Another Funder That Gets It: Behind CCT’s Shift to General Operating Grants

On October 7, the Chicago Community Trust hosted an event at the ballroom of the downtown Hilton to make a major grantmaking announcement. Over 1,000 civic and community leaders gathered to see what Terry Mazany, CCT president and CEO had to say. The topic at hand? A new strategic direction for the Trust, and it’s a direction that will make a lot of local organizations happy.

In short, the strategy is awarding general operating grants to local nonprofits.

The Illinois state budget (not to mention Chicago’s strained city budget) is in a prolonged state of crisis, and nonprofits and funders have been scrambling to pick up the slack for many years, now. General operating support is key in times like these to help nonprofits stay afloat amid cuts in government funding. CCT's general operating support grantmaking will begin in January 2016.

In large part, the trust’s new direction was inspired by its On the Table initiative. This was a survey and open forum for conversations about how to improve Chicagoland communities. These conversations revealed that the top issues of concern are equity & social inclusion and education & youth development. However, the most important problems facing Chicago communities today are economic issues and poverty. Issues of interest to the trust include public education, crime and youth violence, poverty, employment opportunities, racial disparities, immigration integration, and neighborhood decay.

Mazany made three commitments that align with three ideals in his speech: inspiring philanthropy, engaging residents, and leading change. In its “10 Things to Know about the Trust’s Strategic Plan,” the foundation points out its commitment to civic engagement initiatives with statements like this:

We can no longer think about the Trust as only a grant making foundation. The Trust is uniquely positioned to invite, host and sustain the collective engagement of residents in the civic life of our region—on their terms, for our common good.

We’re also excited to learn that the trust is streamlining its grantmaking process so that nonprofits can focus more on their missions than on administrative hassles. Details about how, exactly, that will work should be revealed soon.

Also, by shifting the focus from program grants to general operating grants, the trust is now more open to renewing grants for multiple years to provide groups with organizational stability. Lots of grantmakers still stick to a policy that requires grantees to wait a year or more before applying for an additional grant. However, this can stunt the momentum of so many organizations that are just starting to turn things around. The top CCT issues of the moment are education, economic development, sustainable communities, and community vitality.

You can read Terry Mazany’s full speech, the State of the Community Address, here. Nonprofits that want to learn more about the trust’s new direction should seriously consider attending an information session. They’re being held at a couple of Chicago area locations on November 2, 9, and 16 and on December 4, 8, and 18.