Making a positive impact in your community may seem like a straightforward act, but people often struggle with identifying how to make a difference, especially during times of urgent need. That’s why the Trust pairs individuals and families with philanthropic advisors who ensure that donors’ gifts will have the greatest impact in achieving their vision for change.
“The relationship starts with a conversation that seeks to fill in the blank in the statement, ‘I want to make a difference in the world by …,’” said the Trust’s Senior Director of Philanthropic Services Kristin Carlson Vogen. “The philanthropic advisor’s deep expertise stems from a close working relationship with our Community Impact team—and their shared commitment to deepen impact.”
Once the advisor clearly understands the donor’s passions, the next step is to connect them with relevant opportunities to support a thriving, inclusive Chicago region—both during this critical time of recovery and beyond. This approach recently attracted a small group of donors to strengthen the Fund for Equitable Business Growth, a Trust program that’s helping small businesses of color stay open, recover and revitalize their communities.
In 2019, the Fund—formerly known as the Chicago-area Businesses of Color Partnership Fund—selected 12 community-based groups to lead partnerships between business support organizations providing coordinated and specialized services to entrepreneurs of color throughout the region. The original pool of grant funds, however, did not fully fund the 12 partnerships’ visions.
The Trust’s philanthropic advisors and Community Impact team joined forces to fill the gap. They shared the opportunity with a small set of donors who had expressed interest in supporting entrepreneurship. Ultimately, three of these donors added to the funds contributed by the initial pool of corporate and philanthropic partners. Their support is allowing the selected organizations—many of which have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 and recent unrest—to do more.
“In recent years, we have become aware that non-white businesses have had limited or no access to capital and to business development advice. Recent events have only deepened that conviction,” said Lucy and Peter Ascoli, who were inspired to support the grant program through their family fund. “We felt that the Fund offers us an opportunity to assist some start-up businesses in a small way, which we hope will enable them to expand and thrive.”
One of those businesses is in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. That’s where Army veteran Rex Ingram and his wife, Monica, opened a UPS Store franchise just before COVID-19 hit—and promptly had to close temporarily. A Fund-supported partnership led by Chicago Trend leapt into action to support the Ingrams. The partnership connected the couple with a University of Chicago grant, helped them get their PPP application funded after it was initially turned down, and raised the store’s visibility through social media. This shoulder-to-shoulder work with entrepreneurs is possible because of the local nature of the partnerships, which in turn helped the business owners keep their doors open to employ and serve their neighbors.
“Neighborhood entrepreneurs who are trying to make a living and help their neighborhoods thrive should be able to find business development resources right in their own community,” said Shandra Richardson, Program Manager, Community Impact. “Through the partnerships we are supporting with the Fund, local business owners are able to go down the street to a business development organization that’s been there. We’re investing in a community village model, where a trusted network is facilitating local business activity.”
From a broader perspective, the Fund directly supports the Trust’s vision of closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap. Small businesses provide 58 percent of all jobs in the city, and 70 percent in disinvested communities. While White adults have about 13 times the wealth of Black adults, the median wealth gap decreases to a multiplier of just three when comparing Black and white business owners.
A second phase of the Fund will launch in August, with a sharper focus on recovery and direct one-on-one support for entrepreneurs to navigate this new market reality. For example, the partnerships may provide coaching to help business owners access and use near-term recovery funds, while planning ahead to consider how to right-size their business model or tap new markets.