The Chicago Community Trust Follows Ford’s Lead

(The Chicago Community Trust President Terry Mazany)

The Ford Foundation appears to have struck a nerve.

Following the grant-making giant’s announcement in June to provide more funding for nonprofit operations support, other groups are following suit. Terry Mazany – president of The Chicago Community Trust – announced that his organization will begin offering grants from between $35,000 to $300,000 to Chicago’s “anchor organizations.” The grants are designed to explicitly fund operations budgets.

Mazany acknowledged the shortcomings of hitherto applied grant-making criteria in a speech at his foundation’s “State of the Community” event:

As foundations, we have been rightfully accused of creating too much administrative work that takes nonprofit resources away from their mission and establishing grant requirements that distort a nonprofit’s mission in order to satisfy funder priorities. Some of the things we do actually undermine your ability to be successful.

It may take years before this new framework proves its worth, but the logic behind it is predicated on basic business concepts. When invested with unrestricted capital, businesses can grow dynamically. Nonprofits, however, have long been bogged down by onerous requirements attached to their funding. The results-based, programmatic approach that demands concrete reporting on the progress of carefully delineated line items does not typically give nonprofits flexibility.

No-strings-attached funding provides nonprofits with breathing room, allowing them to accrue staff, make technology improvements, and increase overhead with the goal of improving overall efficacy as opposed to supporting individual projects.

Mazany also announced that, like the Ford Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust will begin focusing inequality and social justice causes. In strong words, he remarked: “We must stop kicking the can of racism down the road for the next generation to resolve.”

Key Elements Group LLC will continue reporting on this trend in grant-making.

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