J. Ira and Nicki Harris

J. Ira and Nicki Harris have resided in Palm Beach for eight years—but through their two donor advised funds at the The Chicago Community Trust, the Harrises support an eclectic group of projects that bring out the best in metropolitan Chicago, including the Big Shoulders Fund, which supports Catholic schools; the Museum of Science and Industry; and Millennium Park.

This longtime philanthropic partnership dates back to 1975 when J. Ira Harris was appointed to the Executive Committee, the governing board of the Trust.

"I really learned more about what was going on in the real Chicago through exposure to all the different organizations in the key social areas," explains J. Ira Harris. "It was just a terrific experience."

During his 15-year tenure on the board, he saw firsthand how the Trust addressed the most pressing issues of the day with its expertise, innovation and collaboration. For example, the energy crisis in the late 1970s prompted the Trust to band together with five other foundations to establish the Joint Energy Conservation Fund to help nonprofits conduct energy audits and obtain loans to reduce energy consumption.

The Trust's deep impact in the region inspired the Harrises to set up the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Foundation Internship in Philanthropy at the Trust in 1986. Every summer two college students pursuing advanced degrees in nonprofit management, public policy, social service administration or a related discipline work at the Trust for 10 weeks. Their duties include evaluating grant proposals and assisting with research on prospective donors. Such experiences give the interns a better understanding of philanthropy, according to J. Ira Harris.

"It's very important to expose young people to the work that the Trust is doing and for them to learn and be able to go back into the communities and share what they've learned," he says.

"I’m a tremendous believer that you always want top quality. You want to work with the best in class," says J. Ira Harris. "When you're working with the Trust, you're working with the best."

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