Senior Director of Policy & Advocacy
The Chicago Community Trust
By addressing critical needs, connecting philanthropy to impact, and advocating for policy change, we’re working to grow household wealth, catalyze neighborhood investment, and build collective power.
What is the mission of your foundation and how does addressing economic equity and opportunity fit in?
We envision a Chicago region where equity is central, and opportunity and prosperity are in reach for all. To realize our vision, we mobilize people, ideas, organizations, and resources to improve the lives of people in the Chicago region and beyond.
The Chicago Community Trust (Trust) is now in year three of our 10-year strategic plan which focuses on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap. In Chicago and Cook County, many of the greatest challenges are rooted in underlying systemic inequities—it’s evident everywhere: in housing, health, education, job opportunities, well-being, safety. You name it. If we can solve for these racial and economic inequities, we can make a difference for everyone. By closing these gaps, our entire region will be more prosperous, more equitable and more just.
The Trust has an integrated strategy that looks at making investments in a variety of ways—in the people, places, and in the civic infrastructure of our fair city. Building on three foundational strategies: addressing critical needs, connecting philanthropy to impact, and advocating for policy change, we’re working to grow household wealth, catalyze neighborhood investment, and build collective power.
This has been a bold evolution for the Trust. It’s meant figuring out how we show up not only as a grant maker, but as a change-maker.
As you think about your work, what excites you? What is some of the work you are most proud of?
In the last three years, I really see a shift in how local partners see us – not just as a funder but as a partner, advocate, and leader. That makes me truly proud. It’s been a journey: to set up our policy team and muscle, build relationships, and figure out how, when, and why to advocate. Now I see us being valued for those times when our voice has been helpful and effective in moving local and state conversations forward.
A direct example is our work during COVID, when we partnered with United Way to create our COVID Response Fund. We were just, at that time, setting up our policy shop, so we leaned into this effort, pushing ourselves to channel philanthropic giving and have a stronger voice. We leaned into the message that inequities made the impact of, and response to, COVID inequitable. This was also the time of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor tragedies. People were recognizing that the playing field is nowhere near level and rooted in systemic racism. We were able to lean in here too—to add our voice to the conversation about people themselves being best equipped to know what they need, what’s going to work for them, and that what was needed was cash.
I’m also proud of the recent state-level EITC and CTC expansions—these have had more impact than we can ever hope to have with our grant making alone. Illinois is now one of only a handful of states that give the EITC to ITIN individuals, 19–24-year-olds, and those over 65. To move the needle here, the Trust invested in coalitions as well as the organizations that comprise them. We supported the organizations, so they had the staff and resources to show up and do the work. We sat and lobbied along-side them, amplified their messages, and bridged policy conversations. We also supported efforts to increase take-up of the recent federal expansions of the EITC and CTC and to make the expansions permanent. To me, this really illustrates that shift from grant-maker to change-maker, and how we are using the voice and platform we have in philanthropy to push for lasting and meaningful change through policy reform.
What do you see as the biggest barriers or challenges in your work?
There’s always more to do and more policy ideas than there is receptivity or even time in the day. How can we continue to focus our advocacy to have the greatest impact? When, where, and how do we show up to use our voice?
Another challenge is making sure the historic investment of federal recovery dollars flowing into communities go to those hardest hit by COVID, namely Black and Latinx communities that have suffered for decades from disinvestment. In the public sector, this means making sure there are the tools in place to get the money out the door and ensuring this happens in an inclusive, accessible, and equitable way. With our community partners, it means making sure they’re equipped to take on the resources and implement the funding opportunities in ways that reflect community needs.
I also see opportunities here. Our political environment is so divisive. It makes it hard to identify compromises and move forward with a sense of shared purpose. As a community foundation, we have different constituencies that we work with – grant recipients and community partners, philanthropic partners, donors, and public sector leaders — and this puts us in a position to be a bridge-builder, to bring people together and help shift the narrative around potential solutions.
How does participating in the EOF network benefit your work?
EOF connects us to each other and to the broader national conversation. It helps us understand what’s happening in federal policy. It’s a source of learning, awareness-building, and opportunities to collaborate. As one community foundation, we cannot hope to affect federal policy – which matters a lot to closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap—on our own. Being part of networks like these helps us add our voice and connect to broader efforts and bring the lessons and experiences in Chicago into those conversations.
What is one question you would like to engage your funder colleagues in?
How are funders thinking about the challenges of non-profits accessing federal dollars? How do we make sure that non-profits have the tools, capacity, and bandwidth to seize these opportunities? How can we support organizations who are over-stretched and understaffed take on the additional demands of federal accounting and reporting?
In the longer-term, what are some more innovative, forward-looking policies that colleagues are working on to address race-based inequities inside and outside of the tax code—for example, Baby Bonds, the creation of a Wealth Tax Credit (the work of Dorothy Brown)? We want to push the envelope on where policy and systems change can take us. What role can we play in incubating, fostering, and advancing these ideas?
Who is someone who has inspired you?
For me it is heart-felt admiration for our former CEO, Dr. Helene Gayle. She launched us on this path of addressing the wealth gap and seeing the Trust as a leading civic institution in Chicago. She has the ability to inspire and motivate people, and to move the needle, by helping everyone see where they are part of the solution. She helped the Trust set the vision and navigate how to get there, built an incredible team, and, personally, has had a direct impact on how I show up as a citizen, partner, colleague, and leader. She has the rare combination of being bold and strategic, expert and nurturing, and has fun doing it.
Thank you so much Ianna for your time and support of our network! If you’d like to reach out to Ianna directly to learn more, she can be reached at Ikachoris@cct.org.
This interview was completed by Sarah Griffiths, consultant to Economic Opportunity Funders.