A Better Chicago: Kate Attea’s Venture Philanthropy


With four kids, a casual, relaxed vibe and a part-time job, Kate Attea of Wilmette, doesn’t fit the Harvard MBA stereotype.


That is, until she talks about her work at A Better Chicago, then her strategic, articulate, smart-with-heart philosophy perfectly matches her graduate school degree.

Attea is a managing director of the venture philanthropy not-for-profit A Better Chicago, which provides funds and management support to a select portfolio of high-performing nonprofits that meet its stringent standards.

ABC’s mission is to dramatically grow opportunities for Chicago’s poor by using savvy business analytics. “We look for strong program models, great leadership, solid organizations, and scalability,” Attea says. “We support cradle-to-career best practices.”

The model is simple. ABC vets nonprofit organizations that focus on education, early childhood development or workforce development. After finding the region’s best organizations, ABC funnels 100 percent of its donations to those organizations and provides management support. ABC’s expenses are covered by their board.

Attea’s schedule may be part-time, but her responsibilities are large. She makes investment recommendations to the board, facilitates support for selected nonprofits and runs the Project Impact, a competition which gives one nonprofit organization $100,000 and a year’s worth of ABC’s management support. To date, ABC is working with seven nonprofits, and Attea anticipates that this number will increase to 10 or 11 by the end of the year.

Attea came to this work serendipitously by following her heart. Her first job out of Dayton University was with an upstate New York business. When the firm replaced its computer system and wasn’t able to give cast-offs to any of the needy schools in the area, Attea saw an opportunity to make a real difference. She quit her job and started the Computers For Children nonprofit, with her former boss as the first co-founding board member.

Attea realized that she lacked the skills to scale the model. “So I hired my replacement, and got myself to HBS (Harvard Business School).” Her introduction to more lucrative ventures didn’t change her desire to serve through nonprofit work.

“I’m passionate about giving smart,” Attea says. “Nothing else at HBS could turn my head.” She grins, “That why I bring home a side of toast. I don’t bring home the bacon.”

Attea moved to Chicago with her husband, who is also a HBS grad. He grew up in Lake Forest and wanted to return to the North Shore to raise their family. Attea balances her big job with raising her four young children. She recently brought her second oldest, 6-year-old Mae, to work. “After drinking hot chocolate, riding a scooter, sitting in bean bag chairs and writing on the walls, she thinks I have the greatest job in the world.”

Attea seems to think so too. “I look at my life as a portfolio of experiences,” she says. “I just love to solve problems and make a difference.”


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