reach. We support organizations working in 25 countries and we maintain offices in India and Nigeria.

Our U.S. grantmaking impacts nearly every state in the nation. MacArthur is also very active in Chicago, which is our headquarters and the city John and Catherine MacArthur called home.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future. The fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. There are no limits on age or area of activity.

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Individuals cannot apply for the MacArthur Fellowship and nominations are not accepted from the general public.

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The Foundation does not support political activities or attempts to influence action on specific legislation. We do not provide scholarships or tuition assistance for undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate studies; nor do we support annual fundraising drives, institutional benefits, honorary functions, or similar projects.

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Only the MacArthur Fellows Program provides grants to individuals and applications are not accepted.

Many areas of MacArthur grantmaking do not accept unsolicited proposals. We encourage you to read carefully our grantmaking guidelines to assess whether you might be eligible for MacArthur support before you apply.

In 2015, the Foundation paid out $325.4 million in grants and program-related investments to organizations and individuals in the United States and around the world. Since 1978, the Foundation has paid out $6 billion through more than 23,506 grants and program-related investments to more than 8,565 organizations and individuals.

Our financial overview Right Arrow

The Foundation draws on the endowment left by John and Catherine MacArthur to support its charitable work. We invest the endowment and give away a portion of it each year.

The Foundation does not solicit contributions. We hope that those interested in making contributions will support our grantees or other public charities in the fields in which we work.

In some circumstances, however, we will accept donations. This could include, for example, a case where a donor wishes to make a substantial donation because the programs of the Foundation meet directly the interests of the donor and the donor prefers we exercise oversight over the use of the funds.

Acceptance of proposed donations and the terms will be determined based on the circumstances of each case. Persons interested in making substantial donations should contact Joshua J. Mintz, Vice President and General Counsel of the Foundation.

No. Private foundations like MacArthur act independently of any private business and of the United States government; they receive no government support. Many private foundations, including MacArthur, have endowments that are the sole source of funds for the grants they make.

As of December 31, 2016, MacArthur's assets totaled $6.2 billion.

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Chicago is MacArthur’s headquarters and our home. Our offices are in the historic Marquette Building, located at 140 S. Dearborn Street. Completed in 1895, the Marquette Building is a Chicago Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
About the historic Marquette Building Right Arrow

MacArthur also has offices located in India and Nigeria.
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We post our open positions online. Due to the number of applications received, we are unable to respond to phone inquiries regarding the status of our recruiting. Due to the limited number of employment opportunities available at the Foundation, we have compiled a list of resources that may help those exploring a career in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector.

Note to Media

Members of the media seeking comment from the Foundation or to interview a MacArthur staff person, should call MacArthur Communications at (312) 917-3690 or email Kristen Mack.