How Chicago’s Philanthropy movement is growing with the times

The philanthropy movement in Chicago has allowed the support of good causes to become easier. Now, to participate, give an opinion or idea, or even to financially support is motivated and promoted by a community. Communities spread wide and far and we’re going to take a look at the different

What’s Philanthropy all about?

First of all, let’s understand that this is an organization of funds that goes to different charities and causes. In Chicago, this movement has made a huge impact locally and in some cases even internationally, being partly responsible for the establishment of many institutions, both educational and cultural. They have also sponsored many of the charities and institution that are making real change in the health and social welfare of the same residents of Chicago.

Early days in Chicago

Philanthropy in Chicago has come a long way since the 1850s when wealthy individuals would support the major institutions on the philanthropic scene. Many of those philanthropists saw the need for their work to continue long after they were no longer around, so there was a increase in private philanthropic foundations that would do just that. This way these foundations would maintain a steady flow of resources to the charities and create stability to the activities that were keeping the philanthropists’ ideals alive. Other followed suit, with Community funds doing the same in the hopes to keeping open those charities and institutions that were doing so much for the community and the city. This movement spread to the point where in the 1950s and 1960s corporations were also launching programs to offer support.

Early philanthropic movements in Chicago focused on funding major educational and cultural institutions that would make a lasting impact on the city such as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They also dedicated themselves to long-term social issues in Chicago like poverty, health and child welfare. Another big change as the movement evolved in Chicago was that now the foundations supported not only the personal interests of their wealthy benefactors, but opened grants that would give way to supporting new up and coming causes that could bring new ideas and opportunities for Chicagoans to have better lives.

In the twenty-first century the landscape has changed quite a bit through its constant rebirth and experimentation, but has not ceased to grow, brining in over $500 million raised funds, more than a thousand active foundations. They are supporting hundreds of nonprofit organizations that influence almost any field you can think of.

Types of Philanthropy

In the United States there has been a massive increase in donations made to nonprofits, but these movements are not particular to companies and foundations. In fact the majority of the donations are still coming from individuals. There are different types of philanthropy work in the United States and one of the many ways to categorize them are:

  • Corporations: Companies that are created with another purpose, but as part of their purposes they offer financial support and backing to nonprofits, charities and other institutes.
  • Bequests: These donations originate from wills or inheritances as a planned gift for a foundation or institute that the person willingly wants to support.
  • Foundations: These are created usually with the purpose of funding and supporting different causes. They generate a steady income so that the donations continue over time.
  • Individuals: Some wealthy individuals give back and do this by means of donations to support many of the charities and causes out there. This is usually where the leading donations come from. In 2014 it was reported that 72% ($240.60 billion) of donations in the United States came from individuals.  

Who stands out today?

In corporate philanthropy the companies that were giving the most in Chicago up until last year were Northern Trust, W.W. Grainger, Exelon, Mesirow Financial and Microsoft.

  • Northern Trust: Deborah Liverett as the Senior Vice President and Director of Community Affairs of Northern Trust Corp. A 125-year old company is the one in charge of designating that donations, so heads usually turn when she walks into the room. They focus on funding disadvantaged women, their children and people with disabilities.
  • W.W. Grainger: The funds coming from W.W. Grainger are directed by Senior manager Laura Coy, who will be focusing on community colleges.
  • Exelon: Headed by Steve Solomon in terms of philanthropy is also going the direction of education, but is focusing its efforts on STEM education and charter school funding.

Mesirow Financial: Ellie Forman, the Corporate Community Relations Manager, also focused on education, putting it at the top of the list for all projects coming her way.

Microsoft_Chicago’s Philanthropy movement_yosef_meystel

Image courtesy of Robert Scoble at

  • Microsoft: Worldwide technology leader also concerns itself with philanthropy work in the hands of Shelly Stern Grach. Their goal is to put free software in people’s hands allowing them more opportunities.

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