Chicago , United States

Partnering for Success: Investing in City Governments

Chicago CommunityTrust

December 9, 2009

Supporting partnerships between local government and charitable foundations for sustainable community development.

Mount Prospect Library

Mount Prospect Library

The convention is that a foundation advances its mission by funding nonprofit organizations –from community service providers to think tanks and policy advocacy groups.

Until recently, local or municipal governments have rarely been considered as prospective support recipients by foundations and other grant-making organizations.

This is where the Chicago Community Trust breaks new ground.

As part of their recent strategy to support immigrant integration initiatives, the Chicago Community Trust has made a series of direct grants to municipal governments in Chicago after determining that a partnership with the city government would be an effective way to advance their agenda.

The Chicago suburbs of Berwyn, Mount Prospect, Schaumburg and Skokie all share two characteristics: they have their own local governments and rapidly rising immigrant populations. According to the 2000 US Census, 25% of residents in Berwyn and Mount Prospect are foreign born; in Schaumburg, nearly 40%.

The Chicago Community Trust launched a three year $1.5 million immigrant integration initiative to address new and changing needs that emerged in the community along with these demographic shifts. The innovative funding model included support for “local government leadership” on immigrant integration.

However, this was not the first time in its 94 year history that the Chicago Community Trust has advanced its work through direct government support. In 1919, during an earlier wave of European immigration, the Chicago Community Trust launched a variety of initiatives with local government in an effort to integrate the city’s newest Americans.

Partnership for Success

The Chicago Community Trust experience has found that funding to local government, particularly during periods of economic downturn, can be an effective way to achieve results: “A governmental agency,” says Clare O’Shea, Senior Planner at the Village of Mount Prospect, “can impact an entire community with a grant.”

Local governments have the infrastructure and longevity, as well as the reach and authority, that few non-profits can match. A grant to a local government not only delivers services but also the potential to leverage broader community support for greater investment and impact. Local infrastructure and existing programs that can help the foundation funding go much further.

The Chicago Community Trust granted $50,000 to the Village of Mount Prospect to conduct a feasibility study on the development of a immigrant-serving community resource center. This study was able to persuade the local government to proceed with the project as well and helped to raise $600,000 from businesses such as Wal-Mart and community groups like the Kiwanis Services Club to defray costs.

Community Connections Center staff

Community Connections Center staff

The Village of Mount Prospect worked with other services providers in the community to gain their support and involvement.  The result? A 2,400 square foot, “Community Connections Centre” where residents can go for programs ranging from financial assessment and employment counseling to community policing services. In addition to the Village, the Mount Prospect Public Library, School District 214 Community Education, Community Consolidated School District 59, and Northwest Community Hospital are partners in the Center.

Ngoan Le, Vice President of Programs at the Chicago Community Trust and the driving force behind the initiative, explains: “If we give a grant of $50,000 and that allows us to have the entire set of local government, including their housing agencies, human service agencies, etc., working on immigrant integration, we think that is pretty good leverage.”

Power to Influence Change

The Chicago Community Trust found that local government partners also had the capacity and reach to influence stakeholders beyond the originally funded project. Intergovernmental and cross-sectoral interactions create natural opportunities for ideas to spread.

“Our grants are not just influencing the local government we’re funding: they’re actually influencing other local governments in our region” says Le. For example, the Regional Immigration Integration Symposium, organized by the Village of Skokie in June 2009, brought together public representatives from a number of neighboring municipalities to learn about programs funded by the grant.

Much like venture capital in the private sector, grants to governments can also provide seed money for more innovative and experimental ideas that otherwise might not be tried. If these programs are successful, then they can be brought to scale.

“There are a lot of things you might want to do but you don’t have the money to do,” says Village of Schaumburg Management Analyst, Jennifer Maltas.

The Village of Schaumburg has seen a steady rise in South Asian immigrants, with the 2007 Census estimated that one in six local residents were of South Asian origin. While many new residents were visible in the business director, they were under-represented in the civic and community life of the village. With the Chicago Community Trust grant, the local government laid the groundwork for creating an advisory group of South Asian community and business leaders, recruiting South Asian residents to serve on the Board of Health and Arts Foundation as well sponsoring community events that celebrated the South Asian community. Two years into the grant, the city has increased South Asian participation at civic events ranging from membership in the Schaumburg Business Association to South Asian residents on community boards.

“Without the grant, I don’t think any of our communities would have embarked on what we did or have gone as far,” concludes Maltas.

Making it Work for You:

  • Collaboration with government can take many forms. Explore potential partnership or collaboration by inviting local officials to meetings, advisory or steering committees and events.
  • Granting to government does not require a rewrite of internal procedures; at the Chicago City Trust they treat municipal government just like any grantee.
  • Working with government means understanding government process and bureaucracy. It helps to have someone in your organization who has worked with or is familiar with government.
  • Remember that your charitable status may limit your advocacy and your relationship to government.
  • Be prepared for the possibility that your organization's support for a municipal government can become a political issue.

For this Good Idea contact:

Clare O'Shea Senior Planner
Village of Mount Prospect
50 S. Emerson Street
Mount Prospect, IL 60056, USA,
847 392-6000

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