Case Studies

The CAFE is fortunate to have access to many scholars, researchers, and practitioners that are deeply entrenched in the evolving education ecosystem. The case studies below detail research and key findings that inform not only our work, but also influence the strategies of organizations across the country.

Nonprofit Leaders of Color Speak Out About Struggles and Triumphs: The Chronicle of Philanthropy

People of color have reached pinnacles of power in philanthropy that once would have been unimaginable. Darren Walker, a gay African-American man, is head of the Ford Foundation, an institution with a $13 billion endowment.

La June Montgomery Tabron, an African- American woman, took the helm at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation after 26 years at the fund.

But things are still rough in the trenches.

The Chronicle spoke with more than 25 leaders of color at nonprofits and foundations, people at different points in their careers, devoted to different causes across the country. The picture they paint isn’t pretty. Leaders described feeling isolated, navigating difficult, racially fraught power dynamics with grant makers, and enduring affronts to their dignity — even having people touch their hair. In interview after interview, they talked about the need to prove themselves repeatedly.

“It’s always about going above and beyond,” says Angela Williams, CEO of Easterseals. “You can’t really afford mistakes because they’re not necessarily forgiven. It’s about dotting i’s, crossing t’s, and spending the extra time to prove that you deserve the position that you hold.” Many talked about becoming bolder and speaking out more as they gained experience and became more established in their careers. “We have to be a lot more courageous about leading with our language and leading with our words,” says Nathaniel Smith, founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity. “If we want to see a new world, we have to be willing to speak it into existence — and talk about what we don’t want to see in this world.”

The leaders are resourceful and proud of their accomplishments. They shared the strategies they use — not just to overcome barriers but to thrive. Many are cautiously optimistic that philanthropy’s widespread focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion could lead to real change in nonprofits and foundations. But there’s also concern. Lots of organizations are talking about racial equity, but they’re not integrating it into their work or changing how they operate, says Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation. “I don’t want this moment to pass where we can really make change.”

Here, leaders of color share stories of struggle and triumph and insights in how to make philanthropy truly inclusive.

‘I would get these code words.’

Becoming Kids First Chicago: 2016-2018 Impact Report

In June 2004, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Arne Duncan, and leaders from the Chicago business community announced the Renaissance 2010 (Ren10) initiative.

The goal of this bold program was to open 100 new schools and provide all students, regardless of socio-economic background, with the opportunity to compete on the global playing field. The Renaissance Schools Fund was established by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago as the independent fundraising and strategic partner to the Renaissance 2010 effort.

Our objective then, as now, was to catalyze dramatic improvement within Chicago Public Schools, which had languished with decades of dismal outcomes for kids. At the time, only half of students graduated from high school and low-income students of color were significantly more affected than their more affluent peers. Initially supported with more than $20 million in seed funding, we led the collaborative public-private partnership that catalyzed new school creation and functioned as the accountability partner to CPS in the school selection process.

From 2004 to 2014, with the support of the city’s business community, philanthropists, educators, and innovators, we raised over $100 million to start 81 new schools, inspiring the name New Schools for Chicago (NSC), which reflected our work and supported an era of amazing educational gains. Today, graduation rates are at an all-time high of 78%. Since our initial efforts, college readiness scores have increased significantly; and reading and math scores in elementary schools improved at rates that rank in the top of urban districts nationally.

Chicago Beyond: Why Am I Always Being Researched?

Why Am I Always Being Researched? is a new guidebook from impact investor Chicago Beyond designed for those looking to leverage resources to create impact across the city’s neighborhoods and beyond. The guidebook calls out seven ways power holds inequity in place and seven opportunities for change. While the publication talks about these power dynamics in a research setting, there is no denying they show up in other ways as we try to build a more equitable Chicago together. Why Am I Always Being Researched? pushes the reader to recognize their own bias, from working in and with community, funding and decision-making processes, to the questions we ask, to who has the privilege of taking a seat at the board room table, and more. This is a resource for anyone who seeks to make a change by first centering communities as leaders and owners of their own experiences and stories.

As an impact investor that backs the fight for youth equity, Chicago Beyond has partnered with and invested in community organizations all working towards providing more equitable access and opportunity to young people across Chicago. In many cases, we have also invested in sizable research projects to help our community partners grow the impact of their work. Our hope is that the research will generate learnings to impact more youth in our city and nationwide, and arm our partners with “evidence” they need to go after more funding for what is working.

Through the course of our investing, another sort of evidence emerged: evidence that the power dynamic between community organizations, researchers, and funders blocks information that could drive better decision-making and fuel more investment in communities most in need.

This power dynamic creates an uneven field on which research is designed and allows unintended bias to seep into how knowledge is generated. If we do not address the power dynamic in the creation of research, at best, we are driving decision-making from partial truths. At worst, we are generating inaccurate information that ultimately does more harm than good in our communities. This is why we must care about how research is created.

In this publication, we offer “how” we can begin to level the playing field and reckon with unintended bias when it comes to research. Chicago Beyond created this guidebook to help shift the power dynamic and the way community organizations, researchers, and funders uncover knowledge together. It is an equity-based approach to research that offers one way in which we can restore communities as authors and owners. It is based on the steps and missteps of Chicago Beyond’s own experience funding community organizations and research, and the courageous and patient efforts of our partners, the youth they serve, and others with whom we have learned.

To access the guidebook, visit this web page.

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