The New Philanthropists: Liam Krehbiel and A Better Chicago

What his grandfather did for plastic manufacturing, Liam Krehbiel, Founder and CEO of A Better Chicago, is poised to do for venture philanthropy.

That’s a big statement. Frederick Krehbiel founded Molex Inc. in 1938, when plastic was in its infancy. The Krehbiel family recently sold the Chicago-based business for $7.2 billion.

Venture philanthropy is another big idea in its infancy, just as plastic was 80 years ago. In brief, it means investing philanthropic dollars and volunteer hours for maximum impact—think most lives made better per dollar spent.

Krehbiel so believes that society will “move the needle for low-income Chicagoans” when we approach social mission work like venture capitalists, that he made proving this his life’s work in 2010 when he founded A Better Chicago (ABC).

Krehbiel, 38, grew up in Hinsdale, then earned a BA from Dartmouth College (where he rowed heavyweight crew and met his future wife) and an MBA from Kellogg. He worked as a crew coach and a management consultant for a New York foundation before founding A Better Chicago. He now lives in Lincoln Park with his two young children and wife, Karen Rose Krehbiel, an attorney practicing family and child advocacy law.

Four key characteristics differentiate ABC from other nonprofits, according to Krehbiel: “First, 100 percent of all donated dollars go to our portfolio of grantees, because our board underwrites all operating expenses. Second, our investment goes beyond just dollars. We support our grantees in areas such as business planning and talent development. The final two are our rigorous diligence process and our emphasis on accountability.”

ABC is still in its infancy, but it can already demonstrate early success with many of the programs in its portfolio, like LEARN Charter School Network and OneGoal. “We are seeing early but tangible signs that our investment approach is working.” Krehbiel adds with a grin, “I’m excited about our trajectory.”

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is similarly excited. It recently named Krehbiel a 2014 Emerging Leader.

The more ABC demonstrates real social impact with convincing, business-like data, the more civic dollars and volunteer hours will follow Krehbiel’s lead. Indeed, this will prove him to be as innovative and visionary with philanthropy as his grandfather was with industry.


Photo by John Reilly Photography