Connecting Philanthropy to Impact Q&A

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The Chicago Community Trust’s 10-year strategy to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago region aims to grow household wealth, catalyze neighborhood investment, and build collective power, which includes grant making, advocating for public policies that advance equity, and using data to drive our strategies. At the same time, we remain steadfastly committed to funding vital service organizations that are addressing Chicagoans’ critical needs and are doubling down on our commitment to helping donors make the most of their philanthropy.

In the Q&A with the Trust’s Kristin Carlson Vogen, senior director of philanthropic services, and Joan Garvey Lundgren, senior director of resource development, we dig into what it means to connect philanthropy to impact.

Q: How does the Philanthropic Services team work with donors? What makes the Trust’s approach unique?
Kristin Carlson VogenKristin Carlson Vogen: Our philanthropic advisors guide donors on their philanthropic journey. Some donors connect with the Trust and are not entirely certain how they would like to make a difference in the world. A Philanthropic Advisor will ask questions to assess what areas are most important to the donor and help the donor give with impact – as defined by the donor.

Q: One of the underpinnings of the Trust’s work to support a more vital Chicago region is connecting philanthropy to impact. What does that mean, and why is it important?
KCV: Donors make charitable gifts because they want to make the world a better place – they want their dollars to have an impact … on lives, on society, on community. Our role as philanthropic advisors is to assist donors in making an impact on interest areas of the donor’s choosing, through philanthropic and financial investments. By partnering with the Trust, donors have access to vast and deep knowledge about the Chicago region, as well as guidance to determine what areas of interest will have the most significant impact.

Q: You are committed to inspiring engaging opportunities for donors, exceeding donor needs, and deepening relationships. What are some ways you’re doing this?
Joan Garvey LundgrenJoan Garvey Lundgren: Donors have often shared with us that they believe in the Trust because we know what is happening on the ground across the region. They turn to us to see what organizations we fund through our discretionary grants, and they listen to us when we guide them for their lifetime and estate giving. What they also asked for was interaction with other donors and additional ways to deepen their understanding of issues of importance to our region.

KCV: Through our quarterly Donor Dialogues series, we bring together donors, civic leaders and experts for solutions-focused conversations that explore our community’s most pressing issues. We publish a newsletter three times a year that shares insights on relevant topics and provides a glance into the working of the Trust. Earlier this year, we launched an impact investing pilot for our donor advised funds in response to growing interest in having philanthropically earmarked dollars create positive social return before grants are made to chosen charities.

Q: With the Trust’s grant making focused on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap, how do you balance fundraising for strategic priorities with working with donors to achieve their charitable goals?
JGL: There are many kinds of donors. Some are laser-focused on solving a particular issue or funding a specific organization. Others seek to leverage the Trust’s expertise and leadership on the pressing needs of our region to help them determine how to make a difference, which provides us with the opportunity to engage them in the strategic programmatic priorities the Trust has identified as critical to making our region stronger.

Q: How does being a community foundation distinguish the Trust’s philanthropy from other foundations?
KCV: Unlike private foundations (which include family, corporate, and independent foundations), community foundations are funded by and for a geographic region or issue-focused purpose. Many of them, like the Trust, have endowed assets accumulated from estate gifts throughout the years. With these assets, we act as a grantmaker supporting organizations that provide essential on-the-ground services in our communities. But we are more than grantmakers. Because of our active engagement of donors, nonprofits, policymakers and the private sector, we are uniquely positioned to be changemakers as well.

JGL: As the region’s community foundation, the Trust sprang into action when COVID-19 came to Chicago. Leveraging our unique position and networks with both donors and community-based organizations, we led the response fund effort, providing opportunities for donors of all capacities to support organizations that could provide the most help.

Q: Many people assume that to be a philanthropist or donor, you need to be able to give a certain amount of money. How would you respond to that?
KCV: Through the Trust, anyone and everyone can be a philanthropist. By giving to an affinity fund or Unity Fund, for example, an individual can leverage a contribution into more significant impact by collectively giving with other donors. Someone who wants to support a specific purpose or select organizations for annual grants can set up their own fund. Individuals or corporations with an existing giving vehicle could catalyze their philanthropy by partnering with the Trust when making grants. All of these options and many more are possible when connecting philanthropy through impact with the Trust.