How the Chicago Community Trust is Celebrating Its 99th Birthday

Only a handful of people get to celebrate their 99th birthdays, and not too many philanthropies have been around that long either. The Chicago Community Trust (CCT), established on May 12, 1915, is celebrating by launching a “public square” style initiative to unite Chicago as a community and discuss the future. This initiative, called On the Table, will be held on May 12th to engage small groups of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and walks of life.

The overarching goal of On the Table is to bring over 10,000 Chicagoland residents together in small groups on a single day to share a meal and engage in civic-minded conversations about the city's future. In this way, CCT hopes to generate new ideas, cultivate unlikely relationships, inspire bold solutions, and improve local communities.

So how's it work?

Nonprofit organizations, volunteers, corporations, philanthropists, and concerned citizens are encouraged to head over to the On the Table website and register to either host an event or attend an event on May 12th. Event hosts are tasked with coordinating and facilitating a dialogue to make Chicago stronger. Hosts determine the location for their guests to meet for a mealtime conversation and invite whomever they want. Check out the CCT's Host Toolkit to see how the foundation envisions this whole process. If that sounds like too much work, you can simply sign up to attend an event and be told when and where to show up.

To date, over several hundred hosts have signed on to participate in the event, including elected officials, community organizations, news media professionals, church groups, and corporate CEOs. Thousands of residents are expected to connect to the conversations via social media by using the #OnTheTable2014 hashtag.

"On the Table is a unique and compelling way for the Trust to invite Chicago-area residents to come together for meaningful and inclusive discussions about the collective future of our communities," said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. "These conversations will provide a forum to explore what it means to be part of a community in the 21st century and inform our work to improve the quality of life and prosperity of our region and its residents."

“We hope these conversations will discuss, debate and ultimately define specific ways that we can work together to build strong, safe and dynamic communities,” said Leslie Bluhm, Co-Founder of local nonprofit, Chicago Cares and Co-Chair of the On the Table Steering Committee.

This initiative is unlike any other in CCT's history and represents a new direction in Chicago philanthropy. It's also been making quite a splash in the local media. The concept behind On the Table dates back to nearly a century ago when Chicago banker and CCT founder, Albert Harris hosted a similar mealtime conversation where people who cared about the region combined their philanthropy to maximize their charitable impact (read Chicago Community Trust: Chicago Grants).

The very best foundations do a great job of listening. The worst do all the talking. It's cool that CCT is orchestrating what amounts to a really big listening session. 

It's not clear how many CCT board and staff members will actually be participating in On the Table events. After the events take place, CCT will distribute surveys to participants to learn more about the topics of conversation and possible solutions to pervasive issues. In turn, CCT will publicly share these metrics, begin formulating new collaborations, and adjust strategies accordingly. Or so they say.