Writer: Nora Crumley
Since the formation of its partnership 21 years ago, Northwestern University Dance Marathon’s long-time secondary beneficiary, the Evanston Community Foundation, has received over $1 million from NUDM that in turn has benefited many local nonprofits within the Evanston community.
The Evanston Community Foundation is not a typical nonprofit. It does not focus on
one cause nor provide services to a single population. Instead, it acts as a service for nonprofits in the Evanston community, providing grants, leadership enrichment opportunities and overall support.
ECF was established in 1986, when a group of Evanston residents each donated $1,000 after they saw an opportunity to establish a foundation that could address the needs of nonprofits throughout the community.
“We focus on grant-making into other nonprofit organizations that are doing mission-driven direct service work as well as invest in them through capacity building and leadership development,” said ECF president Monique Brunson Jones. “Additionally, we hold a community endowment that is dedicated to being here for infinity. It allows us to fund problem-solving and answers to the needs in Evanston as they change over time.”
Jennifer Moran, the Director of the Leadership Evanston Program within ECF, said:
“The way I like to think about it is we gather, grow and give to nonprofits that have been vetted
by our staff but need some support so they can really make an impact in the community.”
ECF offers assistance to Evanston nonprofits through two different approaches: leadership development and awarding grants. The main way ECF services the nonprofit community is awarding grants to nonprofits that apply.
Nonprofits can apply to receive a grant for a number of years before ECF decides to invest in them, Moran said.
The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy is an Evanston nonprofit that provides legal aid and counseling services to low-income and minority Evanston youth and their families. Russell said the Moran Center has been a recipient of ECF grants since July 2013.
However, receiving a grant is not the end of the partnership between ECF and a nonprofit. ECF believes in continual collaboration with the nonprofits it supports.
Joi-Anissa Russell, director of strategic partnership at the Moran Center, said ECF’s involvement allows the Moran Center to “push us to think” of different ways to engage with donors and community members.
“They give funding but then they come back and ask the tough questions which pushes us to think outside the box and be creative in how we engage people in the community,” Russell said.
ECF’s impact in the community stems beyond gifting grants to nonprofits in the area. ECF also hosts a program called Leadership Evanston, a yearly program that tackles prominent issues in the Evanston community.
The group’s monthly meetings focus on a different aspect of the community from Evanston history, to topics of city government, advocacy and the business community. According to Moran, the director of Leadership Evanston, the program has over 700 alumni with around 70% of the participants either living in or working in Evanston.
The majority of the participants are nonprofit leaders, city officials, first responders, District 65 and 202 officials and volunteers. The purpose of Leadership Evanston is to make connections and establish new leaders within the community, Moran said.
“It’s a lot like summer camp. My job is to make sure that participants understand that connections are encouraged,” Moran said. “By the end of the program I want them to lean on each other and appreciate their strengths as leaders in this community.”
Moran explained the history of ECF cornerstone program: “25 years ago the leaders in
Evanston all looked the same. Leadership Evanston was created as an effort to get more voices at the table and to build strong and supported leadership within the community.”
Moran noted that it is unique to have both a programmatic side and grant-giving side of a
community foundation, but said that the ECF model holds together relationships within the
nonprofit and local community.
“It’s like an ecosystem,” Moran said. “Sharing information with ECF benefits everyone. We feed each other in positive ways, we provide a lot of love and care for the community and Evanston leaders and nonprofits work to break barriers.”
ECF also serves as a link between Northwestern students and the Evanston community.
According to Brunson Jones, NUDM co-chairs are invited to ECF’s grant-making committee where they learn more about the issues that nonprofit organizations are trying to solve. She said the partnership is critical to expose NUDM participants to Evanston’s nonprofit community.
“We love the partnership, it is much more than the money for us. It is making sure the students understand Evanston,” Brunson Jones said. “We share a very vivid community, but a community that also has a lot of issues and it takes all of us in this little bubble that we call Evanston to work together and figure them out.”
Russell echoed Brunson Jones, urging students to get involved.
“To students that are freshman or upperclassman who are not engaged in the community and not quite sure how to make an impact: go dance,” Russell said. “We appreciate it, and we all benefit when our community is better.”