Jennifer Ho 2016-11-16 13:09:28
Archives can be found in a variety of institutions, including universities, museums, historical societies and many large corporations, but one place you may be hard pressed to find a formal archives is in a community foundation. In 2010, with its centennial on the horizon, the leadership team of The Chicago Community Trust decided that, in order to properly celebrate its heritage now and in the future, it needed to establish an archives. The Chicago Community Trust was established in 1915 by Norman and Albert Harris, whom Midwesterners may know as the founders of what is now BMO Harris Bank. The Trust is a community foundation dedicated to improving the lives of Chicagoans through strategic grant making, civic engagement, and inspiring philanthropy. Since 1915, it has made more than $2 billion in grants to the Chicago region. In 2015, the Trust celebrated one hundred years of service with many programs and events, including “On the Table,” an innovative program that facilitated hundreds of meals involving thousands of Chicagoans breaking bread on a single day and exchanging their ideas on problems and opportunities in their neighborhoods. Internally, we wanted to establish and maintain a formal archives with which to preserve our heritage. The Trust’s library and information center had been closed for several years, leaving no staff with historical knowledge of the Trust nor a reliable person to perform research. Over time, this led to instances of inaccurate information being published—something the archives team hopes to prevent! The objective of the Trust archives is to preserve Trust heritage, which, essentially, is to preserve the many stories of philanthropic Chicagoans. Sharing Our Heritage Via Storytelling Private foundations are funded solely by gifts and contributions from the family or corporation that established them. Conversely, community foundations are public charities that must raise their endowment; any person can give to a community foundation. Thanks to the generosity of numerous donors over its one-hundred-year history, the Trust has played an important role in the philanthropic history, development, and growth of Chicago. For example, the Chicago Urban League, which was created as a branch of the national Urban League, was the recipient of one of the Trust’s first grants and continues to receive significant financial support from the Trust. Since the beginning, the Chicago Urban League has been instrumental in advocating for and providing opportunities to African Americans in Chicago. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) ran a capital campaign in the 1960s to build Chicago’s first purpose-built rehabilitation center. The Trust made a grant of $250,000, and RIC director Dr. Henry Betts often declared that money was the “seal of approval” that opened the philanthropic doors for RIC. It is now one of the nation’s leading providers of care, training, and advocacy for persons with disabilities. Finally, there is Gary Comer, best known as founder of Lands’ End, who established two donor-advised funds at the Trust in 2003. Comer grew up on the South Side of Chicago, returning after several decades to find that his elementary school and its surrounding neighborhood were in severe economic distress. He began donating funds to revitalize the area, a notable result of which is the Gary Comer Youth Center, located one block from Comer’s former school, which provides extracurricular education and support for neighborhood students. He also gave $84 million to the University of Chicago to establish its Comer Children’s Hospital and Comer Pediatric Emergency Department, the latter of which is the only pediatric emergency room on Chicago’s South Side. These stories are only three of hundreds of examples of the ways in which generous philanthropic giving through the Trust has benefited Chicago residents. In order to inspire Chicagoans to share their time, talent, or treasure, the Trust makes it a point to share these stories. We’ve done that by putting stories at the heart of our centennial celebration. We created a website featuring Trust stories that are heavily informed by the Trust archives. Browse “A Century of Stories” at http://www.cct.org/category/centennial/. Librarian Turned Archivist In 2010, a decade after she had retired from a long career as the Trust’s librarian, Barbara Denemark Long returned to set up a formal archives. During her tenure as librarian, she had made sure to hold on to a large portion of the Trust’s inactive records, such as meeting minutes, correspondence, audiovisual content, and thousands of images. Upon her return, she conducted an inventory of the records and began to digitize them. When I joined the Trust in 2014 as its digital archivist, I was pleasantly surprised to see the high proportion of digitized materials available, allowing me to hit the ground running with my main project, a digital catalog. Who We Serve Though the Trust archives is for internal use, we do occasionally fulfill research inquiries from institutions that we helped to start and from the region’s nonprofit community. As many nonprofits lack a formal archives, the Trust is often able to share information about grants given or important families and individuals in the organization’s founding and development. Internally, we provide information on donors and past grants and provide images and stories from our history. In addition to preserving our institutional records and ephemera, we have begun a web archiving initiative to preserve our websites and social media as well as those of our affiliate organizations and of the programs we support. As part of the centennial, we launched an oral history program. Narrators include past board members, donors, and former staff who discuss their first interactions with philanthropy, their personal reasons for giving, how they learned of the Trust, and an evaluation of their work with the Trust. In the next phase, we plan to interview community partners and grant recipients as well. The web archive files and oral histories are being made available for research in our catalog. Future Plans Aside from continuing our oral history program, we are exploring the possibility of a research fellowship for topics related to philanthropy, such as donor giving patterns, philanthropy in Chicago, or nonprofit leadership. There is also a pressing need to begin a formal records management program. Our first priority, however, is to load our records into the catalog, so that past, current, and future stories of philanthropy are preserved and accessible.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Recording+100+Years+Of+Philanthropy+In+Chicago/2641074/358515/article.html.