The total includes gifts of $20 million from the Grainger Foundation in support of new science learning programs and research technologies; $10 million from board chair Connie Keller and her husband, Dennis, for an existing conservation initiative; and $10 million from Bill and Linda Gantz for the newly renamed Gantz Family Collections Center, which manages the museum's collection of twenty-seven million specimens and artifacts. The announcement of the gifts launches the public phase of the campaign, funds from which will be used to strengthen the museum's collections, stabilize its finances, improve the visitor experience, and expand the museum's global research programs.
The museum, which drew scrutiny for a decade-long spending and borrowing spree — including the sale of $90 million in bonds in 2002 to pay for a collections center and renovate its east entrance — and struggled financially during the Great Recession, hopes to set aside $100 million of the funds raised for its endowment. In 2012, with its debt approaching $170 million, it announced a $100 million capital campaign that included a plan to reduce operating expenses by $5 million; in 2013, the museum increased the campaign's goal by $150 million.
Richard Lariviere, who took over as president of the museum in 2012, told the Sun-Times that its debt was now "under control." "We put in place a couple of years ago a plan that would make the museum sustainable, a growth pattern for the foreseeable future," said Lareviere, "and part of that was cutting costs, part of it increasing revenue, and part of it was to enhance the endowment."