The Joyce Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Chicago that finances advocacy for gun control, environmental causes, and liberal education policy; opposition to right-of-center election reforms; and left-of-center nonprofit media outlets.
Beatrice Joyce Kean established the organization in 1948. Before he was elected President of the United States, then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama was a member of the Joyce Foundation board of directors.
The Joyce Foundation is a grantmaking organization funding liberal political and culture projects. It principally operates in the Great Lakes region, focusing on Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The organization distributed $50 million in grants in 2018. 
The organization was incorporated in 1948 in Chicago and founded by Beatrice Joyce Kean, the heiress of the wealthy Joyce family from Clinton, Iowa. The Joyce family was involved in the lumber industry, which included family-owned timberlands, plywood and sawmills, as well as wholesale and retail building material based in the Midwest and in Louisiana. 
Although today, the foundation funds mostly left-wing causes, family patriarch and founder of the family lumber business David Joyce was known for being a strong advocate of the free market and a Republican. 
Beatrice Joyce Kean, born in 1921, was the sole inheritor of the Joyce family fortune at age 21, and established the Joyce Foundation at age 25.  She aimed to reduce poverty and violence in the Great Lakes area. 
For more than two decades, the foundation distributed smaller grants to the interests of Kean, which largely included conservation, hospitals, and universities. When Kean died in 1972, she left the 90 percent of her estate, more than $120 million, to the foundation. 
Executives and lawyers from the family lumber business initially ran the foundation continuing to give to Beatrice Joyce Kean’s interests. It wasn’t until 1978 that the organization hired Charles U. Daly, a former White House aide to President John F. Kennedy, as the first executive director. Daly expanded the focus to include education, cultural organizations, and government policies. 
The most famous person associated with the Joyce Foundation is President Barack Obama, who served on the Foundation board of directors before winning the presidency. Obama was on the board in Chicago from 1994 to 2002. Before his 2004 U.S. Senate run, Obama reportedly considered leaving politics to become full-time president of the Joyce Foundation. 
The Joyce Foundation focuses grants on five areas of policy research and advocacy; education, environmentalism, gun control, election administration, and culture.
Education and Economic Mobility Program
Joyce Foundation Education and Economic Mobility program grants aim at promoting and recruiting better-trained teachers and principals to work in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis. 
Another focus of the education program is a pathway to college and career credentialing. The education program calls for “advanced college coursework opportunities in high school, career planning, and more seamless transitions from high school to college.” The foundation backs community colleges and other open-access four-year institutions. 
The foundation’s education program notably funded the controversial Chicago Annenberg Challenge that a then-Illinois State Senator and then-Joyce board member Barack Obama ran along with 1970s-era Weather Underground far-left extremist-turned-university professor William Ayers. 
It further contributed to the Small Schools Movement, which was also started by Ayers, and to the Erikson Institute in Chicago, a graduate school focused on child development, which once included Ayers’ wife Bernadine Dohrn on the board. 
The Joyce Foundation environmentalist initiative touts three long-term goals: Switching electric power generation to 100 percent renewable, nuclear, and other carbon-free sources, replacing conventional fuel use in every sector of the economy with environmentalist alternatives, Deploy all cost-effective energy efficiency technologies so clean energy won’t be more expensive than necessary. 
The Joyce Foundation provided $1.1 million in 2002 for the start of the Chicago Climate Exchange, an attempt at “cap-and-trade” emissions regulation. 
Gun Control and Justice Reform
Joyce Foundation funds efforts to restrict access to guns, reduce incarceration, and increase trust between the community and police. The organization phased out health related grants in the 1980s, but began a focus on gun control in 1990s. 
The foundation financed scholarships for law schools to promote a legal theory that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual’s right to bear arms, claiming the amendment guaranteed a state government’s right to arm an organized militia. The law review article arguments were cited in federal court rulings in 2001 and 2002 that upheld state and local gun control laws. The organization also paid for a book titled Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns. 
In the process, the foundation bankrolled the Second Amendment Research Center at Ohio State University for the purpose of producing research to back up the Second Amendment as a collective rather than individual right.
The foundation has even mockingly said “the ‘gun rights’ drumbeat” has drowned out solutions to violence. After the high court ruling in 2008, the organization began to push gun control as a public health issue. It had already helped promote the National Violent Death Reporting System located at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1990s. 
Former Joyce Foundation President Deborah Leff, explained the rationale in a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “So long as one looks at this as solely a criminal problem, one comes up with solely criminal solutions,” Leff said. “But when you have a major cause of death like this, you have to look for prevention solutions. We tried to identify people who were capable of doing that.” 
The organization has given millions to liberal think tank Violence Policy Center, the self-described, “most aggressive group in the gun control movement,” that has advocated for a national handgun ban. The policy center in 2000 called for Congress to ban handguns and spend $16.25 billion to compensate owners for the taking of the then-estimated 65 million civilian-owned handguns. 
The organization has also poured tens of millions of dollars to fund more than 100 anti-gun grants to researchers at Harvard University, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Freedom States Alliance, Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, and Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. In past years, the organization has devoted 10 percent of its outlays to gun control grants.  
Joyce Foundation helped finance the Vera Institute of Justice’s Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Network, which was established after President Donald Trump’s election to pay for lawyers to represent illegal immigrants at deportation hearings. 
Biden Community Violence Intervention Collaborative
In June 2021, the Biden administration announced a program to combat rising gun violence and violent crime using a collaborative composed of government and nonprofit organizations funding community violence intervention (CVI) measures. The Joyce Foundation was reported to be a funder of the collaborative, along with California Endowment, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Kellogg Foundation. Other foundations funding the initiative include the Kresge Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Arnold Ventures, the Emerson Collective, the Heising-Simons Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. CVI strategies “act as an alternative to heavy-handed policing” by focusing its efforts on the minority of citizens who are perpetrators or targets of violent crime. CVI treats violence as a communicable disease rather than a violent crime and attempts to stop the “spread” of violence. 
Joyce Democracy Program
The Joyce Democracy Program advocates for campaign finance reform to curb donations into political campaigns. The organization also claims voter ID laws “suppress” voting It further advocates for changing the means of redistricting for congressional and state legislative seats to align with methods supported by left-of-center groups. 
The organization also funds nonprofit media outlets, arguing that journalism faces numerous challenges as a result of technology altering the media landscape. Stating the “fragile media ecosystem is at risk of further erosion because of circulation and revenue declines, consolidations, and resulting newsroom layoffs,” the foundation says it will use grants to “help build and sustain emerging media that are helping to fill the gap, and in doing so strengthen democracy in the region.” The grants go to left-of-center outlets in the Great Lakes states. 
The Culture program’s goal is to expand arts program and arts participation in underserved communities in the Great Lakes region. It has spent $31 million on arts project since beginning the Culture program in 1996. 
The foundations provide grants to arts and cultural organizations that reduce the cost or distance of artist participation. Grants are divided into three focuses: Arts access and participation, arts leadership, and creativity and culture production.
The Culture grants are aimed at promoting the “next generation of artists” in “culturally vibrant and sustainable communities.” The grant program focuses on diversity and is particularly interested in focuses on ethnic minority artists. 
The board of directors has 13 members and two directors emeritus. The chairman of the board is Jose B. Alvarez. The vice chairwoman is Margot M. Rogers. Former executive director Charles Daly continues to serve on the board. 
Ellen S. Alberding is the Joyce Foundation president, and is a member of the board of the directors. She became president in 2002, but has been with the foundation since 1989.
Alberding is also a member of the Loyola University board of trustees. Further, she is a member of the Chicago Public Education Fund’s board of directors. She serves on the National Park Foundation’s National Council and was the vice chairwoman of City Colleges of Chicago. She was a former board member of the Economic Club of Chicago.