Snapshot of MCF’s Grantmaking Strategy & the Midwest Region
There are several aspects of the Foundation’s Midwest Region that give it its character.
- Foundation investments in the Midwest region are focused in IL with an emphasis on Chicago, due to its statewide impact. Chicago is located within Cook County, which has a population larger than that of 29 states. Chicago’s population is almost equally divided and segregated between black, white, and latino.
- Statewide, Illinois has not passed a budget in over 19 months, mostly because Republican governor Bruce Rauner will not pass a budget unless the Democrat controlled state assembly agrees to his union busting “turn around agenda.” This ongoing stalemate has hit low-income communities the hardest. Although 90 percent of the state’s budget is funded by court ordered mandates, the unfunded 10 percent are largely social service contracts helping the poorest and most vulnerable.
- On another note, a mayor appointed police accountability taskforce and a separate Department of Justice report made national headlines last year. Both confirmed what communities of color have been saying for decades: That the Chicago police department has issues with entrenched institutional racism, a code of silence, and a culture of impunity, which has created deep distrust between police and low income communities of color.
- In the midst of this highly charged environment, what difference has the foundation’s 141 grants made in the region over the past 12 years? Rami Nashashibi of foundation grantee IMAN, believes one of the reasons Chicago has not erupted in violent protest despite simmering grievances, is the strength of its organizing infrastructure. Organizations in the Chicago Equal Voice Network are successfully channeling the frustration of marginalized communities toward positive action.
- Foundation investments are also growing leaders. Chuy Garcia was ED of grantee Enlace and is now Cook County Commissioner and Patricia Watkins was ED of grantee TARGET and is now an Illinois State Senator. This is significant because both Commissioner Garcia and Senator Watkins are now able to be an ally for low income families from within the local political system.
- In addition, although Illinois’ social service sector for low income families is being devastated by the budget crisis, there was a silver lining last year. Grantee ONE Northside in partnership with the Peoples’ Lobby successfully led a one-year campaign to compel the Cook County Council to raise its minimum wage from $8.25 to $13 an hour by 2020.
- This will raise the income of over 220,000 low-income workers in the Chicago suburbs by $10,000 a year. This is a solid return on foundation investment: Both One Northside and Peoples Lobby have annual revenues of less than $750,000 but their policy victory will put over $1 billion a year back into the hands of low-income families.
- Finally, the Chicago Equal Voice Network is breaking down silos and working across issues to create a strong advocacy campaign that no single organization can accomplish alone. The Network is framing the budget crisis in Chicago Public Schools and the State of IL as a crisis of revenue, not deficits. The truth is that Illinois is embroiled in complex financial transactions that have drained the school district and state of hundreds of millions of dollars, which have gone to bank profits instead of the public good.
- Looking ahead, in 2017 a number of grantees traditionally focused on Chicago will explore statewide expansion. As reflected in the rural-urban divide throughout the nation, the political landscape in suburban and rural areas outside of Chicago is very different. Leaders are realizing that winning significant statewide reforms will require organizing in swing areas in the suburbs and downstate.
- The Chicago Equal Voice Network will also continue to focus on framing the budget crisis as one of revenue, not deficits requiring budget cuts that hurt low income families. It will continue to educate the public about complex financial transactions that drain public coffers and advocate for more just ways to use revenue. For example, grantee Communities United, led by Jenny Arwade whom you met yesterday, co-produced a report about the enormous cost of mass incarceration with the visionary question, what could we have done differently for low income families, with the $3.4 trillion dollars that was invested in the US criminal justice system over the past 30 years?
- Finally, the foundation will seek to more effectively connect the knowledge and resources of national grantees to regional partners. The support of the right national organization can help strengthen the infrastructure and strategy of local groups. For example, ONE Northside and Peoples’ Lobby are both affiliates of national grantee, Peoples’ Action Institute. Both organizations testified that Peoples Action Institute provided essential campaign support, fundraising connections, and strategic advice for their successful Cook County minimum wage victory.