Land Conservation – Chicago Region – Strategy and Guidelines

We offer general operating and project grants to a diverse range of organizations and programs that further innovative conservation efforts across the Chicago Wilderness region (see mission area map) through stewarding natural and working lands; integrating climate resilience; advancing policy advocacy; and providing benefits to both natural and diverse human communities.

View the recording of our February 11th virtual launch here.

Map of the land area around the southern rim of Lake Michigan. Shades of brown indicate land that is developed. Shades of blue and green depict waterways and protected natural areas.


The four priority goals of this strategy are to:

  • support innovative and regionally-strategic conservation approaches, such as the Chicago region strategies outlined in GDDF’s “Expanding the Conservation Toolbox” report, including the stewardship of both natural and working lands;
  • encourage climate resiliency to be integrated into all work;
  • advance policy advocacy including through public engagement at all government levels;
  • increase the relevance and reach of conservation by supporting efforts that provide both ecological and human well-being benefits, including for underserved communities.

Partnerships, convenings, technical assistance, and collaborations that accelerate and enhance the priorities of the strategy are also eligible for grants and other support. Program-related investments (PRIs) remain available to assist with the acquisition or other permanent protection of strategically significant lands.


Proposals for either general operating or project support should address one or more of the four prongs of the strategy, as illustrated below. Please identify whether a proposal is primarily related to one or more prong, and the extent to which other prongs may also be advanced, for grant support.

  • Innovative conservation approaches:  This objective aims to support organizations and projects advancing innovative stewardship activities on natural or working lands that provide both ecological and ecosystem service benefits. Expanding the Toolbox examples include riparian area restoration in flood prone communities, conservation opportunities on agricultural land, and habitat corridor conservation in transportation and utility rights of way.
  • Integration of climate resilience: This objective aims to support the incorporation of climate resiliency considerations in all programs and projects, recognizing that resiliency opportunities will be at various parcel sizes, involve varying land uses, and provide a range of benefits. Examples include using climate resiliency in acquisition and stewardship planning and prioritization, connectivity to other protected or stewarded areas, and advancement of nature-based green infrastructure as a resilience tool.
  • Policy advocacy and public engagement campaigns: This objective aims to support the utilization of policy advocacy, public engagement, and communications strategies to enhance land conservation programs and projects. Examples include educational advocacy efforts to advance state and municipal government support for public conservation programs and funding. Other examples include land use planning advocacy and engagement related to public infrastructure investments, industrial development, and other proposed activities that could impact land protection efforts at scale, along with engagement campaigns that complement conservation activities under the other prongs of the strategy.
  • Benefits to people, including underserved communities: This objective aims to support conservation work that provides benefits to diverse human communities across the region. There are significant opportunities to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the land conservation field at both organizational and project levels. Examples include efforts to increase staff and board diversity and supporting organizations and programs that are led by, meaningfully engage, or benefit communities that have been historically underserved.


  • Must be a 501(c)(3) public charity (or be fiscally sponsored by one) or unit of government.
  • Must be in compliance with the Secretary of State where the organization is headquartered.
  • Must have completed at least one full fiscal year of operations before applying.
  • Must have a nexus to land conservation in the Chicago Wilderness Region geography (see map above).
  • Eligible conservation activities include work involving natural areas, such as forests, prairies, grasslands, natural parklands, and wetlands, in addition to working lands including agricultural land, stormwater-absorbing riparian areas, and corridors that help connect other stewarded areas.
  • The five priority landscapes under GDDF’s prior strategy – Calumet, Forest Preserves of Cook County, Kankakee watershed, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge – remain eligible for consideration consistent with the above guidelines.
  • If you are new to us, must contact the Chicago office to discuss your proposal at least one month in advance of a deadline before applying (see contact info below).

The following are not eligible:

  • Individuals.
  • Environmental education programs and religious activities.
  • Projects or activities that involve political campaigns, electoral politics, or lobbying on pending legislation.
  • Stand-alone conferences, publications, films, events, websites, or videos.
  • Endowments, capital campaigns, or debt reduction.
  • Projects for developed parklands, community or school gardens, rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, trails, bike paths.
  • Other programs that are not primarily focused on one or more of the four goals of the strategy.


Our next proposal deadlines are April 1, 2022 and July 29, 2022.

Please contact Rebecca Judd at – our Conservation Program Officer – at least one month in advance of the deadline to discuss potential support.

(We have a new grantee portal; you will be prompted to create a new account before starting the application.)