In honor of Women’s Philanthropy Week and the #WomenLeading Philanthropy Symposium in Chicago, Make It Better announces our Top 11 Chicago Female Philanthropists.
This list, which is ordered alphabetically, is made up of women we admire who are doing wonderful things in—and for—our community.
1. Frances Comer—Founder, The Comer Foundation
The widow of Lands’ End founder Gary Comer continues in the philanthropic traditions she started with her husband, focusing primarily on children’s health and education. More than $50 million has been invested in Gary’s childhood community on Chicago’s South Side, including the creation of the internationally recognized Gary Comer Youth Center, a top performing college prep school, and an affordable housing initiative. Additionally, major investments have been made to the University of Chicago, most especially $42 million for the Comer Children’s Hospital and Pediatric Emergency Department.
2. Sister Rosemary Connelley—Executive Director, Misericordia
Connelley has been a champion of better care for children and adults with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities since she began working at a small South Side facility in 1969. She has grown Misericordia into a vibrant, loving community for 600 residents in the Rogers Park facility (for which she lobbied hard) with an annual budget of more than $50 million. Along the way Connelley has also earned seven honorary degrees, numerous other awards, and a beloved and much-respected reputation as a leading champion in the developmental disabilities arena.
3. Paula Fasseas—Founder, PAWS and Peter & Paula Fasseas Foundation
Fasseas founded the animal shelter PAWS Chicago in 1997 as a volunteer movement to help stray dogs find homes. Her passion for the cause grew the nonprofit into a “no kill” model with a state-of-the-art facility admired and adopted within the national PAWS organization, which rescues a variety of animals. Impressively, the Fasseas Foundation’s reach is extensive and goes beyond PAWS. In 2011 alone, the Fasseas Foundation donated $1,318,350 to promote volunteerism, philanthropy and grant-making foundations. (Photo by Sofia Spentzas.)
4. Francia Harrington—Senior Vice President Corporate Social Responsibility, JPMorgan Chase
Harrington manages the extensive civic relationships and philanthropic efforts of JPMorgan Chase. She also sits on the boards of LISC Chicago, ChiArts High School (which she also helped found), Ingenuity Incorporated and Chicago Lights. Harrington has been a longtime champion of the power of female philanthropists; JPMorgan Chase is the premier sponsor of this week’s #WomenLeading Philanthropy Conference, which will draw national attention to Chicago’s prominence in this area.
5. Joan Harris—Former Chairman, Irving Harris Foundation
Known as the Patron Saint of Arts in Chicago, and also considered a national arts powerhouse, Harris and her late husband, Irving, championed development of the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, which created a home and new opportunities for scores of arts organizations. She has served on the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Alliance Illinois, and as the Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as on the boards of the CSO, Juilliard School and Aspen Music Festival and School. The Foundation also supports programs, policies research and organizations for early childhood initiatives and the Jewish community.
6. Mellody Hobson—President, Ariel Investments
Hobson, youngest of a single mother’s six children and the only one to graduate from college, has long championed education and equal opportunities for all in Chicago. Her marriage to filmmaker George Lucas helped shoot her into the civic philanthropic stratosphere. She and Lucas gave recent donations of $25 million to both After School Matters and the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Hobson also serves on the boards of the Chicago Public Library, Field Museum, the Chicago Public Education Fund and the Sundance Institute. (Photo by Joi Ito.)
7. Liz Lefkofsky—Founder, Lefkofsky Family Foundation
Lefkofsky is a rising star in Chicago’s philanthropic community. She and her husband, Eric, who founded Groupon, have given away $25 million to Chicago-area nonprofits working in education, medical research, fundamental human rights, and arts and culture. She’s also creating opportunities for female tech entrepreneurs with the foundation’s recent support of 1871 FEMtech. Her philanthropic drive predates Groupon’s success. As a child, Lefkofsky helped her mother stuff envelopes in support of the American Brain Tumor Association, which her mother founded, and later served as a director of the Printer’s Row Book Fair and Gallery 37 arts community. Thanks to her recent signing of Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge with her husband, this commitment will only grow; they have pledged to donate half of their net wealth to charitable causes.
8. Ann Lurie—President and Treasurer, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Foundation; Founder, Africa Infectious Disease Village Clinics, Inc.
Lurie, a self-proclaimed hippie in her early years, also worked in public health and pediatric nursing before starting a family and never lost her passion for this work. Now, through the Foundation and her personal giving, Lurie engages in direct and transformational philanthropy and research grant funding in education, social services, arts and health care organizations around the world. Now perhaps best known for her $100 million gift to the Lurie Children’s Hospital and deep commitment to transforming health care in Africa, Lurie also has funded a long, diverse list of other programs through other institutions, including Northwestern and University of Michigan. Better yet, Lurie doesn’t just give money; when she takes a project to heart, she gives substantial time, too.
9. Dr. Diana Mendley Rauner—President, Ounce of Prevention Fund; Founder, Rauner Family Foundation
She’s currently best known as the wife of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, but Rauner has long been a determined advocate for children and a thoughtful force behind her family’s prodigious philanthropic gifts. This includes launching the state-of-the-art Rauner Center for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, founding six charter schools and supporting numerous other education and scholarship programs. She also serves on the board of Lurie Children’s Hospital. She’s most passionate, though, about the importance of early childhood education, leading her to take on a full-time commitment to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which is a national leader in the area.
10. Shirley Welsh Ryan—President and Treasurer, Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation
To understand the rocket-fuel power of strategic ideas amplified by philanthropic dollars, spend a little time listening to Ryan discuss the visions behind her family’s philanthropy, like the Ryan Opera Center of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ryan Education Center of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pathways Center for Children, and many Northwestern University (her alma mater) programs. Ryan thinks deeply about a nonprofit’s mission and creates and/or funds programs with remarkable vision, while quietly deflecting attention from her valuable efforts.
11. Bernarda Wong—Founder/President, Chinese American Service League
In 1979, with the belief that she could make the transition to a new life, language and cultural expectations better for Asians moving to the United States, Wong founded CASL in Chicago on a mere $30,000 budget. She based this on her own experience moving here from Hong Kong as an 18-year-old. Wong grew the Service League into a significant institution with a $12 million annual budget, and was recently recognized by President Barack Obama. She was the first Asian to serve on the boards of the Chicago Public Library and the United Way of Chicago. Her public service also includes several city and state government advisory councils, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR), the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) Board, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Board, and Illinois Council on Aging.