Elisabeth Siciliano, Director, Office of the CEO and Corporate Counsel at The Barack Obama Foundation, found her passion for nonprofit work while working in the corporate world. Now, as a member of A Better Chicago’s Impact Council, she brings that passion to others.
Elisabeth Siciliano was an associate at one of the world’s largest law firms when she first learned about A Better Chicago. At the time, she was primarily doing corporate work, but was most passionate about public-interest, nonprofit work. When she learned the firm brought on A Better Chicago as a pro bono client, she quickly expressed interest in working with them.
“I just loved working with A Better Chicago. I had such a positive reaction any time they reached out to me with a new project and I was excited to help further their mission. It was one of the reasons I ultimately decided to leave the law firm and work for a nonprofit.”
With A Better Chicago’s support and encouragement, in 2013, Elisabeth became in-house counsel for Organizing for Action, a grassroots nonprofit organization fighting for progressive change. But she remained connected to A Better Chicago, helping with research on nonprofits before they enter the due diligence process to become part of the grantee portfolio.
“I cared so much about the work A Better Chicago was doing, I wanted to stay involved.”
Elisabeth is now a member of A Better Chicago’s Impact Council – a group of professionals who are committed to educational equity and high impact philanthropy – and sees the importance of engaging a group of younger investors who want to make a true impact. In addition to supporting A Better Chicago, the Impact Council strengthens grantee organizations by providing professional development opportunities to their rising leaders.
As an Impact Council member, Elisabeth encourages friends to support A Better Chicago’s work.
“The Impact Council has allowed me to remain connected to A Better Chicago, and also introduce new people to the activities of the organization. I have many friends who are young professionals starting to think about how they can make an impact in their community, but they want to make sure they are going to make a difference.
“A Better Chicago’s model is an easy sell. They have this huge ambition: ‘We believe everyone deserves a great education, here’s the challenge in Chicago, and here’s how we’re going to make an impact.’ Then they take a rigorous, almost scientific, approach to how they’re going to accomplish it.”
There’s also a networking aspect to the Impact Council that Elisabeth feels is important to developing a deeper relationship with the organization and among the members. Events such as the Social Table, held during a weekday happy hour, is appealing to members who bring friends and colleagues to not only learn about A Better Chicago, but connect with like-minded professionals.
“Mission is probably the number one thing my friends look for when choosing an organization to support. I brought a friend to the Social Table who is looking for ways to make a difference. A lot of change starts locally, so I can assure her that by supporting A Better Chicago she’d be making an impact.”
When Elisabeth talks to people about A Better Chicago, she believes the giving model and transparency are among the most persuasive benefits of supporting the organization.
“A Better Chicago rigorously tracks their progress and holds themselves and grantee organizations accountable. Plus, knowing that 100 percent of donations goes directly to the grantees makes me even more confident in my support.”
Keeping A Better Chicago in Mind
In 2015, Elisabeth joined the Obama Foundation as Chief of Staff. At the time, she had a broad range of responsibilities including oversight of legal, finance, operations, and HR. Now that the Foundation has grown significantly, her role has shifted to work in the Office of the CEO, focusing on corporate governance and special leadership initiatives.
“When I first learned about A Better Chicago’s rigorous process and careful analysis of each potential grantee organization, I became even more excited about the work they were doing. A Better Chicago not only looks at the nonprofit organization’s strength, leadership, and ability to scale, they put real science behind it.
“Now, in my own work and when I look at other organizations, I have A Better Chicago’s strong rubric in the back of my mind.”