As a community foundation, The Chicago Community Trust not only serves our communities’ needs, but also depends upon local philanthropists to work together to meet the Chicago region’s most pressing challenges. Together, we can do more with more, especially when we all pull in the same direction.
Since launching our strategic focus to close the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap, the Trust has been providing opportunities for donors to learn more about the gap and offering opportunities to connect donors’ philanthropic goals to broader regional impact. By learning about how we are working to grow household wealth, catalyze neighborhood investments, and build collective power for our neighbors to accomplish our strategic goals, many donors are choosing to align their giving through us.
For example, Joe and Betsy Roche, who have a Trust Donor Advised Fund, decided to attend a Donor Dialogue event at the invitation of their philanthropic advisor Kristin Carlson Vogen. Donor Dialogues give Trust donors a lens into a particular area of focus—in this case, how philanthropy can help unlock capital for transformative real estate development in Chicago’s communities of color. The event included a call to action, asking donors to consider supporting the Trust’s Pre-Development Fund, which helps Black and Latinx developers cover early costs to enable new developments to get off the ground. While the Roches typically give for critical needs, such as food, shelter, and health services, they decided to make a significant gift to the fund with the understanding that supporting neighborhood development in underinvested areas sustains community needs over time.
“We read the newspaper and see the violence and difficulties in communities of color, including lack of healthcare and fresh food. It seems like a vicious circle,” said Joe. “One way out of it is to help with new development so that people can earn a living, and not just survive but thrive. It’s one thing to feed people when they’re hungry, but what a wonderful thing it would be if we never had to do that again because everyone is able to be a part of the economy and do well and earn a living.”
Other opportunities for donors to align their giving with Trust strategies can arise more organically, through conversations among donors, their philanthropic advisors, and Trust staff and grantees. For example, Michael and Mona Heath, another couple with a Donor Advised Fund, have been longtime donors to the arts with a strong emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion. “However, due to the events of 2020, we became convinced that messaging alone (through arts funding) is valuable but inadequate, and more direct action is required,” they said.
They consulted with Nicole Layton, their philanthropic advisor, “who was involved at every stage of the process,” according to the Heaths. “After we indicated to Nicole our desire to explore opportunities to support more direct action in social and racial justice, she responded by providing information on the Trust’s various relevant initiatives. After studying these, we expressed to her our interest in Advocating Policy Change as the area most directly relevant to our objectives, as policy changes are often crucial to sustain progress in other areas.”
Meanwhile, a prospective Trust grant recipient, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ), was making its case for Trust funding through the Coalitions for Equity in Wealth Policy Request for Proposals. The Trust declined the organization for funding under that initiative because its policy priorities did not align. “But we were intrigued by their approach at the intersection of grassroots organizing and informing policy on a range of issues, especially for returning citizens who have served time in the criminal justice system,” said Ianna Kachoris, the Trust’s senior director of policy and advocacy.
Kachoris and her team encouraged the WCRJ to reapply for funding when the Trust launched the Open Call for Ideas to Advance Policy funding this summer. “They were a clear fit for the third pillar: Advance Policy and Systems Change via grassroots organizing and lobbying activity to advocate for policy solutions,” she said.
WCRJ obliged, submitting a proposal. As luck would have it, the timing of WCRJ’s proposal lined up with the Heaths’ ongoing exploration of the Trust’s policy work. Nicole had introduced the Heaths and Kachoris to explore opportunities for philanthropy aligned with the Trust’s policy objectives—and all parties agreed that supporting WCRJ was a great fit for the Heaths. The organization is Black-led, with leadership that represents the communities it serves and policy objectives grounded in the lived experiences of team members, collaborators, and the people they connect with through canvassing. The Heaths were inspired by WCRJ’s ability to synthesize its vision, passion, and practical know-how into a compelling and actionable strategy.
Consequently, the Heaths fully funded WCRJ’s grant request, providing general operating support to give WCRJ “maximum flexibility in using the funds to carry out their multifaceted proposal.”
The Heaths grant support, said Kachoris, allowed the Trust to be responsive to an organization that is “very important to the policy and advocacy landscape, and it expanded the resources we have to achieve our grantmaking objectives. Because of the Heath’s generosity, we have shifted our mindset from thinking only about the finite resources we have in our discretionary budget to how can we better engage donors to expand the pie of grant support to organizations working to make transformational change in communities throughout the region.”
The Trust invites donors at any level to join us on this incredible journey for a more equitable and economically vibrant Chicago region.