If You're in Chicago's Ed Space, Ellie Forman Is a Good Corporate Funder to Know

Mesirow Financial is an independent, diversified financial services firm based in Chicago with locations around the globe. Founded in 1937, the firm has capital of $324 million, revenues totaling $503 million for fiscal 2014, and $90.6 billion in assets under management as of June 30, 2014.

So what does a financial giant like Mesirow care about in terms of social responsibility?

If you guessed education, you’d be correct. Mesirow recently placed a considerable emphasis on education funding, and Ellie Forman is the woman leading the charge. She’s Mesirow’s Corporate Community Relations Manager and she’s been recognized as a “power player of corporate philanthropy” and part of the “next generation of Chicago philanthropists.”

At Mesirow, Forman develops and executes corporate giving, volunteerism, community engagement strategies, and serves as the liaison between the firm and nonprofit agencies. Her role involves governing philanthropic activities for Mesirow Financial’s global staff of 1,200 employees, which includes monetary donations, volunteer opportunities, fundraisers and drives, and support for employee and client charitable priorities. And most notably, she’s been the driving force behind the firm’s new corporate focus on public education.

“Education is an issue of importance to communities around the world. Public education is a burden to cities nationwide, so our goal is to leverage our funds to move the needle in that space,” Forman told Crain’s Chicago Business.

Forman’s background is in public affairs and public relations, where she spent over seven years working on behalf of nonprofit, government, education, foundation, and corporate clients at Jascula/Terman and Associates. She’s a member of the Joffrey Ballet Women's Board and President of the buildOn Young Professionals Board.

Mesirow Financial Holdings has declined to disclose the amount of its charitable giving and the number of nonprofit grant recipients in 2013. However much of Mesirow’s education funding has been staying inside the Chicago city limits lately. Recent local grantees include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago, the Chicago Urban League, Get In Chicago, Metropolitan Family Services, and the Goodman Theater.

One of the nonprofits closest to Forman’s Heart is the United Way’s Live United neighborhood program, which has been operating in the southwest side neighborhood of Brighton Park. As part of the program, Mesirow funds parent mentoring programs in three area schools and Mesirow employees have also volunteered as homework helpers and campus cleanup.

Although education is the top priority, Mesirow is also a supporter of the arts, and “Mesirow Financial Presents!” is the firm’s program that hosts fundraising performances in its headquarters to benefit nonprofits and to attract clients and community members interested in the arts. Arts nonprofits that have recently gained Mesirow’s support include the Midwest Young Artists, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and the Merit School of Music.

Mesirow employees have the opportunity to allocate a portion of their paychecks to the Tyree Foundation, which is entirely separate from corporate grantmaking. This foundation was named for Mesirow’s late CEO, James Tyree, and funds youth-focused nonprofit organizations. Mesirow is also really into diversity and inclusion in the workplace. One of its main initiatives is called WomenConnect, a network of female professionals that works to recruit, retain, and advance women’s careers within the firm.

But for the foreseeable future, improving public education in Chicago is set to be Mesirow’s No. 1 philanthropic goal. To learn more about corporate support for nonprofits, check out Mesirow’s Social Responsibility page and read through the Mesirow Financial Community Relations Strategy document.