When deciding to take its philanthropy in a new direction last year, the Glasser Rosenthal Family Foundation (GRFF), a supporting organization at The Chicago Community Trust until 2021, made “send-off grants” of $300,000 each to two Trust affinity funds: African American Legacy (AAL) and Young Leaders Fund (YLF). This led to a flurry of grants, ranging from $6,475 to $21,000, for dozens of small- to mid-size community organizations that had been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that was a special phone call for the nonprofit recipients,” said Danielle Fregia, co-chair of YLF and co-chair of the special grant cycle. “I felt particularly lucky to have that conversation with them, and to let them know that we are here to help.”
The Trust’s affinity funds, including AAL and YLF, come together in philanthropy around a shared heritage or common cause. Both groups conduct annual grant cycles, during which they dispense money they have fundraised to organizations that align with their grant making focus areas. YLF looks for small- to mid-size community-based startups organizations working in three areas: arts and culture, child development and education, and community and economic development. AAL supports small grassroots and nonprofit groups that strive to improve life for Black residents in the Chicago area.
“YLF and AAL are always thinking about how to make the greatest impact they can in communities,” Fregia said.
The GRFF has a similar interest in helping smaller up-and-coming organizations in disinvested neighborhoods, a major factor in the decision to support both funds for a special grant cycle.
For this special grant cycle, the rules were different from how each fund conducts normal grant cycles. Ordinarily, organizations can only apply once for a YLF grant, but the fund invited past grant recipients to apply for one-time “Resiliency Grants” of up to $20,000 each. Organizations were asked to show the impact the grant was likely to have on their programming; however, because of the devastating effects of COVID-19 on communities, YLF members were not surprised that operating grants were frequently requested.
“We recognized that what a lot of nonprofits need right now is to keep the lights on,” Fregia said. However, according to Melanie Wang, a former YLF leader who helped with the special cycle, “we didn’t penalize organizations that seemed to be on a trajectory toward being successful and self-sustaining.”
YLF made grants ranging from $6,475 to A Red Orchid Theatre to $12,200 for Girl Forward, which mentors young refugees, immigrants, and asylum seeker women. Wang was enthusiastic about Pilot Light, a food education organization, and Imagine Englewood If, a community-based enrichment program for children and families. In light of recent increased violence against Asian Americans, Fregia noted appreciation for being able to support KAN-WIN, which works to stop gender-based violence against Asian women and children.
AAL used the GRFF funding to make what they called “Inspiration Grants” to small and mid-size nonprofits in the Black community, mostly for $11,000. AAL took a somewhat different approach from the one YLF used to identify grant recipients. AAL board members were invited to choose up to three organizations whose work they particularly admire to receive one of the grants.
Troy Boyd, AAL chair, took advantage of that opportunity himself to recommend Revitalize Black Chicago, which was founded during the pandemic to address the resource gap between white and Black Chicagoans. The organization received $21,000—the single largest grant made from the GRFF funding.
“It meant a lot to us to be able to impact organizations we wouldn’t reach in our normal cycle. That really energized our board,” he said.
According to Trust Chief Development Officer Jason Baxendale, it’s bittersweet to say good-bye to Glasser Rosenthal Family Foundation. “Both sides of the family have been generous and committed to Chicago for a long time,” he said, noting that the family’s philanthropic aims, and those of the foundation, have changed. However, he says the impact of this work will have a reverberating effect on the organizations that received grants.
“Groups like these often don’t get the spotlight shone on them. Being chosen for these grants, being vetted by the Trust, shows other donors they can raise their hands and get significant funding,” Baxendale said. “It gives them a stamp of approval.”