For A Better Chicago, the start of the school year brings new energy to the work we do. It is in that spirit, and with the launch of our 2016 Investor Report, that we honor the impressive performance of our grantees, reflect on our progress, and reaffirm our commitment to reducing the inequity that exists for thousands of students in our region.
Progress to Date
Three years ago, we launched our new strategic plan with the belief that ambitious goals, smart investing, and intensive partnerships can drive success and transform educational opportunities in our region. Our portfolio performance shows that this innovative model – when rigorously applied – is successful. In 2016, A Better Chicago:
- Invested $4M into our portfolio via unrestricted monetary grants, management support, pro-bono support, and leveraged funding
- Engaged in 21 management support projects focused on building capacity in key areas including talent strategy and development, strategic planning, and leadership development
- Reviewed more than 100 applications via our rigorous due diligence process, adding one organization into our Venture Fund: National Louis University’s Harrison Professional Pathways Program (HP3)
As we reflect on our progress, we are proud of our grantees’ accomplishments in 2016. Collectively, our portfolio:
- Served 35,000 Chicagoland students – an increase of more than 15,000 in the past three years
- Achieved average ACT scores almost three points higher than the portfolio benchmark
- Significantly outperformed relative benchmarks in a number of areas including high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation.
Just as we celebrate progress, we acknowledge that there is much work to be done. In recent years, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has made steady progress in freshman on-track, high school graduation and college enrollment1, and the recent passage of an evidence-based Illinois school funding bill leaves us optimistic about the district’s ability to make further growth. However, despite this progress, only 16 percent of CPS students are graduating from college by age 25.
Our goals and deep conviction in the potential of Chicago’s students compel us to challenge ourselves to do even more.
Our portfolio’s incredible work is game-changing for the 35,000 students being served today. It’s this momentum that inspires us to further support their work to reach our aggressive strategic goal to serve 80,000 more students and achieve a 60 percent college graduation rate by 2025. In real terms, this means the ability to serve 80,000 more students in programs and schools meeting rigorous expectations across the K-College continuum.
Our grantees work tirelessly and have some of the most talented teams you will find in any setting. But raising more money each year while improving performance and dealing with a constantly changing landscape is no small feat.
Our 80x60x25 goal calls on A Better Chicago to build our portfolio, to further support our grantees’ ability to serve even more students, and to enable even higher levels of performance throughout our portfolio. To accomplish this, we will not only continue the work that has gotten us this far, but also broaden our ability to provide management support, collaborate deeply, and enable partnership opportunities to help our grantees scale more rapidly and facilitate performance improvement. To achieve this, we will:
Expand our creative thinking by looking beyond traditional standalone nonprofits to programs within bigger organizations that are doing innovative work and creating programs that yield the greatest impact. With compelling early results, strong leadership, sound financial operations, and great potential to scale, HP3 – our newest portfolio member – is a shining example of this.
Stay ahead of emerging challenges by continually growing and improving our cadre of management support providers to further enhance the work of our portfolio. In the past year, we’ve reviewed more than 120 potential partners and added 45 high-quality partners with expertise in fundraising, marketing, and program design.
Seek and create innovative partnerships to grow our portfolio’s scale and performance. We aim to increase opportunities for our grantees through innovations and new partnerships. For example, innovating program delivery to enable greater scale or matching grantees that can multiply each other’s impact. Further, we plan to look outside of Chicago to bring good ideas to have an impact here.
Time and again, we are deeply moved by the remarkable performance of our grantees. They are driving transformative change in outcomes and opportunities for students in Chicago.
And yet, there are thousands of talented youth without access to the opportunities that our portfolio provides. These students are facing challenges that most of us can only imagine. But when opportunity meets talent, amazing things happen. We know that when strong leadership and compelling programs are combined with smart philanthropy, students’ lives are changed for the better.
Do we have big aspirations? You bet. But we are relentless, and we will step up and do everything we can to make it happen because it matters and because it is possible.
The students are already stepping up and doing the hardest work of all. Many travel an hour or more each way to get to school, they have the tenacity to move past those around them who doubt that their success is possible, and they possess the courage to pursue their dreams. We are both encouraged and inspired by these extraordinary young people.
As a community, it is our job – our obligation – to provide them with opportunities to help them succeed.
1 Allensworth, Elaine M., Kaleen Healey, Julia A. Gwynne, and Rene Crespin. (2016) High School Graduation Rates through Two Decades of District Change: The Influence of Policies, Data Records, and Demographic Shifts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. https://consortium.uchicago.edu/publications/high-school-graduation-rates-through-two-decades-district-change-influence-policies.