With a dream of improving the lives of Chicago-area women and girls facing a variety of challenges, four leaders of Chicago's philanthropic communityMarjorie Craig Benton, Sunny Fischer, Iris J. Krieg and Lucia Woods Lindleyformed the Chicago Foundation for Women ( CFW ) in 1985.
They formed CFW to increase philanthropic dollars, which totaled only 3 percent at the time, directed to programs serving women and girls in the Chicago area so these individuals would be able to live healthy, happy and economically sustainable lives.
CFW, according to its website, "is a grantmaking organization dedicated to increasing resources and opportunities for women and girls in the greater Chicago area. To support our philanthropy, the Foundation promotes increased investment in women and girls, raises awareness about their issues and potential and develops them as leaders and philanthropists."
"CFW doesn't operate on a membership basis; however, the organization has over 7,000 individuals, corporate and foundation donors who allow us to invest in nearly 100 different organizations serving women and girls," said Emily M. Dreke, CFW director of development and communications. "We have a lot to celebrate this year from the past thirty years, including the fact that CFW has invested more than $26 million and provided more than 3,000 grants to improve the lives of women and girls. The issues CFW addresses matter to all of usequity in education, jobs, healthcare and freedom from violence."
The organization's core principals are equality, empowerment, diversity, collaboration and integrity.
One of the ways that CFW helps women and girls is through its giving councils ( previously known as leadership councils )African-American ( the first one which was formed in the spring of 1998 ), Latina, Asian, LBTQ ( formed in the fall of 1998 as the Lavender Fund ), Young Women's and North Shore. The African-American, Latina and Asian Giving Councils were merged a few years ago under the umbrella nameWomen of Color Giving Council. CFW is looking to expand its reach with the Western Suburbs Giving Council.
The LBTQ Giving Council's official kick-off event occurred in 1999 on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, with Suzanne M. Kraus and Linda E. Traeger as its first co-chairs. Laura Stempel and Joy Messinger are the LBTQ Giving Council's current co-chairs.
"I've always seen myself as kind of an activist, you know, somebody who was always in the rally," said Messinger. "CFW has shown me that my activism can extend to the boardroom. I've been able to use my voice in a number of ways, and I think that adding the voices of women, of color and of youth can only make philanthropy stronger. There aren't many organizations in the country that are doing philanthropy that serves women and girls and there's even fewer that serve women of color and LBTQ-identified women. I'm really proud to be a part of that."
"According to the Women's Funding Network, CFW is the first women's fund in the U.S. to develop affinity groups of diverse women to lead community outreach efforts, setting a national precedent," said Dreke. "It started in 1997 when CFW launched a community based campaign, 'Women with a Vision,' which was designed to create and strengthen the Foundation's ties to Chicago communities."
To celebrate the organization's 30th anniversary, CFW will be holding its annual luncheon and symposium, "Celebrate tHERty Years," Sept. 29, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, featuring a keynote address by activist and actress Ashley Judd.
"As a survivor of sexual assault and rape, Ashley has spoken publicly about her experiences and has become a strong advocate for survivors of sexual assault," said Dreke. "She's experienced firsthand the connection between poverty, illness and gender inequality and has, for many years, been a women's rights champion."
Dreke explained that the day will kick off with a symposium from 8:30-10:30 a. m. that's free and open to the public. The symposium, Dreke noted, will serve as the first opportunity for the community to see CFW's Civic Plan, a citywide call to action to address economic security issues for women and girls.
"CFW's Civil Plan will provide steps for everyone to play a role in helping women and girls grow and thrive," said Dreke. "To develop the plan, CFW convened over 500 individuals through 40 different community conversations, or 'salons for solutions,' to develop programmatic, legislative and philanthropic solutions to issue that matter most to women and girls and Chicago at large."
Alongside Judd's keynote address, luncheon attendees will hear from CFW's luncheon co-chairs Mary Dillon ( CEO of Ulta Beauty ), Diane Whatton ( director, U.S. Community Affairs at BMO Harris Bank ) and Jerry Newton ( CFW alumnae member ) as well as CFW's Board Chair Wendy White Eagle, President/CEO K. Sujata and one of CFW's grantees. A 30th-anniversary feature video will also be shown for the first time at the luncheon.
"Since our founding, the CFW has worked to remove barriers and provide safe, just and healthy lives for women and girls in Chicago," said Sujata. "We firmly believe that women's health and freedom from violence are intertwined with economic well-being and essential for growing and sustaining vibrant communities and we need to reach these goals with some urgency. So CFW is doing something about this. Our city-wide effort to identify the most pressing issues facing women and girls will produce specific plans to remove barriers and increase opportunities that will lead to thriving communities."
The CFW holds a variety of events each year including its annual luncheon which, in the past, has featured keynote addresses by Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, Anita Hill and Billie Jean King.
As for CFW's grant-making endeavors, the organization has, over the years, given away millions of dollars to a variety of organizations and has a long history of providing seed money to new and emerging organizations. Of those organizations, 70 percent are still in operation. One way that the CFW helps women and girls is through its Enterprise Fund and one of the non-profits to benefit from this is the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, which became a part of Cabrini Green Legal Aid.
Dreke noted that, beginning in 1986, CFW raised enough money to grant $50,000 to 25 organizations and hire its first executive director, Pam Anderson. By 1991, CFW had given $1,000,000.
"In 1992, the Sophia Fund joined CFW to support advocacy efforts to advance women's rights, which continues to this day," said Dreke. "In 2008, CFW received the first of what would become many matching grants from the Catalyst Fund to support women of color-led, grassroots reproductive justice advocacy work and in 2012, the CFW entered into a strategic alliance with the former Eleanor Foundation, a public grantmaking fund focused on helping female-headed households achieve economic self-sufficiency. Through this alliance, the Eleanor Foundation decided to wind down its stand-alone operations and brought programming commitments with nearly $7 million in assets and key board leaders and supporters to CFW. This created the Eleanor Network at CFW, which sustains the former Eleanor Foundation's legacy and CFW's existing commitment to women's economic security.
In the area of advocacy work, CFW's grantees have successfully helped pass in Illinois a bill enforcing the ban on shackling pregnant prisoners in labor, six separate bills to protect victims of sex trafficking and a comprehensive sexual education bill.
"Having been fortunate myself, having had the chance to go to great schools, to join a Wall Street firm, to develop my business, why wouldn't I support an organization that works to level the playing field for other women?," said Adela Cepeda, A.C. Advisory, Inc. president and a CFW board member. "It's so important that we give back this way and CFW is a great way to give and know that the funds are going to the most promising, women-led solutions."
To purchase tickets to the Sept. 29 luncheon, which begin at $150 for an individual, visit www.cfw.org/ .