Request for Proposals: Our Great Rivers

RFP release: November 11, 2019
LOI deadline: January 6, 2020
Full application deadline: February 14, 2020
Funding decision: April 24, 2020
Announcement: May 8, 2020

Please note: Letters of inquiry were accepted for this funding opportunity through January 6, 2020 and new submissions are no longer being accepted. Based on a review of all those letters of inquiry received, select organizations will be invited to submit a full application.


The Chicago Community Trust is inviting community-led proposals to advance the Productive Rivers goals of the Our Great Rivers Vision:

Our rivers have historically been and will continue to be working rivers that are transportation arteries, commercial corridors and tourism generators.

Where economic activity is the best use of riverfront land, we’ll work to retain existing businesses that rely on the water and attract new types of entrepreneurs and jobs, while preserving the integrity of the water and the culture of surrounding communities. We’ll enhance our rivers’ transportation infrastructure to accommodate barges, tour boats, water taxis and recreational watercraft. Together, business, community, government and civic leaders will create innovative riverfront development that harmonizes the needs of people, businesses and nature.

Trust strategy supported by this RFP: Catalyzing Neighborhood Investment

About this funding opportunity

Since the formal launch in 2016 of Great Rivers Chicago, 15 community-led initiatives have formed projects along stretches of the river system. At last count, approximately 60 organizational and institutional partners were involved in these collaborations, making Great Rivers Chicago a unique place-based initiative that uses a city-wide asset to bring diverse interests together across many communities. The Trust is among several partners providing financial support for the projects and funding technical support through the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Now, in Great Rivers Chicago’s third year, the Trust is calling for community-led funding proposals that align with the Productive Rivers “theme” of the Our Great Rivers Vision. The primary geographic focus of this funding opportunity is Chicago’s majority Black and Latinx riverfront communities with sustained underinvestment and adjacent suburban municipalities that share a boundary with Chicago and have one of the rivers included in the Vision.


Priority strategies and activities:

Projects must advance most of these strategies and activities in order to be considered for funding:

  • Advance the goals of the Productive Rivers theme of the Our Great Rivers Vision. Proposals with the greatest promise of attracting financial capital to communities will be most competitive.
  • Utilize collaborations across communities and sectors. Proposals without robust partnerships will not receive funding.
  • Emphasize co-benefits across topic areas. Proposals with singularity of purpose will not receive funding.
  • Prepare communities to transition land to new and sustainable uses that equitably grow the economy.
  • Advance the goals and leverage the resources of existing community/municipal planning processes and place-based initiatives such as Opportunity Zones, the Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative, Neighborhood Opportunity Fund corridors, Chicago Prize initiatives, Invest South/West initiative and others.
  • Address systemic barriers through policy change, engagement with public officials and agency leaders, partnerships with the private sector or the creation of innovative and replicable process, approach or structural solutions for community-driven investment.
  • Position the rivers as catalysts for equitable community-driven investment in majority Black and Latinx communities.


Grant criteria

The following criteria will factor into proposal evaluation:

  • Alignment with the Priority Strategies and Activities above.
  • Creativity and innovation.
  • Ability to launch and replicate or scale, including sustainable funding sources beyond year one.
  • Firmness of partnerships. Commitments from key partners, including elected officials and public agencies, must be confirmed through letters of support. Projects of similar topic or geographic overlap may be asked to combine efforts.
  • Financial health, leadership and governance of the lead organization or fiscal agent.
  • Demonstration of a community-led structure.
  • Commitment of the team to racial and ethnic diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Geographic eligibility: Chicago and suburban communities that share a land or river border with the City of Chicago and have a river or tributary identified in the Our Great Rivers Vision. Proposals must demonstrate a direct and proximate impact on the rivers.


Grant Amounts

The Chicago Community Trust will make up to 15 grants under this RFP. Given the complexity and ambition of the Vision’s Productive Rivers goals, grant awards will range from $50,000 to $150,000.



Who can apply:

  • Nonprofit organizations with evidence of tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • Organizations with a 501(c)(3) organization acting as fiscal agent
  • Local government entities


Application Process

The application process has two steps: a letter of inquiry (LOI) phase and a full application phase. Based on a review of all letters of inquiry received in January, select organizations will be invited to submit a full application. Applications will be due by February 14, 2020.

Although letters of inquiry are no longer being accepted, you can find more details for your information in the Our Great Rivers RFP.


Information Sessions & Resources

Questions about this funding opportunity? Find out more in our Frequently Asked Questions.

The Trust also hosted in-person information sessions to answer applicants’ questions about this grant opportunity. You can view the presentation from those sessions in our webinar:

If you are invited to submit a full application based on your LOI, you will be asked to attend a workshop hosted by the River Ecology and Governance Task Force. This workshop will take place Monday, January 13, 2020 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at Chicago’s City Hall.



For technical questions about your GrantCentral application, please contact our grants management staff at

For questions about the funding opportunity, please contact Michael Davidson, senior director of community impact at or Cora Marquez, impact coordinator at


Quick links:

Download the complete RFP

Frequently Asked Questions about this RFP

Get started with your application in GrantCentral