Helping people have a positive impact in the world has been my life’s passion—although not through an obvious path. In my college yearbook I mused that my future self would help people help others. Moving on to law school, I knew quickly that working at a law firm was not my end goal, though I was oblivious to my earlier thoughts about my future.
As often occurs to many of us, my career path was informed by life experiences. My interest in advising people on providing financial resources for causes they love was shaped by my trusts and estates class, and an internship at my local public television station. The first was fascinating—people’s core beliefs about themselves and their loved ones are revealed through estate planning. As a person intrigued by psychology, but deterred from pursuing it as a career, estate planning came incredibly close to learning the “whys” of actions and enabling people to plan for the care of their loved ones. At the public television station, I learned how dependent nonprofit organizations are on contributions from individuals.
A couple of years later I learned about “planned giving”—essentially charitable estate planning. It was at that time that I discovered that I could help people who care deeply not only for their own progeny or other loved individuals, but also for the nonprofits that give meaning to others, to build dreams, heal or care for a place, a region.
Philanthropy is defined as love of humankind, in general. Within our sector, the term “philanthropy” receives praise for its financial generosity and influence while, at times, is criticized for not going deeper to solve underlying systemic challenges. In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic church replaced the use of the term philanthropia with caritas—“charity”—defined as “selfless love.” “Taking care of” has taken on different meanings, but in its original form meant making a positive impact on another person, entity or thing. Caretaking is a philanthropic and charitable activity.
I learned about “planned giving”—essentially charitable estate planning—and discovered that I could help people who care deeply not only for their own progeny or other loved individuals, but also for the nonprofits that give meaning to others, to build dreams, heal or care for their region.
When I first came to know community foundations, I was smitten. Here is an entity, charitable in the broadest sense—enabling people to care for other people and things. Staff who understand a place or a purpose and leverage financial resources for the benefit of many.
The Chicago Community Trust was founded to provide caretaking—in its original sense—of our region. People who loved our city and region entrusted their financial resources to help residents and natural resources of the Chicago community. Those dollars, and many more added over more than 100 years, have founded numerous nonprofits, galvanized collective giving for purpose, created leadership programs and helped improve the basic human needs of thousands.
We also advise people on their individual philanthropy—guide them on their giving journey now and into the future. Whether interests are in their own neighborhood, within the region or across the country, we help devise the best way to provide unselfish love or care.
The secret sauce of The Chicago Community Trust is three-fold: the myriad ways we assist individuals and entities with their giving; our stewardship of the resources entrusted to us; and access to our staff’s knowledge of the needs of the local landscape. We want to be approachable, knowledgeable and accessible. Whether you want to make a difference through a contribution of shares of an LLC, publicly traded stock, an IRA or cash, we can help. Whether you know exactly which charitable organizations you want to support, or you want to identify how your values can best influence your current and future giving, we help you connect your philanthropy to impact.
Tackling the racial and ethnic wealth disparity that was caused by years of explicit policies and implicit actions or biases is not easy, especially when wealth that has been entrusted to us over the years was likely created as part of unequal systems.
Throughout our history we have expanded how we connect donors to impact that we hope makes the Trust one of the most thoughtful and intentional givers and influencers. Mission-driven organizations have many impact-oriented assets: dollars distributed as grants, dollars invested prior to granting, power to convene, knowledge to educate. As one example of how we are advancing impact, we are increasing access to mission-aligned impact investments for our donor advised funds.
Because our deepest purpose is caring for our region, we continually evaluate how to solve for the most pressing needs of our region. Recently we restated our vision to see a thriving, equitable and connected Chicago region where people of all races, places and identities have the opportunity to reach their potential. In reviewing the barriers to achieving our vision, we continually confronted the glaring fact of racial and ethnic wealth disparity. Tackling an issue that was caused by years of explicit policies and implicit actions or biases is not easy, especially when wealth that has been entrusted to us over the years was likely created as part of unequal systems.
While we and our sector will continue to use the words “philanthropy” and “charity” to self-define, a more apt word—at least for community foundations—is caretaker.