Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We All Have a Stake in Strengthening Democracy

by David Hiller, President and CEO

At its recent meeting our board of directors approved several grants in our Democracy Program to support organizations committed to strengthening democracy and enhancing civic engagement in Illinois. The program, representing an $8 million annual investment, addresses a critical issue we face – sustaining our democracy in an era of great political polarization and lack of trust in our civic institutions.


The Mikva Challenge's Mayoral Youth Commission works to bring youth voice to the 
Mayor and other city officials on key issues that affect young people in Chicago.

Several of our partners are working to strengthen civic education and civic engagement among our young people. This is aligned with the state-wide effort to bring quality civic education back to all Illinois high schools, and to improve civics, history and other social studies in all the K-12 grades under the new Social Studies Standards. Mikva Challenge, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Illinois Center for Civic Education, Golden Apple Foundation, and WE Charity are all champions of this work.


Speaking of civic education, we are also excited to be supporting the education programming based on the musical Hamilton. The program combines curriculum and classroom instruction based on the storyline of the musical, with the opportunity for 20,000 Chicago Public School students to attend Wednesday matinee performances.


Hamilton reminds us that our democracy was founded by immigrants and refugees from persecution, and that new arrivals have enriched and sustained our country ever since. The work of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has never been more needed. ICIRR New Americans Democracy Project, a non-partisan voter registration and education program, is aimed at engaging and strengthening the immigrant community. The Interfaith Youth Core supports engagement and public discourse across religious and ethnic divides.


Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Christopher Jackson, White House, March 2016
The original cast of Hamilton performs at the White House, March 14, 2016.


Current events also underscore how essential a free and vigorous press is to our democracy. We are proud to support the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Illinois Press Foundation, and the Student Press Law Center in their defense of the First Amendment.


Charges of “fake news” besiege us each day, but there is important work ongoing to build news literacy – the critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of news and information. The News Literacy Project and Stony Brook University are doing extraordinary work in this area.


With traditional media being challenged, there are new and non-profit journalism organizations stepping up. The City Bureau, a grass-roots investigation unit connected with communities on Chicago’s south and west sides, is doing some great work in these historically under-served and under-reported areas. The Chicago Reporter, WBEZ, and Medill’s social justice and investigative reporting initiative are also leading important community journalism work.

Chicago is also fortunate to have numerous youth journalism organizations, creating important opportunities for raising youth voice in our media, and developing the next generation of journalists. Free Spirit Media, Street Level Youth Media, True Star Foundation, and the National Museum of Mexican Art are among the leaders.


Finally, the hard and unending work of government reform and improvement remains critical. We are honored to work with the Better Government Association, Change Illinois, Citizen Advocacy Center, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and our other partners on this civic mission.


I’ve included a listing of all the fine organizations receiving recent grants at the end of this blog. All of them need engaged participants and supporters to carry forward their work. I encourage you to get involved with them, or with other groups in your communities. A healthy democracy needs all of us, and for all of us to remember that we are all in this together.


In these times, we are inspired and given hope by the extraordinary work of these champions of our democratic freedoms.


Here’s a list of the recent Democracy Program grants approved by the McCormick Foundation:


Grants for Civic Education:


Grants for Journalism:


Grants for Good Government:

"Immigrants, we get the job done."

Logo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

For those of you who are fans of Hamilton and may have been fortunate enough to see the Chicago or New York productions, you will recognize this line from the song “Yorktown (The World Upside Down).”


The song is an energetic exchange between statesman Alexander Hamilton and French military officer Marquis de Lafayette during the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. And while it’s an artful interpretation of events from more than 235 years ago, this lyric from the song rings true today with great relevance and hope.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Journey as a Philanthropist, Part 4

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern


New Year’s resolutions. We make them. We break them.


Usually, our resolutions center on ourselves- wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, read more, finally get to the end of that to-do list, etc. But what if this year, we shift the focus of our New Year’s resolutions from ourselves? What if we resolve to get out and give back to those in need?


Throughout this blog series, I’ve shared my journey as a philanthropist. This journey started with a lemonade stand when I was 8, carried into high school and college with volunteering and ended up at the McCormick Foundation, but it isn’t over yet. Your journey begins with a shift in mindset, realizing that no matter if you have 50 cents or $50 million, you can still be a philanthropist.



What does this philanthropic New Year’s resolution look like? It looks like a Year of Giving.


Give the gift of time.

  • Sign up to be a mentor and be a positive role model in the life of an at-risk youth.
  • Help a small nonprofit with mailings and other administrative tasks.
  • Do you have special skills? Offer to help under-resourced organizations with photography, videography, copywriting, IT support or accounting.
  • Check-in on an elderly neighbor, visiting with them and offering to run errands or do a few house chores.


Give the gift of resources.

  • Instead of selling clothing for a few bucks at a resale shop, donate the clothing items to a local shelter, refugee organization or clothing donation box.
  • Buy extra school and classroom supplies, or unused materials, and give to a school in a low-income area.
  • Donate baby toys, outgrown toddler clothing and cribs to a teen parent resource center.
  • If you are throwing an event (i.e. conference, wedding, etc.), arrange to donate leftover meals to a homeless shelter.


Give the gift of financial support.

  • Become a monthly donor for an organization you love and support them all year long.
  • Pick 12 organizations to donate to throughout the year, one each month.
  • Donate a percentage (even if it’s just 0.5% or 1%!) from each paycheck to a local nonprofit.
  • Set up a friend-raiser for your birthday instead of asking for gifts. There are many nonprofits that have these tools available to you on their websites and Facebook does, too!


This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I hope it spurs ideas of how you can join me in this Year of Giving. Individually, we can’t solve the world’s problems. Collectively, we can sure try.


Thank you for following along on this blog series and warm wishes for a Happy New Year!


This is the final part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. If you missed the first three installments, read part one, part two or part three here.