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.
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 individuals from different geographies and income levels.
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 existing 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 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.
Organizations that wish to be considered for support may submit a brief description of their leadership program through our grants portal. In addition, we are eager to learn about organizations that have not previously received support.
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 called 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.
With MacArthur support, Leaders for a New Chicago awards $50,000 to 10 to 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 supported 45 recipients during its first four years. To learn more, we encourage you to review the Leaders for a New Chicago page on the Field Foundation’s website.
We prioritize proposals from organizations that are located within the city of Chicago and whose core mission is to serve Chicago audiences.
Support for Leadership Advancement within Organizations
Organizations with a strong infrastructure can often reduce stress on their leaders and prevent the loss of talent. To this end, we consider support for organizations that work to equip nonprofits that serve historically marginalized communities with tools and resources to fulfill their missions. These capacity-building and technical assistance opportunities help organizations build infrastructure, develop systems, and enhance skills to strengthen their operations and sustain themselves for the long term. Support is considered for capacity building efforts that 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.
Measurement & Evaluation
Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.
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 analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.
Additional Areas of Work
Updated July 2023