What the Chicago Foundation for Women’s Director Brings to Evanston as a New CEO

Earlier this year, we introduced you to a Chicago foundation that distinguished itself with support for start-ups and community outreach. This women-centric funder engages the interest and support of men in the community, as well, to impact the issues that most affect women’s lives: economic security, violence, and health.

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That funder, the Chicago Foundation for Women, is making some staffing changes and sending one of its leaders to take control of another local grantmaking group. CFW’s director of programs will move to the Evanston Community Foundation to focus her expertise just outside the city limits. ECF’s former president and CEO, Sara Schastok, announced her plans to retire earlier this year, and the CFW veteran, Monique Brunson Jones, will step into her shoes on November 2.

At CFW, Jones has managed a staff of 14, a budget of $3.8 million, and a grant program that awards $2.5 million annually. She has a background in social work and previously worked for the Cook County Department of Health as the director of the Office of Violence Prevention. To better understand Jones’ evolving role in the local philanthropy scene, I connected with her to ask a few questions about the transition and how this change will impact grantmaking in Chicago and Evanston.

What makes you most excited about joining the ECF Team at this point in your career?

I’m excited because I get to use my entire career and life background to lead this work. It’s like being in the middle of a room (and in this case a community) where you get to assess and encourage use of the absolute best assets and innovative strategies to improve your community. The team has done awesome work—they are very dedicated and committed to ECF and Evanston, and that’s been a pleasure to see. It has always been the icing on my cake to enjoy going to work every day, and to maintain my purpose in life of making a difference. Now I get to focus that energy in Evanston, a community with vast demographic differences but many similarities in values. That is exciting!   

What topics/interest areas will you focus on initially, in terms of grantmaking, at ECF?

It’s my plan to get embedded in the community and learn where the assets and opportunities exist, while maintaining the strong partnerships that support the foundation. ECF focuses primarily on families—early childhood education, employment, basic human needs and community development—and all things needed to make sure Evanstonians thrive. The grantmaking focus will remain the same as we take a look at the impact of our investments over time.

What do you feel the greatest needs are in Evanston right now?

Similar to what’s happening around the state due to the budget crisis, families are in need of stability and supports that they can depend on to maintain a healthy and economically sound community. While Evanston is a place of great assets, it is not immune to systemic and structural issues that drastically change a family’s ability to thrive. More than ever, through strategic grantmaking and support for all of Evanston’s leaders, it’s a priority to drive change with the voices of everyone affected.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge as you transition from the Chicago Foundation for Women to ECF?

Right now, my best challenge is recalibrating and becoming a student of Evanston. But this is also my greatest opportunity. My eyes and ears are wide open, and I’m cognizant of the fact that since my time living in the community years ago, a lot has changed. I look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the changes and assets.

How do you think your prior experience can most benefit ECF as a foundation and Evanston as a community?

This is a good question. I’ve had the benefit of leading in multiple human service areas, several spaces in which our grantees work and our leaders lead—i.e., education, public health, child welfare and philanthropy. My collective experience and dedication, combined with the entire ECF team and the Evanston community, can only improve our outcomes.

The Evanston Community Foundation awarded a record of nearly $290,000 in responsive grants in the 2015-2016 cycle, and materials for the 2016-2017 cycle will be announced this fall. Nonprofits serving the Evanston area should check out the foundation Grant Guidelines page to learn more about this funder. Meanwhile, the Chicago Foundation for Women has not made a formal announcement about Jones’ replacement.