Investor Report 2023

Leveraging
Data for
Youth Progress

At the heart of A Better Chicago’s mission lies a deep commitment to creating transformative change in our city. We fight poverty with opportunity. We know when children and families have the support and tools they need to thrive—steady access to basic needs, a world-class education, a fair wage, the ability to buy a home and live in a safe community—we can break the cycle of poverty for this generation and generations to come.

Through our work over the past year and the momentum we are carrying into the next, we have the unique opportunity to drive large-scale change. In 2023, we were proud to deploy over $7 million to the 27 organizations in our portfolio, working collaboratively to create opportunities for young people to escape poverty. We invested a record-high amount of funding towards management support projects, helping these organizations scale and serve more youth, more effectively.

With tools like the Youth Opportunity Dashboard and the results from our inaugural youth focus groups and surveys, we used our unique position in the venture philanthropic space to uplift the voices of the children and communities we serve.

By investing in organizations that are leading the way, listening to young people about where more resources are needed to help them thrive, and tackling poverty from the root with proven metrics, we can create lasting change in our city.

Thank you for your partnership in our critical work.

Beth Swanson's signature

Beth Swanson,
CEO, A Better Chicago

Beth Swanson's portrait
quote marks

…we have the unique opportunity to drive large-scale change.

Portfolio Impact Snapshot

Since 2011, A Better Chicago has deployed $73M to youth-serving nonprofits, reaching 115,000 students to date.

  • In 2023, we invested over $7M to grow our portfolio of 27 organizations supporting the needs of youth from low-income backgrounds from cradle to career.
  • We provided more than $2M in management support across more than 294 capacity-building projects to date.
  • Last calendar year, our portfolio reached over 54,000 students, representing an increase of nearly 5,000 more youth than in 2022.

Our portfolio of 27 organizations includes:

  • 15 Early childhood and middle grade initiatives (operating at 20% above benchmark)
  • 4 High school persistence initiatives
    (operating at 9% above benchmark)
  • 8 College access/post-secondary initiatives
    (operating at 14% above benchmark)

Our portfolio organizations are operating on an average of 13% above their respective benchmarks. 5,722 more students are on track for long-term success–510 more than 2022. 29,795 total youth on track to achieve critical milestones (in comparison to the benchmark of 24,040 youth)

89% of our portfolio beneficiaries are from low-income backgrounds, up 4% from 2022.

Demographics our portfolio serves:

  • 47% Black
  • 43% Latinx
  • = 90% Black and Latinx

Our Approach

A Better Chicago is changing how Chicago fights poverty by investing in bold ideas that create opportunity for our youth. While traditional philanthropies often focus on established nonprofits, A Better Chicago also aims to find and nurture promising early initiatives, or ones just beyond that stage that are on the cusp of expansion.

We are a venture philanthropy that invests in the most promising nonprofits helping children escape poverty. We are the strategic partner for donors who want to make pivotal, well-researched investments that lift the outlook for our city.

A Better Chicago’s unique model dramatically improves opportunities for low-income Black and Latinx youth by leveraging the collective power of Chicagoans who want to make our city more equitable.

Driven by impact and collaboration, we employ a venture capital approach: We raise money from donors who want to maximize their impact by investing 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.

We provide unrestricted funding, renewed annually based on performance, along with strategic guidance and resources. Our goal is for our investments to eventually flourish without us.

Our administrative expenses are covered by our board, ensuring that every donor dollar is deployed to the nonprofits we support.

We’re a venture philanthropy. We do your homework and invest your money in Chicago’s best nonprofits.

Our Investments

A Better Chicago’s model ensures that we consistently make strong investment decisions. We invest in organizations that produce a meaningful increase in key life indicators for low-income Black and Latinx youth. We support leaders capable of mobilizing resources, building strong teams, and driving results.

Catalyst Fund icon

Catalyst Fund

Early-stage, community-embedded programs with promising approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of Chicago.

Venture Fund icon

Venture Fund

Organizations that have proven program models, demonstrate strong early results, and are poised to scale in Chicago.

Growth Fund icon

Growth Fund

Well-established organizations with proven impact for meaningful scale.

Alumni Fund  icon

Alumni Fund

Former actively managed investments with proven impact that A Better Chicago continues to champion.

Our Impact

In 2023, A Better Chicago invested a total of $7M in our portfolio. These investments allow our portfolio organizations to continue their critical work helping children escape poverty.

Milestones of our portfolio organizations in 2023 include:

One Million Degrees logo

One Million Degrees

One Million Degrees, one of A Better Chicago’s portfolio investments since 2013, partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to provide wrap-around support for all City College Students. This initiative automatically enrolls thousands of students into the OMD program, giving them access to coaching, mentoring, and financial support.

Chicago Scholars logo

Chicago Scholars

Chicago Scholars announced the impact they have had on the more than 6,000 students they have served over its 28-year history. Young men of color who complete their program earn salaries approximately 2.5 times those of their peers. Chicago Scholars Alumni have collectively earned $6.8B more in lifetime earnings, and each Alum contributes an average of $500K back to their communities in societal benefits.

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College Possible

College Possible signed a 3-year contract with Chicago Public Schools to implement its programming. With this achievement, College Possible surpassed its scale milestones for School Year 2023, serving over 1,600 students and bringing its reach back to pre-pandemic levels.

Pitch In Chicago logo

Pitch In Chicago

Pitch In Chicago unveiled their new program partnership with Benjamin E. Mays Elementary School. Pitch In is now serving five schools in the South and West Sides of Chicago.

MAAFA logo

MAAFA

MAAFA expanded its program model to include the MAAFA Alumni Program (MAP), Beautiful Seed (MAAFA programming for young women), and Summer programming. This supports MAAFA’s role within The Sankofa Wellness Village, which is a $50M “Garfield Rite to Wellness Collaborative” project that creates a safe, well-resourced community hub for Garfield Park residents. The project includes a Wellness Center, housing, health center, fitness facilities, daycare, a credit union, the MAAFA Center for Arts & Activism, and more.

The Bloc logo

The Bloc

Jamyle Cannon, Executive Director of The Bloc, was selected as a Chicago Bulls 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Honoree, an annual award that recognizes three Chicagoans who have advanced equity and social justice in our city.

Braven logo

Braven

Aimée Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of Braven, was announced as a 2023 McNulty Prize winner. With the award, the McNulty Foundation recognized three leaders of organizations that have made a difference in advancing economic mobility, mental healthcare, and a sustainable future.

Management Support Projects

In tandem with unrestricted funds, A Better Chicago supports 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. Support is focused on capacity building–helping portfolio organizations serve more students and serve students better.

Management Support Projects can include executive leadership coaching, strategic planning, team and professional development, and assistance with fundraising, marketing, operations, DEI efforts, and more.

  • Since 2010, A Better Chicago has invested a total of $2M in 294 management support projects across our portfolio.
  • $474,000 was invested in management support projects in 2023–our highest amount ever.
  • 43 management support projects were undertaken in 2023

Management Support utilization was strong across all of A Better Chicago’s funds.

Completed a project:

88%

of Catalyst Fund portfolio organizations

80%

of Venture Fund portfolio organizations

100%

of Growth Fund portfolio organizations

Management Support Examples

Fiscal Sustainability Support

The Noble Schools (Noble) prepares students for long-term success by focusing on college completion and the steps necessary to attain a college degree. With support from A Better Chicago and an external consultant, Noble was able to reduce $14M in expenses from its FY24 budget.

PR/Communications Support

National Louis University (NLU) provides students with the support necessary to graduate college and succeed in the workforce. Looking to broaden its communications footprint across the city, A Better Chicago provided NLU with an external media consulting firm, which helped the university garner 219 media placements and nearly 200 million earned media impressions, including features in Crain’s Chicago, Changing Higher Ed, and WBBM News Radio.

Fundraising Support

Lion’s Pride utilizes a peer-to-peer mentorship model to foster empowerment in high school students. With support from A Better Chicago and a strategic fundraising firm, Lion’s Pride developed a clear, plan for funding organizational needs, including a fundraising calendar. This meant easier access to real time fundraising information/data and included coaching for members of their leadership team.

Bilingual and Migrant Student Support

Pitch In helps middle school students make a more seamless transition to high school through a wide variety of in- and after-school programming. With management support, Pitch In was were able to secure Spanish-speaking program assistants so that bilingual students can feel supported and connected to the school and the local community. Pitch In also distributed donations of warm winter clothing, accessories, boots and gym shoes to migrant students.

Youth Insights

For over a decade, A Better Chicago has raised capital to improve outcomes for Chicago youth. During that time, we’ve captured data to help us understand what interventions deliver outcomes for youth and what makes for ‘supercharged’ nonprofit organizations that drive those outcomes. These insights are of incredible value to the landscape, and are actively influencing individuals, systems, and institutions.

As we support the broader deployment of effective interventions along with better practices in nonprofit management and leadership, we are working thoughtfully to raise even more funding for youth in the city. Now, we have launched new and more intentional approaches to gathering and understanding youth insights, including the Youth Opportunity Dashboard and our Youth Focus Groups and Surveys.

A Better Chicago will continue to both raise the profile of interventions that improve youth outcomes and amplify the work of our portfolio organizations to drive increased investment in high-impact programs.

Youth Focus Groups and Surveys

In 2023, A Better Chicago set out to gain firsthand knowledge from Chicago youth around the current education and career development opportunities available to them, challenges they are facing, as well as the supports and investments they believe are needed to thrive in education, career, and life. Beginning in June and July, we conducted in-person focus groups among Black and Latinx Chicago youth. The following month, an online survey of 700 Chicago 10–24-year-olds was undertaken. The research results were released in October, and identified powerful insights that made the city take notice.

Key findings from both the focus groups and survey include:

Mental health and well-being are a major concern among Chicago youth because they view both as key to their success. Nearly all said they need more support than they have.

When asked about seeking help, youth see parents as most helpful, followed by community-based programs, while very few say the same about school counselors.

Schools are preparing youth for success in college, but not in their careers.

Youth feel prepared academically but identified gaps in job skills, such as financial literacy and interpersonal skills.

Non-school community programs are more effective than schools at teaching essential interpersonal skills.

Youth have a clear appetite for entrepreneurship and autonomy, but no one is teaching key business skills.

Youth say information on financial skills, networking, and how to start a business are not being provided.

To succeed in the workforce, youth need to develop interpersonal and social-emotional skills like teamwork and tolerating unpleasant and stressful emotions, but they’re not getting these in school. They’re getting them from after-school and community-based programs.

After the release of the youth focus groups and surveys, Crains Chicago published an op-ed from A Better Chicago’s CEO Beth Swanson reflecting on the insights:

“Youth development programs are at the heart of our mission at A Better Chicago. We raise money and invest it in promising nonprofits that lift children out of poverty, building a stronger and more vibrant city for all of us.”

“…It’s also important to meet kids where they are—whether that means the classroom, an after-school sports program or a homeless shelter where they’re living with family. Our survey results provide a strong argument to double down on that approach.”

“Chicago’s young people recognize the relationship between mental health and success. They’ve told us they’re struggling, and they can’t always find the help they need. Their future—and ours—depends on that support. Let’s make sure they get it.”

We must create and expand opportunities for them to learn and play while interacting with mentors who prepare them to cope with the challenges of adulthood.”

Youth Opportunity Dashboard

In November 2023, A Better Chicago publicly launched the Youth Opportunity Dashboard (YOD)—a data tool designed to support understanding, decision making, and collaboration. The YOD displays data across Chicago, disaggregated at the community level, and tracks 26 outcomes that span youth development.

WBEZ described the dashboard as painting “perhaps the most comprehensive picture to date of how children in each Chicago community are doing, tracking how they’re doing before they enter school to whether young adults graduate from high school and find jobs.”

The YOD provides city leaders, philanthropists, and youth advocates with a comprehensive and easy to use data tool. By providing a district-level snapshot across 6 milestones, we can see how young people are faring in Chicago.

The milestones align with the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance which uses a well-researched framework:

Milestone 1 icon

Entering school ready to learn

Milestone 2 icon

Meeting benchmarks in reading and math

Milestone 3 icon

Graduating from high school ready for college and career

Milestone 4 icon

Completing postsecondary education or training

Milestone 5 icon

Successfully entering the workforce

Milestone 6 icon

Keeping youth on track and giving them second chances

The YOD provides A Better Chicago, the city, and leaders and organizations supporting young people with a resource to continually garner insights that push our thinking forward.

Within the first few months of the launch, we presented live demonstrations of how to utilize the tool with key stakeholders including the Chicago Mayor’s office and various Foundations and corporate partners. We hosted a panel discussion with experts from the non-profit space to discuss how the YOD can be used in a variety of ways to track outcomes, and a wide array of organization, from corporations to schools, have accessed the YOD tool via our website.

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all of Chicago’s young people are equipped with the resources and supports needed to reach their full potential, and to establish the YOD as the “go-to” resource for understanding how Chicago youth are faring.

Year in Review

2023 was another exciting year for A Better Chicago. Our portfolio reach increased to more than 54,000 youth and we invested more than $7M in our portfolio organizations. We amplified youth voice and insights with the launch of our Youth Opportunity Dashboard and the release of our inaugural youth survey findings. We shared our learnings through opinion pieces, conferences, and thought-provoking events. Our portfolio organizations hit impressive milestones, and we continued collaborating with the wider philanthropic community to create opportunities for Chicago’s youth. We are energized about our path ahead and our work to create a better Chicago where every young person has a pathway out of poverty.

January

One Million Degrees (OMD), an A Better Chicago portfolio organization since 2013, partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to provide wrap-around support for all City College Students. This initiative automatically enrolls thousands of students into the OMD program, giving them access to coaching, mentoring, and financial support.

May

A Better Chicago CEO Beth Swanson was featured on a panel at the ASU+GSV Summit. Entitled “Overcoming Barriers to Community College Success,” the panelists discussed the partnership between portfolio organization One Million Degrees and City Colleges of Chicago and highlighted how to drive systemic change at scale.

June

A Better Chicago held the second annual Grape + Grain Fine Wine and Spirits Charity Auction, raising funds to advance its mission to invest in bold, innovative opportunities for Chicago’s low-income youth.

June/July/August

A Better Chicago began conducting focus groups and online surveys with Black and Latinx Chicago youth to gain firsthand knowledge on the current education and career development opportunities available to them, challenges they are facing, and supports they believe are needed for Chicago’s youth to thrive.

October

A Better Chicago released our inaugural youth focus groups and survey findings, which presented insights on mental health, social and emotional learning, youth programming, and adult supports.

Crains Chicago published an op-ed from A Better Chicago’s CEO Beth Swanson highlighting the results of the youth focus groups and surveys, calling on our city to lean into the community programs and mental health supports that young people tell us are working.

November

A Better Chicago launched the Youth Opportunity Dashboard—a groundbreaking tool that provides city leaders, philanthropists, and youth advocates with a district-level snapshot of how young people are measuring up to a series of 26 indicators that indicate progress toward six life milestones.

Looking Ahead

In 2024, A Better Chicago will continue leveraging the insights garnered through the Youth Opportunity Dashboard (YOD) and Youth Focus Groups and Surveys to better address the needs of young people in Chicago.

We know the ones closest to problems usually are the ones with the solutions, so it is critical we utilize their knowledge and experiences to drive change. Second iterations of both the YOD and the focus groups and surveys are planned for the second half of 2024, strengthening our collaborative work with youth-serving organization to more strategically support Chicago’s young people.

As we look ahead, we will continue making highly targeted investments, leveraging the knowledge gained from the YOD to ensure we are amplifying the priorities of our city’s low-income and Black and Latinx communities. Through identifying and supercharging the most promising organizations, we will create scalable solutions to help youth escape poverty.

Because together, we can build a better Chicago for everyone.

About Us

A Better Chicago’s model ensures that we consistently make strong investment decisions. We invest in organizations that offer compelling models that produce a meaningful increase in key life indicators for low-income, Black, and Latinx youth. We support leaders capable of mobilizing resources, building strong teams, and driving results.

Catalyst Fund icon

Catalyst Fund

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. With a priority on investing in BIPOC-led organizations, our Catalyst Fund has an intentional focus on elevating non-profits historically overlooked by philanthropy.

Venture Fund icon

Venture Fund

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.

Growth Fund icon

Growth Fund

Growth Fund investments are awarded to well-established organizations with proven impact for meaningful scale. Through collaboration, our partnership is designed to help organizations continue to increase impact through participant growth, program innovation, and ultimately systems influence.

Alumni Fund icon

Alumni Fund

A Better Chicago launched a new Alumni fund for grantees who successfully graduated from our portfolio. Alumni Fund investments are former actively managed investments with proven impact that we continue to champion. In 2023, two portfolio organizations, KIPP Chicago and Noble, joined this fund.

Racial Equity Statement

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.

Our Team

Beth Swanson

CEO

Nataly Barrera

Portfolio Director

Becky Betts

Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer

Emily Harris

Chief of Staff

Chelsea Huszar

Director of Development

Melanie Matar

Manager of Development

Rob McCloskey

Chief Operating Officer

Megan Mineau

Portfolio Manager

Ashley Mitchell

Development Associate

Kamaria Morris

Director of Communications

Marshana Roberts Pace

Director of Investments

Onel Abreu

Director of Data and Impact

Wesley Quevedo

Portfolio Associate

Allyson Siegal

Director of Strategic Initiatives

Shanel Singh

Data and Impact Associate

Perla Torres

Investment Operations Associate

Our Board

John Gilligan

CHAIR

Partner

Riverspan Partners

Stephen Beard

VICE CHAIR

Chief Executive Officer

Adtalem Global Education

Beth Swanson

CEO

A Better Chicago

Arjun Aggarwal

Operating Partner

Rubicon Founders

Sean Berkowitz

Partner & Global Chair of Litigation

Latham & Watkins LLP

Eric Chern

Co-founder

Chicago Trading Company

Ricardo Estrada

President & CEO

Metropolitan Family Services

Brittany Graunke

Operating Partner

The 81 Collection

Myetie Hamilton

Chief Executive Officer

Leadership Greater Chicago

Dr. Janice Jackson

Chief Executive Officer

Hope Chicago

Jack Keller

President

Keller Group, Inc.

Chris Keogh

Consumer and Wealth Management

Goldman Sachs & Co.

Timothy Knowles

President

Carnegie Foundation

Liam Krehbiel

Founder + CEO

Topography

Taylor O’Malley

Co-Founding Partner & President

Balyasny Asset Management LP

Ginger Ostro

Executive Director

Illinois Board of Higher Education

Matt Raino

Managing Director

Madison Dearborn Partners

Tracy Schwartz-Ward

Managing Principal

Schwartz Capital Group

Timothy Schwertfeger

Chairman & CEO Emeritus

Nuveen Investments, Inc.

Our Leadership Council

Jeff Akers

Partner & Head of Secondary Investments

Adams Street Partners, LLC

Adam Butler

Chief Executive Officer

Insignia International

Germayne Cade

Senior Client Partner, RPO Client Solutions North America

Korn Ferry

Micah Carr

Chief Brand Officer

Blue Meridian Partners

Kevan Comstock

Managing Director

Lazard

Richard Copans

Managing Director

Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC

Chuck Dauk

Vice President, Business Development

US Venture, Inc.

Scott Daum

Managing Director

Parallel49 Equity

Joe Elegante

Portfolio Manager

UBS Global Asset Management

Katherine Finnegan

President

Finnegan Family Foundation

Jeremy Franklin

Managing Director

GEM Realty Capital, Inc.

Rachel Geller

Managing Director

Insight Partners

Sara Guderyahn

Executive Director

Chicago Blackhawks Foundation

Harisha Haigh

Managing Director

Northwestern University

Adam Hitchcock

Owner

Great Lakes Global Holdings

Duane Jackson

Managing Partner & CEO

Jackson Private Capital

Sami Kamhawi

Managing Director

Goldman Sachs

Diane Marks Longoria

TWG Global

Rich Parisi

Founding Partner

Catania Capital Partners

Manoj Patel

Co-Head of Global Infrastructure Securities

DWS Group / RREEF America, LLC

Caroline Reckler

Partner

Latham & Watkins LLP

Arnaldo Rivera

Chief Administrative & Equity Office

Navy Pier

Michelle Schumaker

Senior Director, Global Sales Readiness

LinkedIn

Mike Siska

Partner & Managing Director

William Blair & Company, LLC

Kathleen Steele

Managing Director

Equity Group Investments

Acknowledgements

A Better Chicago would like to extend a thank you to Agustin Flores for his valued contributions to the team.

We would also like to thank Bark Design for their work on this report.