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Evaluation Period: May 2016 - February 2022
Total Awarded:
$122 million
Total Number of Grants: 406
Geographic Focus: Chicago metropolitan region, United States



Since our founding in 1978, we have invested nearly $1.5 billion in more than 1,600 organizations and individuals in the Chicago region (as of 2022). In January 2016, we further formalized our commitment to our hometown through the creation of the Chicago Commitment program.  This is an Enduring Commitment, an area of work in which we have long-standing, deep, and unwavering engagement. Advancing racial equity is more than a challenge or goal that simply can be achieved. In order to make incremental progress to advance racial equity, and to sustain progress already made, enormous resources and time, along with authentic partnerships with grantees and funders with shared goals, are required.

Two primary principles undergird the strategy: People from historically marginalized communities have the expertise to identify and implement solutions for their communities; and community-led efforts with robust community engagement offer the most innovative, viable solutions to advance racial equity. Historically marginalized communities include groups of people who are Black, African American, Latina/o/x, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other communities of color. The Chicago Commitment strategy also includes grantmaking to communities and identities targeted and harmed by unjust and systemic policies and practices, such as women and individuals who have low incomes; are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or intersex; and are disabled.

The Chicago Commitment strategy seeks the following overarching outcomes:

  • People: Increased inclusion and influence of people from historically marginalized communities.
  • Places: More communities are resilient and empowered.
  • Partnerships: More organizations value and prioritize collaboration, equity, and inclusion, and new and strengthened networks focus on furthering equity.

The Chicago Commitment focus areas are intended to contribute to advancing racial equity in Chicago in unique ways. They are:

  • Civic Partnerships, which focuses on addressing urgent and timely issues facing Chicagoans.
  • Culture, Equity, and the Arts (CEA), which supports organizations that create art and culture, or whose processes center art and culture; and
  • Vital Communities, which focuses on real estate development in commercial and industrial corridors, as well as creative placemaking and placekeeping.

Embedded within each approach is the goal of advancing leaders from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise.


What We Evaluated

MacArthur’s Evaluation and Learning authored this report to summarize learnings and findings from the development and implementation of the Chicago Commitment strategy. Education Development Center (EDC), the Chicago Commitment’s evaluation and learning partner, provided the report’s primary source of data, collected between January 2020 and April 2022. The evaluation sought to answer these questions:

  • What are examples of how the Chicago Commitment team aligned its grantmaking with its principles?
  • What grants has the Chicago Commitment team made? What are some characteristics of grantees?
  • Does the current landscape suggest opportunities to make meaningful contributions toward advancing racial equity in the Chicago region?
  • Does progress to date demonstrate meaningful contributions? Does the implementation to date reflect a high-quality, effective program with the possibility for achieving meaningful results?
  • Are the current design and implementation of the strategy (and accompanying assumptions) adequate to make intended meaningful contributions?

EDC collected data from many sources, including interviews, surveys, focus groups, and secondary data. The mixed-methods approach leveraged qualitative data to identify themes and quantitative and spatial data to describe grantmaking. Multiple variables—including the focus on learning and contribution, the multi-pronged nature of strategy implementation, the desire to limit burden to grantees, and the nature of racial equity work—influenced evaluation activities and findings.


What We Learned

There is continued alignment of grantmaking strategy and principles.

As the Chicago Commitment team sought to align its grantmaking strategy with its principles, three themes emerged:

  • The Chicago Commitment became more intentional toward its racial equity goal, refining its strategy to better support grantees’ work to advance racial equity in arts and culture, industrial and commercial real estate development, and urgent, timely issues such as gun violence;
  • The team sought values-aligned organizations as grantees and partners through grantee selection processes and new intermediary relationships; and
  • The team also shifted some power to external partners by inviting them to make recommendations for grants.


Grants tended to go to organizations that demonstrated a commitment to racial equity.

The Chicago Commitment team disbursed more than $120 million directly to 235 organizations in the Chicago region between May 2016 and February 2022. Nearly $40 million of that has gone to community-based organizations headquartered in the West, Far West, Near South, and Far South parts of the city, where many people of color live. A 2022 survey of grantee organizations found that among the 133 survey respondents, 56 percent of respondents' organizations were led by a person of color and 60 percent have programs and services that focus on people of color.


The current landscape suggests opportunities to make meaningful contributions toward advancing racial equity in the Chicago region.

Numerous factors affirm that significant demand exists for resources to advance racial equity in the region.

  • COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latina/o/x communities.
  • The pandemic also motivated expedited grantmaking, pooled funds, and work to advance racial justice.
  • Protests against racist violence in 2020 drew attention to ongoing injustice.
  • Black and Latina/o/x residents have moved from the city to the suburbs over the past few decades.
  • Public polls show concern about systemic issues adjacent to Chicago Commitment focus areas, such as affordable housing.


Progress toward advancing racial equity is incremental and takes time. Evidence indicates that the Chicago Commitment has contributed to short-term outcomes in its strategy.

  • People: Leaders from historically marginalized communities have more access to develop new skills, make new connections, and/or advance professionally. Support has contributed to grantee organizations’ ability to maintain capacity or resiliency and leverage more resources from other funders.
  • Places: Grantees’ technical support and data analysis supported communities in the completion of comprehensive plans to guide future development and small-scale real estate development. Funders and grantees alike have called for more holistic approaches that can reduce violence significantly and establish lasting community safety.
  • Partnerships: Evidence is mixed regarding progress in the Chicago Commitment strategy of fostering new or strengthened networks for advancing racial equity. Some grantees express reluctance to join formal networks, and staff and leader identities tended to impact how organizations think about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

While progress has been made on short-term goals, advancing racial equity takes time and circumstances like COVID-19 challenged progress toward longer term goals. There is also a need for long-term, holistic support for grantees in creating lasting positive change in neighborhoods, for diverse community leaders, and for authentic partnerships that lead to innovation towards racial equity.


Evidence suggests that the Chicago Commitment strategy would do more to contribute to advancing racial equity by refining its current design and implementation.

Grantee interviews and feedback from community leaders suggest that the Chicago Commitment team consider support for organizations focused on comprehensive racial equity or systems-level racial equity work. Strategic refinements would foster innovation among grantees and funders, increase grantee organizational infrastructure and health, and demonstrate a more authentic partnership with historically marginalized communities of color. Expectations of change should be contextualized to account for the generations of harm that need to be mitigated, undone, and healed. Given the longevity, scale, and scope of historic and ongoing harms that have led to racial and ethnic disparities, progress toward these outcomes will be incremental.


View the full report ›