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During 2020, charitable giving rose five percent to a new all-time high, according to a recent report by Giving USA. Building on that momentum, the Trust is engaging with its donors on philanthropic strategies that align with their values and have the potential to move the needle on longstanding societal problems.

Illustrating this trend are Michael and Mona Heath, whose donor advised fund was established at the Trust in 2013 to support small, storefront theater companies in Chicago. Having seen more than 4,000 theater performances, the Heaths know from experience that theater can change lives. While their theater giving continues to focus on nurturing artistic excellence and promoting inclusiveness, the social justice movements of the past year-and-a-half have inspired them to work with the Trust to extend the scope of their giving in a couple of ways.

“We had previously donated to small theater companies to help them produce existing plays,” said Michael. “However, the current times call for new voices articulating previously untold stories, so we’ve abandoned our longstanding reluctance to support notoriously risky new play development. Consequently, during the pandemic, we sponsored three major initiatives to develop new plays that will speak to the moment.”

Second, they—along with many other donors in the past year—have looked to the Trust to help shape a giving plan that will have an impact on eliminating inequities in Chicago. From identifying opportunities for individual and collaborative philanthropy to incorporating impact investing and shaping legacy giving, the Trust staff is well-positioned to assist donors who want to ensure their giving has an impact, says Kristin Carlson Vogen, senior director of philanthropic services.

“Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of donors have come to us wanting to support efforts to advance racial and economic justice. However, confronting such a large, entrenched issue can feel daunting,” said Vogen. “Fortunately, the Trust has been on this journey for almost two years since we identified closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap as our north star, and we have a number of pathways to connect donors to meaningful work being done on this issue.”

The Trust’s philanthropic advisors help donors sharpen their goals, connect with issue experts, and zero in on a giving strategy that aligns with their values, wherever their interests lie. For example, the Heaths consulted their philanthropic advisor Nicole Layton to identify possible focus areas within the Trust’s strategic initiatives and connect with relevant Trust staff in areas most meaningful to them.

“I was delighted to learn of their plan to broaden their giving and to serve as a trusted resource and advisor in developing their approach,” Layton said. “Philanthropic advisors have the tools and resources to serve as a strategic partner, helping the donors we work with envision what change they would like to see in the world and facilitate that through their giving.”

The Heaths are now looking at expanding their portfolio beyond the realm of theater to help address inequities more broadly, Mona noted. “We really appreciate the Trust’s recognition that social and economic justice have many interconnected moving parts, their knowledge of the issues, and their courage in tackling problems this challenging,” she said.

Though the issues are complex, donating to address them doesn’t need to be. The Heaths say that one of the benefits of a donor advised fund is that the Trust takes the administrative burden off donors. “It’s as convenient as online banking. You don’t have to hire a lawyer or start a foundation,” said Michael.

“We always keep in mind that a typical donor has a lot of other things on their plate,” said  Vogen. “One of our roles is to help them organize and maximize this aspect of their life. For example, we can identify opportunities for donor advised fund donors to leverage impact investing, so that their giving makes a difference the moment it is invested, and again when we grant the returns of that investment to their issues of choice.”

For those who want to dive deeper, philanthropic advisors can provide regular check-ins and invitations to the Trust’s Donor Dialogues event series, which educates donors on specific topics related to the Trust’s strategic focus.

The Trust also can help donors identify opportunities for collaborative philanthropy, in which donors align resources with Trust initiatives. For example, the Fund for Equitable Business Growth is a collaborative effort between the Trust, several other foundations, donor advised funds, and JPMorgan Chase to support businesses owned by people of color in the Chicago region. We Rise Together–a three to five-year strategy to focus economic recovery on Black and Latinx communities–is another example where donors can increase impact by joining a collective effort, said Joan Garvey Lundgren, senior director of resource development for the Trust.

“Through collaborative philanthropy, we help to identify common priorities and a shared approach,” said Lundgren, “By pooling resources and building partnerships, we can drive change in a way that none of us would be able to do individually.”

Lundgren added that the Trust can connect a wide range of donors, from people making a one-time gift to those with a donor advised fund to corporate philanthropies, to collaborative opportunities. For example, in 2016, the Heaths helped fund a grant request for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium that enabled hundreds of theaters and cultural institutions to share, free of charge, a pool of accessibility equipment to make cultural opportunities more accessible to people with disabilities.

The Trust can also help ensure donors’ gifts forever meet their values through planned giving. Tim Bresnahan, senior director of gift planning for the Trust, said it’s never too early for donors to talk to the Trust about planned gifts or estate gifts to ensure they leave a legacy.

“Even if you’re in your 40s or 50s, there’s value in thinking ahead and having a conversation with us about how the Trust can be your philanthropic fiduciary after your lifetime,” said Bresnahan.

The Heaths, for example, recently created a donor statement to help focus their current philanthropy and to guide potential future administrators of their donor advised fund, which will receive all of their assets to continue their philanthropy after they pass away.

“We have a ton of confidence in the people at the Trust and their thoughtful approach to philanthropy. We know they will manage our funds in a way that honors our values long after we are gone,” said Mona.

To learn more, contact Kristin Carlson Vogen, senior director of philanthropic services, The Chicago Community Trust, at