We are more determined than ever to scale these promising initiatives because we know our investment model works.”
We are at a critical moment for Chicago’s youth. For decades, Chicago Public School students were on an upward trajectory. Chicago’s growth rates in reading and math were higher than 96% of all school districts in the United States. The average Chicago students’ test scores improved by roughly six grade-level equivalents in five years’ time—20% more growth on average.
Although the pandemic fractured this foundation for academic growth laid in previous years, we are not deterred.
Rather, we are inspired by the innovative social entrepreneurs undertaking initiatives that improve the lives of youth in their communities. We are more determined than ever to scale these promising initiatives because we know our investment model works. The once nascent programs we steadily invested in—One Million Degrees, Bottom Line, Noble Charter Schools, KIPP, and others—over the years since our founding in 2010, are now among the most impactful youth-serving organizations in the city.
We intentionally partner with community-embedded leaders so that all young people can grow and thrive. In 2022, we strategically invested $7.6 million. We grew our portfolio by welcoming 3 new organizations. We increased our reach to support more than 49,000 youth. And we expanded our capacity to encompass social emotional learning to combat declining attendance rates, pantries to eliminate food insecurity, life coaching to support positive mental health, and more.
Transformational change depends on new and ambitious ideas, and it also requires proven programs with a track record of changing lives. A Better Chicago taps into the ingenuity of local leaders and provides the resources to power bold changes.
Together, we can supercharge these bold ideas to become life-changing opportunities for youth.
While traditional philanthropies focus on established nonprofits, A Better Chicago aims to find and nurture promising early initiatives, or ones just beyond that stage that are on the cusp of expansion. Often, they are run by local leaders who live or grew up in the communities they serve.
We employ a venture capital approach: We raise money from donors who want to maximize their impact, and we invest in innovative youth-serving nonprofits that have the potential to expand exponentially. We vet them rigorously before investing, and our continued support depends on them meeting mutually agreed milestones.
As with a venture capital fund, our goal is for our investments to eventually flourish without us.
We provide unrestricted funding, renewed annually based on performance. We also provide customized, in-house expertise and access to our vast network of resources to help nonprofits grow. We support strategic planning, marketing and communications, executive development or hiring, and much more.
Our administrative expenses are covered by our board, ensuring that every donor dollar is deployed to the nonprofits we support.
A Better Chicago is committed to advancing racial equity and ensuring Chicago youth are economically mobile and thriving in education, career, and life. Given this nation’s longstanding history of systemic inequity, we focus our efforts on funding and scaling ideas that expand opportunities for Black and Latinx youth, with particular emphasis on those ideas coming directly from the communities we serve. Read our full statement here.
We strategically invest in organizations via the three funds to maximize our impact of support.
Venture Fund investments are made in organizations that have proven program models, demonstrate strong early results, and are poised to scale in the city of Chicago. Through funding and management support, our partnership is designed to help organizations articulate their long-term vision for impact and begin to scale with model fidelity.
Catalyst Fund investments are made in early-stage, community-embedded programs with promising approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of Chicago. Through funding and management support, we partner with organizations to support model codification, impact measurement, and with attracting additional dollars to promote sustainability and longevity. With a priority on investing in BIPOC-led organizations, through our Catalyst Fund we have an intentional focus on elevating non-profits historically overlooked by philanthropy.
Growth Fund investments are awarded to well-established organizations with proven impact and aspirations for meaningful scale. Through funding and management support, our partnership is designed to help organizations continue to increase impact through participant growth, program innovation, and ultimately influencing systems.
In tandem with unrestricted funds, we support our portfolio organizations with strategic management support to boost their ability to scale and grow operationally. Management support projects vary by investment and are customized to meet the strategic priorities of our portfolio organizations.
invested in management support in 2022
management support projects in 2022
MAAFA’s mission is to repair and rebuild West Garfield Park by improving the quality of life of emerging adult Black and Brown men and their families. MAAFA focuses on creating a holistic “oasis of opportunity” for these young men to equip and empower their movement from “at risk” to thriving.
A major challenge for MAAFA was inconsistent data tracking. This challenge was not surprising given the complex configuration of supports needed to achieve the program’s comprehensive goals for its participants. However, the lack of data fidelity meant that some metrics were impossible to objectively quantify.
A Better Chicago’s own Data and Impact team stepped in to facilitate a digitization of participant-related data and outcomes. We implemented several foundational data infrastructure tools and processes that life coaches now use to collect and track participant progress, enabling a more objective evaluation of MAAFA’s program supports.
The Undergraduate College (UGC) at National Louis University was formed to advance the university’s commitment to being an equity-driven college. Working with the Founding Dean of the college, A Better Chicago supported the implementation of a vast range of evidence-based strategies considered best practices for driving strong and equitable undergraduate outcomes. As a result, NLU undergraduate enrollment more than doubled, going from 1,700 students in 2015 to over 4,000 students currently. The UGC received national recognition for its significant growth, innovation, and students’ success, and brings the UGC closer to achieving NLU's vision of equity in higher education.
The pandemic exposed the high number of families unable to meet the essential needs of their children. To support family health and ensure youth could come to programming ready to learn, we partnered with several of our portfolio organizations to build infrastructures to address essential needs, like food security.
Our investment in One Million Degrees exemplifies how we partner with our portfolio organizations to expand their impact and break the cycle of poverty for thousands of Chicago students.
It’s a proof point of our work and a snapshot of our ability to scale Chicago’s most promising nonprofits.
A Better Chicago supported OMD steadily as it grew from serving 120 students in 2013 to 740 in 2022.
Today, OMD is poised to scale its work within systems such as Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago, potentially reaching thousands of Chicago students annually. Click here to read our case study.
The Catalyst Fund was established in 2020 to supercharge Community-embedded social entrepreneurs undertaking bold, innovative initiatives often overlooked by traditional philanthropy. The youth- serving nonprofits in this fund already show promising signs of exponential growth and our support is amplifying their impact.
Community-embedded social entrepreneurs dedicated to increasing opportunities for youth
Emerging youth-serving nonprofits with the potential to expand exponentially
Bold, innovative initiatives often overlooked by traditional philanthropy
Literacy for early learners, with specific focus on meeting grade-level norms by third grade*
Math gains for students in early and middle grades*
High school success, likely indicated by freshman on-track and/or high school graduation rates*
Mental health services and trauma-informed care for youth pre-K through high school
Age-specific social-emotional learning and development
* All initiatives focused on academic outcomes must also address the social-emotional needs of students and educators in conjunction with learning interventions
Illuminated and supported well-researched yet unknown initiatives
Targeted hardest to reach populations
Piloted Peer to peer mentoring models proving their effectiveness
Supported teacher training and professional development
Amplified SEL supports as essential for academic success
Example: Chicago Hopes for Kids exceeded their SEL target by 1.6x
1. ISBE. Chronic absenteeism rate defined as % of students who miss 10% or more of school days per year.
Our CEO Beth Swanson offered her reflections on the critical role Chicago’s nonprofits play in the Crain’s Chicago Business op-ed article, Who Steps Up for Chicago’s Children When Others Walk Out.
A Better Chicago along with 24 Chicago foundations, nonprofits, public agencies, and private sector entities came together to voluntarily share data—some previously not public- and map out long-standing systemic inequities in Chicago, examine how investments shifted during COVID, and determine how to amplify impact.
The data showed how historical disinvestments and structural racism drive disparities in Chicago, and where future investment should align to strengthen communities.
Creating an equitable future requires understanding our past and this presentation focused on lessons of the project, its effect on investment patterns, and how other cities can use the strategy.
This global summit led by Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) connects “leading minds focused on transforming society and business around learning and work.” We presented alongside our partners and fellow leaders to highlight how A Better Chicago and its portfolio of organizations have evolved to holistically support students’ ability to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
Grape + Grain, a fine wine and spirits auction and dinner, brought together over 200 civic and business leaders. Net proceeds went towards advancing A Better Chicago’s mission to invest in bold, innovative opportunities for Chicago’s low-income youth.
This engaging panel discussion brought together early childcare experts across the field to discuss the interconnected areas of early learning and why the partnership between parents, teachers, and the community is essential to foster growth.
Nearly half of college students begin their higher education at community colleges, which offer a low-cost pathway to economic mobility and opportunity. But an array of barriers leads many to drop out and contributes to declining enrollment. Since 2013, we have invested $4.6M in One Million Degrees to broaden access to academic, financial and professional supports that dramatically increase graduation rates and change lives.
To celebrate an expanded partnership between One Million Degrees and City Colleges of Chicago, we hosted a panel discussion, Overcoming Barriers to Community College Success, and published a case study, A Better Chicago Fights Poverty by Scaling Promising Opportunities, to highlight A Better Chicago’s investment approach and role.
A House inAuston
Austin Childcare Providers Network
Dream on Education
Firehouse Community Arts Center
I Am Able
MAAFA Redemption Project
West Side United
Chicago HOPES for Kids
College Possible Chicago
Pathways at NLU