The Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation is in a race against the clock, looking to raise $2 million by the end of September, with the guarantee of doubling that amount. And the nonprofit just got a big boost, as it's receiving a half-million-dollar gift from a local agency that has largely gone off the radar in recent years.
The Community Foundation — a 50-year-old charitable organization that provides grants to everyone from the Animal Care League to West Suburban PADS — announced this week that it will receive $500,000 from the Community Chest of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. The Chest, which raised money for local charities for many decades, had given way in recent years to the much larger United Way.
But while the Chest was no longer actively raising funds, it continued to earn income from its endowments, about $100,000 of which the Chest has made available each year to local agencies.
Barbara Watkins, president of the Community Chest board, said both organizations have similar focuses, and the foundation was a perfect place for the Chest to put its money.
With the Chest's sizeable donation, the Community Foundation inches closer to its goal of raising $2 million and having it matched by the Grand Victoria Foundation, a nonprofit aligned with Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.
If the full amount is raised and matched, the Community Foundation plans to make $300,000 available in grants each year through its Community Works initiative, which focuses on three fronts: bolstering the success of children through education, improving the environment and developing community leaders.
"We just felt like those were all very worthwhile goals," Watkins said.
Thus far, the Community Foundation has raised about $1.9 million, and has until midnight Sept. 30 to raise the final $100,000, said Executive Director Sophia Lloyd. The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, then, has committed to match the foundation's fundraising total, for a total of $4 million to fund local initiatives.
Lloyd said Monday that the Community Foundation has its feelers out, looking for possible donors to close that final gap. She said they're confident about reaching their final goal.
"We feel very positive, with the Community Chest's generosity, that it's going to happen," Lloyd said.
The Community Chest, which has been around since 1935, became a partner with the United Way in 1991. In 2003, the Chest stopped fundraising altogether and ceased having dedicated staff members as the local United Way merged with other chapters.
The Chest's 12-member board of directors decided to start winding down the organization, with an eye toward eventually disbanding, according to Watkins. The organization has about $1.8 million left in its various endowments, following the donation to the Community Foundation, which primarily came from people's wills.
In the next nine months or so, Watkins said, the Chest plans to put the balance of its endowments into funds to be managed by the Community Foundation. Before the Chest closes up shop, their board will come up with specific guidelines on how they want those dollars doled out.
The Chest briefly considered bringing back a dedicated staff, but the numbers just didn't add up, Watkins said.
"It just did not strike us as at all feasible to become a fundraising organization again," she said.
Although the Chest is being dissolved as an organization, its endowment will likely still carry their name. And David Martin, a nine-year board member and former president of the Chest, said the effort will live on through continued donations to the United Way, and other local agencies.
"Our intent was really to retain its legacy toward supporting the communities," Martin said. "And we think providing funding to the foundation, with guidelines that we will establish in a fairly short period of time, the Community Chest and all it's done in the communities will continue on for a very long time."