Advancing Leadership

Promoting and advancing diverse leaders whose influence will inform and improve decision making across the city


In conversations with dozens of individuals and organizations across the city of Chicago, we heard a call to support leaders who reflect the city's population. In the private, public, or philanthropic sectors, many individuals who are leaders in their communities, professional fields, or interest areas are not heard in public discourse.

Structural racism has prevented many leaders from being considered for leadership roles. Other forms of discrimination and classism hinder the ability of some leaders to gain recognition for the wisdom and expertise they have earned through other means. Our goal is to promote and advance leaders from historically marginalized backgrounds to manage organizations; increase their representation and foster their ability to influence decisions; and use their leadership to advance policies and practices that contribute to a more equitable Chicago. We include leaders who represent a broad array of Chicago residents, with diversity of race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and expertise; people with disabilities; and those from different geographies and income levels.

Our Approach

The Chicago Commitment supports leadership advancement within our three focus areas: Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships. Within these areas, we seek to advance equity by expanding access to a wide range of leadership opportunities and by fostering conditions that recognize and support people who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to leadership positions. Our approach consists of these components: 1) Support for Leadership Programs, 2) Support for Individual Leaders, 3) Support for Leadership Advancement Within Organizations.  


Support for Leadership Programs

Our priority is to support current and emerging leaders from historically marginalized backgrounds as they pursue leadership advancement opportunities. We identify and fund leadership programs that:

  • Reflect, serve, and amplify the voices of leaders across Chicago, with an emphasis on communities that are historically underrepresented in civic discourse;
  • Are led by and/or predominantly staffed by individuals representing communities affected by structural racism, discrimination, or disinvestment;
  • Provide an in-depth, cohort-based experience over the course of several months, enhancing individual leadership skills, building resiliency in nonprofit leaders, and expanding professional networks; and
  • Demonstrate a clear connection to the arts, community and economic development, or community safety and violence prevention sectors, or substantial participation by staff members of existing grantee organizations in the Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships focus areas.

We also consider support for efforts to develop collaborative projects and alumni networking among existing leadership programs.


Support for Individual Leaders

Many individual leaders struggle to find the time or resources to pursue personal development or to execute a project they believe will enhance their own leadership potential. The demands of leading a movement or organization may require all their time and energy. Accordingly, we explored ways to support leaders in the ways they wish to learn, grow, and advance their skills.

In 2019, we launched a collaborative initiative with the Field Foundation of Illinois entitled Leaders for a New Chicago. These awards support individuals who are leaders in their communities, professional fields, or interest areas and work in the Field Foundation’s focus areas of arts, justice, or media and storytelling. This program advances equity and access to opportunity; it fosters conditions that recognize and promote people who bring a broad diversity of background and experience to leadership positions.

Leaders for a New Chicago awards $50,000 to 10-15 recipients a year: a no-strings-attached $25,000 award to enable individuals to pursue their own self-defined goals, and a $25,000 general operating grant for the individuals' affiliated organizations. The program will support 30 to 40 recipients over its first three years. To nominate a leader or self-nominate, please see the Field Foundation’s nomination portal.


Support for Leadership Advancement within Organizations

Organizations with a strong infrastructure can often reduce stress on their leaders' and prevent the loss of talented staff. To this end, we offer awards to organizations to improve their effectiveness through technical assistance and capacity building. Small grants are available to grantees under our three focus areas (Culture, Equity, and the Arts; Vital Communities; and Civic Partnerships) for staff participation in professional development activities that advance leadership. Examples include travel to conferences, executive coaching, or specialized training, among others. Grantees may also seek small grants for diversity, equity, and inclusion training and implementation.

Organizations that wish to be considered for support may submit a brief description of their work through our grants portal. In addition, we are eager to learn about organizations that have not previously received support.


Measurement & Evaluation

The Chicago Commitment has engaged an evaluation and learning partner to measure and evaluate the progress of the strategy, test assumptions underpinning it, and collect information about the context in which the strategy operates. The focus of these activities is on learning. We aim to understand how the strategy contributes to advancing racial equity and building a more inclusive Chicago.  

Findings and analysis from evaluation activities will be published as they become available.


Additional Areas of Work

Civic Partnerships ›
Culture, Equity, and the Arts ›
Vital Communities ›

Chicago Commitment strategy ›


Updated June 2020

Representative Grants
Surge Institute
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in support of its Surge Fellows leadership development program in Chicago.
Crossroads Fund
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 250,000 in support of leadership and capacity building programs.
Chicago Urban League
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in renewed support of its IMPACT Leadership Development Program.
Chicago Community Trust
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in support of ADA25 Advancing Leadership, a project designed to activate and connect people with disabilities to civic leadership opportunities and professional advancement in metropolitan Chicago.
Latino Policy Forum
Chicago, Illinois 2018
$ 100,000 in support of the Multicultural Leadership Academy.
View Grant Guidelines
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