On the Table is Oct. 12, 2020 – Jan. 31, 2021. Register to host an On the Table discussion at https://onthetable.com/. The Chicago…
On the Table
Get together—face-to-face—with other thinkers and doers to find common ground and common cause. Then, move your ideas from the table to places all around Chicago to make powerful things happen. Be engaged in a movement of thousands of Chicago-area residents who are building relationships and taking action to benefit our neighborhoods and the public good.
Where Chicago Meets Up On a Single Day
The Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table was an annual forum designed to take people places—to offices, schools, libraries, restaurants, and other spaces—where they meet others, share ideas, and explore ways to improve our region. The results were exciting new relationships, elevated civic conversations, and genuine pathways toward collaborative action—outcomes that make our communities more connected, resilient, and resourceful.
The success of On the Table in Chicago inspired similar initiatives in more than 20 communities nationally and internationally, including a cohort of 10 cities replicating the project as part of a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Tens of thousands of people have engaged with On the Table since it was launched in 2014.
Becoming a Host
Hosts unite people around an issue, topic, or common interest. Choose to be the person who gets good things started. Consider hosting your own On the Table. You’ll be among thousands of people who have lent their vision, imagination, and energy to shaping conversations with friends old and new—all around a meal and a topic. Hosting is the first step to doing something great in the city, and it’s made easy with guidance from our Conversation & Action Guide.
Your story matters.
No matter where in Chicago you are, you have lived experiences that shape your view of our city, its challenges, as well as its opportunities. Bring your stories to an On the Table conversation. Perhaps you’ve been a host or guest—or, maybe this year will mark your first participation. Either way, everyone is welcome. Everyone is an expert.
Share your ideas, listen to others, and then watch what happens. When people come together, their energy leads to action.
Where will your table take you?
The History of On the Table
Having important conversations that prompt a deeper commitment to our community has been part of The Chicago Community Trust since its founding in 1915—when Albert Harris and his father Norman, of the Harris Bank, brought together other civic leaders over mealtime conversations to talk about how they could make the city even better. They decided to pool their resources to maximize their charitable impact—and the Trust was born.
For more than a century, the Trust has convened civic leaders, nonprofits, and its donors to channel their resources to make our region stronger. This included a series of “Chicago Dinners” in the late 1990s and early 2000s in partnership with the Human Relations Commission. This series of small, informal mealtime conversations brought together area residents from different races and ethnicities to talk in a very personal, and often very challenging way about race relations.
On the eve of its 99th anniversary, the Trust continued this tradition, and organized the first ever On the Table to engage everyday residents in discussing ways we can continue to strengthen our community.
The Launch of On the Table
At the inaugural On the Table, nearly 1,100 mealtime conversations were held at private residences, backyards, local restaurants, and other community locations. In total, more than 11,500 Chicagoland residents of all ages, from all walks of life and socioeconomic circumstances, engaged in thought-provoking discussions to shape a public agenda to build and maintain communities that are strong, safe, and dynamic.
Coming out of On the Table conversations, participants were encouraged to share specific ideas from their conversations with the Trust and nearly 1,000 were submitted in 2014. Six ideas were chosen as finalists for a follow-on project, an extension of On the Table called “collaboratories.” The Trust provided consultant support to assist these working groups in further defining and stewarding their ideas into action. Their work culminated at “Demo Day”—an opportunity for all six collaboratories to present their ideas and progress to a team of local leaders for feedback on next steps and potential funding opportunities.
The Centennial Campaign
On the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Chicago Community Trust, On the Table officially launched the Centennial campaign with mealtime conversations designed to recognize and celebrate the philanthropic work of organizations and individuals, inspiring more Chicago-area residents to give their time, talent, and treasure. In all, more than 25,000 residents participated in conversations at nearly 2,000 On the Table events.
The Acting Up Awards
More than 55,000 residents came together at nearly 3,500 tables across the city and suburbs for On the Table 2016 in an effort to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships, and create a unifying experience across the region. Coming out of the 2016 conversations, the Trust introduced the Acting Up Awards—a video contest that encouraged On the Table participants to submit ideas for positive change to be considered for $1,000 awards to put their idea into action.
With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Trust hosted an On the Table learning symposium in conjunction with the 2016 conversations, attended by more than 60 individuals from 40 cities, 25 states, and Canada representing community foundations, government and nonprofit organizations that were interested in learning more and potentially replicating the initiative.
Partnering with Goodcity Chicago, nearly 400 entries were submitted for the inaugural Acting Up awards and 64 awards were given to a wide range of projects—hosting an event to provide accessible breast cancer screenings for women with disabilities, holding art workshops for senior citizens on the West Side, providing youth with free bike helmets to accompany 500 free bicycles on the South Side, mini-libraries built in neighborhoods across the city, and more.
On the Table Reaches 100,000 Participants
Nearly 100,000 people engaged with On the Table 2017 on social media; through workshops; and as hosts, participants, and partners around 5,800 tables in every Chicago neighborhood and throughout suburban communities. Residents convened on issues that matter and championed causes to strengthen the region.
The Acting Up awards returned for the second year—prizes totaling $135,500 were given to 71 diverse projects discussed during On the Table 2017 to benefit neighborhoods.
Five Years of On the Table
On the Table 2018 marked its fifth year by engaging thousands of citizens in conversations—including Helene D. Gayle, who had been named president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust the prior fall. For the third of the Acting Up awards, more than $150,000 was awarded to 37 organizations and individuals to support their action in communities across metropolitan Chicago.
On the Table Becomes a National Movement
On the Table is now being replicated in more than 30 cities nationally and internationally through a National Learning Network. In Chicago, where the city elected only its third new mayor in three decades, the time was ideal for people to gather and discuss the programs, ideas, and policies they wanted new leadership to embrace. In 2019, On the Table guests prepared a collective Memo to the Mayor—a strategic document that was compiled from participant’s 2019 On the Table conversations.
After the Table
On the Table is a proven and powerful civic engagement tool that has truly sparked a national movement. Since the Trust launched the initiative in 2014, more than 25 communities have replicated the project. This includes an ongoing commitment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as a number of cities who have launched the initiative with support and counsel from the Trust.
On the Table brought people together to meet and share information, then to do something with the great ideas that rose from those conversations. Participants have let their discussions lead them to action that is making a difference in their communities.
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Partnerships & Initiatives
Through the years, the Trust has created many types of initiatives to help our region—and its foundations, businesses, civic leaders, and individuals—most effectively engage with the issues they care about.Learn More