The Foundation primarily funds organizations in the Great Lakes region. The Foundation is notable for its support of gun control measures. U.S. President Barack Obama served on the foundation's board of directors from 1994 through 2002.
The Joyce Foundation was established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean of Chicago. She was the sole heir of David Joyce, a lumber executive and industrialist from Clinton, Iowa. The family wealth came from the lumber industry, including family-owned timberlands, plywood and saw mills, and wholesale and retail building material distribution facilities located in the Midwest, Louisiana, and Texas. The Foundation was modestly endowed until Kean's death in 1972, when she bequeathed it nearly $100 million.
Charles U. Daly, a former aide to President John F. Kennedy, served as president of the Foundation for eight years. He was succeeded by Craig Kennedy in 1986. Deborah Leff, a trial lawyer for the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, served as president of the organization from 1992 to 1999, and was succeeded by Paula DiPerna, named president in 1999. DiPerna was succeeded in 2002 by Ellen Alberding, the organization's seventh president. Former U.S. President Barack Obama served on the foundation's board of directors from 1994 through 2002.
As of 2015, the Joyce Foundation has awarded over $950 million in grants since its establishment.
The Foundation describes its mission as "working to improve quality of life, promote community vitality, and achieve a fair society."
The Joyce Foundation's primary focus is on the Great Lakes region, where its funding efforts are focused on "environmental preservation, diverse art, energy efficiency, teacher quality, gun violence prevention, early literacy, and workforce development." Foundation programs invest in public education, economic opportunity, and the environment. Other programs promote voting rights and arts organizations.
The Joyce Foundation is one of the few private foundations that considers gun-related research proposals. Joyce distributes grants designed to prevent gun violence by reducing the easy accessibility of firearms. Since 1993, the Joyce Foundation spent over $54 million on over 100 grants that favor gun control.