How Social Impact Giving is Shaking Up the World of Philanthropy

When it comes to philanthropy, it’s usually universities, museums, and hospitals that get major donations. But there’s a Chicago organization shaking up that paradigm.

Lever for Change is an offshoot of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation working to change the world of philanthropy by giving to overlooked organizations like Chicago’s Communities United and City Bureau, a nonprofit journalism organization based on the South Side.

“We understand that many philanthropists are risk averse,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. “They’re afraid of making a mistake. And you don’t think you’re going to make a mistake if you’re giving funds to a long-established institution, particularly if it’s your own alma mater. If you look at some of the larger gifts in philanthropy, they tend to go to … big, well-known institutions. The attraction of that is that everyone kind of understands what they do. They’re going to be around for a while, so you can feel like you’ve made a safe bet.”

“We’re trying to encourage more giving,” Conrad continued, “because philanthropists say they want to do more for social change, and those institutions are all very important to society. But there’s a whole other group of organizations who are actively trying to change systems that perpetuate inequality or that result in damage to the climate. There are organizations who are trying to mobilize and activate communities and provide them support. And those tend to get missed if you’re trying to look for something that is well known and has a certain degree of safety.”

Lever for Change not only gives locally but also globally. And for people who don’t have $10 million to give, there are other ways to make smaller donations count.

“There are opportunities to give depending on how much you want to do that involve collaboration with others,” Conrad said. “And that’s something that we try to encourage as Lever for Change. We have a database, the Bold Solutions Network, which are the finalists from our challenges, and that’s publicly available. It’s on our website. If you’re really interested in how you can reduce CO2 admissions, if you’re a climate person and are interested in environmental justice, you can go there and you can look at the projects that are there. And those are all organizations that are nonprofits and have been pre-vetted by us.”

Blue Divider Line

This article originally appeared on WTTW - Chicago Tonight - March 18, 2023, and is the sole property of PBS - WTTW Chicago.

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