FAQs: Our Strategic Plan

The Trust brings together generous donors, committed organizations, and caring residents to effect lasting change that makes our region better for all.

A crowd of people outdoors raising their hands.

What is the Trust’s latest focus?

The Trust is focusing on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap as a long-term organizational priority. It is the most significant obstacle to realizing the organization’s overall vision of a thriving, equitable and connected Chicago region where people of all races, places, and identities have the opportunity to reach their potential.

How did the Trust land on this strategic direction?

After a series of conversations with community members, civic leaders and other stakeholders, the Trust and its board decided the organization had the potential to step up its leadership and impact in the Chicago region. After looking at a series of pressing issues, from education to health and public safety, the Trust determined the region’s biggest challenges stem from racial and ethnic wealth inequality and the Chicago region will not be able to realize the Trust’s vision of a thriving region until tackling this systemic issue.

What does the new strategic focus mean for existing donors?

The Trust’s evergreen commitment to serving donors and their professional advisors has not changed. As the Chicago region’s community foundation, it will continue to assist all donors in identifying and realizing their philanthropic goals regardless of issue area, whether plans begin during their lifetime, through their estate or both. The Trust will also work to educate donors about the underlying aspects of its strategic priorities and explore opportunities to collaborate in addressing those priorities.

How will this impact donor advised funds (DAFs)?

Donors who have donor advised funds can continue to recommend grants to qualified charitable organizations of their choosing, across the U.S. and internationally. Donors will have continued access to subject-matter expertise from the Trust’s knowledgeable staff and are encouraged to participate in opportunities to learn more about a broad array of organizations and issues affecting the Chicago region. In addition, the Trust hopes many of its donors will be excited about the impact they can have with the new strategic focus and interested in co-investing with the organization.

Why is the Trust focusing specifically on Black and Latine communities?

Roughly 60 percent of Chicago residents identify as Black and Latine and these communities have long paid the highest price for Chicago’s entrenched and inequitable systems caused by a long history of racism, discrimination and segregation.

These longstanding systemic barriers have led to economic disinvestment in communities of color and disproportionately affected Black and Latine residents, which has had marked implications on everything from higher rates of poverty to public safety challenges to life expectancy.

Further, the Chicago region is facing a deep racial wealth divide that is holding back too many Black and Latine families from achieving their economic potential and is negatively impacting the region’s overall economic growth. For the region to move forward, it is imperative to tackle this issue head-on in pursuit of a connected, equitable Chicago region that works for all.

If the Trust is focusing on closing the racial wealth gap, what does that mean for people in need who aren’t Black or Latine?

The Trust is basing strategic decisions on data that shows Black and Latine communities are dealing with the greatest economic disparities in the region. That said, the work the Trust does to promote practices and policies that invest in people and communities will benefit the entire region.

In addition, the organization will continue to invest in a grantmaking portfolio that addresses the region’s most urgent needs—food insecurity, emergency services, access to quality health care and legal services, among others. Everyone wins when every resident has the opportunity to contribute to the region.

Will future Trust grantmaking continue to be subject-matter-specific?

The vast majority of the Trust’s discretionary grantmaking will be directly aligned to goals outlined in our new strategic vision. Single issue-specific areas of grantmaking (such as arts, education and health) will no longer exist as separate, stand-alone strategic areas. However, many of the areas the Trust focused on in the past contribute to its strategic goals and may align with future grantmaking.

Why did the Trust decide not to renew the GO Grant Program beyond the pilot phase?

The GO Grant Program was always intended as a short-term pilot to allow the Trust to learn more about general operating funding. As a result, the organization will continue to use general operating or flexible funding as one of its grantmaking methods under the new strategic plan.

How will grantmaking be different, going forward?

Every investment the Trust makes, from capacity building for small neighborhood organizations to larger-scale project-based opportunities, will be measured by its impact towards the goal of a thriving, equitable and connected Chicago region where people of all races, places and identities have the opportunity to reach their potential. These are overarching goals that all Trust investments should advance.

Grantmaking from the resources that the Trust directs (versus from donor advised funds) will align with the priorities in its new strategic plan.

Does this mean that if organizations are not working to close the racial wealth gap, build collective power or contribute to community-driven investments, they will no longer be eligible for a grant?

The Trust will fund organizations doing work that will advance its priorities. Some of these organizations will likely have been funded by the Trust in the past, but many will not. The Trust is committed to making these changes thoughtfully and to communicating all available opportunities for grant funding as those are established.

Meanwhile, we will continue to address the region’s urgent needs through the Addressing Critical Needs portfolio, Unity Fund, and other designated funds.

What does the new strategy mean for grant recipients that the Trust has funded for a long time?

Many of the organizations that the Trust has supported for a long time with general operating or other grant support will have the opportunity to compete for funding under the new priorities, to the extent that their work is aligned.

There are also organizations that have not historically been funded by the Trust that will have new opportunities to partner with the organization.

Going forward, all organizations with whom the Trust partners with and makes investments in will have to align with principles of equity that the Trust is holding itself accountable to and report on impact and metrics related to stated goals. It will support and partner with its grant recipients to implement these new ways of working together.

Will the Trust consider responsive grants?

As the Chicago region’s largest community foundation, the Trust remains committed to being responsive to unexpected community needs and opportunities.

That said, it is the organization’s intent to make responsive grantmaking the exception rather than the rule and to utilize vehicles like requests for LOI to solicit new ideas and innovation.

How will policy play a role in the Trust’s work?

Grant making is a tool in the Trust’s toolkit and one of the ways it advances its vision, but grantmaking alone will not help the organization realize its vision for Chicago. In many ways, it is policies that got the region to where it is today; the Trust believes that changes in policies or new policies altogether will be instrumental in helping to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap. As such, the organization will support its partners and grant recipients in helping to effect policy change and is also open to leading efforts when there is alignment with its vision of a thriving, equitable and connected Chicago region.

The Trust will also continue to support partner organizations that are working on policy and advocacy through grantmaking efforts that are aligned with its new strategic direction. It is new for the Trust to use its own voice and platform to engage in policy and advocacy. In some instances, the Trust may choose to support the lobbying activities of grant partners (also new for the Trust) and in other instances, the Trust itself may engage in lobbying activities in support of a given policy.

How will the Trust know if what it is doing is working?

The Trust will measure impact at the community and regional level. Community may refer to a population (e.g. Black and Latine residents), a sector (e.g. small businesses owned by people of color) or a specific neighborhood or geography with common goals. The Trust’s efforts will contribute to those indicators as will a vast array of social, policy and economic factors that influence the wellbeing of the region.

Questions & Answers

Looking for more information on the wealth gap?

Check out our wealth gap facts page. We’ve also compiled a list of ways you can take action to address the racial and ethnic wealth gap in your community, workplace, and business.