How a 50-Year-Old Organization Is Shaking Up Philanthropy

Chicago is fast becoming a part of a philanthropic revolution, one that its proponents hopes will change the way we all approach giving.  And at the epicenter the Donors Forum, a nearly 50-year-old organization, that is doing something no other philanthropic organization has done before: putting grant makers and nonprofits at the table together.
“We want to create an environment that attracts investment, it develops top talent, it lowers costs, and it allows social organizations to do their best work and to maximize their impact,” Donors Forum President and CEO Eric Weinheimer explained.

President and CEO Eric Weinheimer,
who formerly led The Cara Program, is helping the Donors Forum
rethink philanthropy in Chicago, and beyond.
Convening funders, nonprofits, corporations and others is a new direction for the Forum, one that builds on its long tradition of work with foundations.  It’s a program that was put into place as Weinheimer—who previously led the nonprofit Cara Program—stepped in as President last July, and it’s the only of its kind.
Weinheimer’s 18-year tenure as president and CEO of The Cara Program provided him a unique window into the nonprofit and other resources available in the city of Chicago and beyond—resources he acknowledges many other regions have at their fingertips. “The question is,” he stressed, “who is going to be not only the convener, but the project manager?”
In its work to fulfill the role of project manager, Donors Forum has organized a series of eventsgeared to leaders on both sides of the philanthropic table.  The recent December 2 Giving Tuesday initiative, #ILGiveBig, had approximately 600 nonprofit collaborators, including Chicago Ideas.  And the Forum has been pivotal in starting conversations on topics such as social innovation, inviting a diverse group of organizations to share their expertise.

Weinheimer sees opportunities not just for organizations, but for individuals to increase philanthropic efforts in Chicago and beyond. “If [philanthropy is] an issue that resonates with you, that you have experience with, we want you around the table,” he concluded.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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