How the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation Helps Nonprofits

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By Season of Giving

During the two years she has worked with fellow committee members to determine Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation grant recipients, business owner and longtime volunteer Sarah Jolie has had a close view of the year-round support – financial and otherwise – the Foundation offers to the more than 100 local nonprofits that enrich the lives of area residents.

Jolie says she is heartened by OPRFCF's ongoing commitment to providing organizations with multiple opportunities to ensure programs live up to their potential, and by a renewed focus on fostering equity – physical, educational, economic, gender, age, racial and other forms – in the communities the Foundation serves.

"One of the things I'm pleased about is the commitment to racial equity and general equity – that it's an ongoing part of the conversation," she says. "It's really added to the conversation because you understand the kinds of ways culture has evolved and where our blind biases are."

Jolie notes the Foundation is in a unique and helpful bridge-building position, serving as a "safety net for donors, and also as a safety net for nonprofits."

Consider the grants program, which is funded by donor investments. The Foundation opens its annual Community Grants to local organizations that impact the well-being, enrichment and sustainability of Oak Park-River Forest and surrounding communities. Foundation staff initially vet applicants and narrow down the list of eligible organizations. Jolie and the other grants committee members then begin what she calls a "deep dive" into each organization on the list, examining program goals, financial histories and other statements. Committee members also conduct site visits and engage staff at each organization in face-to-face conversations related to a potential grant.

This coordinated, collaborative approach helps committee members make thoroughly informed grant recommendations to Foundation staff. Grants are awarded each October. This year, the Foundation provided more than $200,000 to 21 organizations, hand-delivering the checks to recipients.

MOMENTA Executive Director Sarah Najera says the grant and the personalized delivery of this year's monies "reinforces that what we are doing matters in the community." One of MOMENTA's programs is the Every Body Can Dance workshop, featuring dancers in wheelchairs; with its 2019 OPRFCF grant, the nonprofit hopes to expand the reach of its inclusive dance offerings while also addressing other kinds of equity. "We want to make the art form of dance and creative movement accessible to everyone," she says.

Frank Lipo, executive director at the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, says he appreciates the additional ways the Foundation fosters nonprofits' financial well-being. The Foundation oversees a fund that specifically supports the Historical Society's operations, and Lipo also welcomes the professional development the Foundation offers to local nonprofit leaders and staff through its programming.

"I think the Community Foundation acts as a philanthropic umbrella," he says. "It keeps us in the loop about opportunities, it offers us and fellow organizations training sessions and seminar-type workshops that executive directors and board members might go to for tips about running a nonprofit."

The Foundation's enthusiasm for nonprofits, and the work it does to help them further their missions, are a fitting outgrowth of community residents' best intentions. 

"The culture of giving, the culture of participation, the culture of activism is valued," says Jolie. "Here, there's a passion to be as good as you can be as neighbors to other people."

To learn more about how the Foundation supports nonprofits through its grants, donor funds and training programs, and how you can get involved, contact Elizabeth Chadri at 708-848-1560 or We look forward to speaking with you.

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