The Chicago Community Trust: Investing in Public-Private Partnerships

Jan 15, 2010
In 2006, The Chicago Community Trust conducted an environmental scan to identify trends to inform its grantmaking in metropolitan Chicago. The Trust has long been responsive to the sizable immigrant population (18 percent) within the city limits, but the scan documenting booming immigrant populations in a number of suburban communities caught its attention.

This GCIR case study highlights The Chicago Community Trust's three-year, $1.5 million immigrant integration initiative that was launched in response to the new demographic findings. A central strategy of the initiative was supporting local government leadership and public-private partnerships, including direct grants to three villages: Mount Prospect, Schaumburg, and Skokie (a fourth, Addison, would later be added).
  • Any effort to fund government starts with getting their attention. As standard foundation channels for publicizing an initiative seldom reach public agencies, additional outreach is often required. Perhaps the most common method is to publicize through government networking groups and immigrant service and advocacy organizations.
  • Foundations that wish to open their grantmaking to governments need not revise their rule book.
  • One thing nearly all foundation/government partnerships have in common is the presence on the foundation side of someone who has worked in or is intimately familiar with government.
  • In considering a grant to government, be aware that governments, like nonprofits, are a diverse bunch.
  • Grantmakers should make sure the need is present. When funding immigrant causes, this can mean reviewing Census and third-party demographic data, as both The Chicago Community Trust and Silicon Valley Community Foundation did before launching their programs.
  • Grantmakers should be certain that the grant will be supported by the public entity's leadership. Even a project with clear need and a stellar application can be undermined by a lack of support from the top, especially when politics presents a danger.
  • Invest as much in preparation as in execution. The initial grant from The Chicago Community Trust to Mount Prospect went entirely to developing a feasibility plan for a community resource center.
  • Once a grant is underway, foundations should work on developing their partnership with the full institution, not just the government's main staff member or supportive elected official.
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