11 Best Young Professionals Groups in Chicago

Chicago Council on Global Affairs (Photo courtesy of the organization.)

Community organization boards are generally stocked with seasoned executives, but there is a way for those earlier in their career to get involved and be heard — junior boards and young professional groups.

Brian Shields, co-founder of Coder Inc., says it best: “I’d recommend joining one of these junior boards to any young professional in Chicago. They’re a great way to get involved early with philanthropy in the city and build a network of like-minded friends passionate about supporting causes that you believe in. Joining a nonprofit board can help develop your professional skill set, expand your social circle, and give back to the community. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience and a lot of fun!”

We’ve identified our favorite young professional groups in Chicago. Each of our featured organizations generally expects meeting attendance, committee involvement and some level of fundraising; these responsibilities tend to be coupled with inclusion in fun and relevant social events. Read on to discover how you can get involved now.

American Cancer Society Associate Board of Ambassadors

Young Professionals Groups: ACS

Photo courtesy of ACS Associate Board of Ambassadors.

Age range: no limit

Members: 70+

This is a community of young professionals committed to philanthropic efforts in support of the Society’s mission to eliminate cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy and service. Members join to save lives, network, grow their skills, and have fun at events like the Skyline Soiree and the Discovery Ball. They’ve raised more than $1 million for their cause in the past 10 years.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Affiliated Board — The Junior Council

Young Professionals Groups: Lurie

Photo courtesy of Lurie’s Junior Council.

Age range: 21-35

Members: 60-75

In 29 years, this group has raised more than $2 million to benefit Lurie Children’s Pediatric & Adolescent HIV/AIDS Programs, ensuring that all diagnosed children have access to high quality pediatric healthcare. “Our largest contribution comes from our annual black tie gala, Snowball, which involves a large number of restaurants, media and corporate sponsors, and upwards of 2,300 guests. It’s a night of fun, food, music, and a silent auction — all for the kids!” says President Erin Kunces. “We encourage our members to bring friends to social events for a great time and to benefit our cause.” Members also play in sports leagues and have the opportunity to mentor clinic patients.

Auxiliary Board of Shedd Aquarium

“Being a part of the Auxiliary Board has been incredibly fulfilling, and is one of the best ways I can imagine to support the amazing city of Chicago,” Chairman Julie Canna says. “The Shedd Aquarium is a storied and important cultural institution that I want to help thrive. I love working with and learning from the Shedd’s impressive staff, and I love letting others know about the work that Shedd does outside the Aquarium’s walls, which is such an important part of Shedd’s story and mission.”

The board is comprised of young professionals whose goal is to raise awareness about the aquarium to those in Chicago, as well as outside the state. The board’s signature fundraising event is BLU, known to be one of the city’s most attended philanthropic events for young professionals. The theme for this summer’s BLU centers around sustainability and conservation, a topic that is of utmost importance to the future of Shedd. In 2016, the Auxiliary Board raised more than $580,000 for Shedd Aquarium through fundraising events including BLU, donations by the members of the Board, and a focused effort on increasing donations from those outside the board.

—Written by Jenny Muslin

Catholic Charities Junior Board

Young Professionals Groups: Catholic Charities

Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities Junior Board.

Age range: 21-45

Members: 450

With their motto of “Looking Forward, Giving Back,” this faith-based junior board is comprised of members with a desire to enact community action, serve as volunteers, and engage in social fundraising as well as theological exploration. Carolyn Mulaney, chairman of the Junior Board, says, “Every 30 seconds someone turns to Catholic Charities for help. That’s about 1 million people in Cook and Lake counties who need our vital support. The Junior Board raises funds, advocates and volunteers at the agency’s many programs. It’s a great way to meet other people with similar values who want to improve our communities and support the most vulnerable.”

Evening Associates of the Art Institute

Young Professional Groups: Art Institute

Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Age range: 21-40

Membership: 900

“The Evening Associates are young professionals, innovators and philanthropists committed to engaging Chicago’s under-40 community with the Art Institute of Chicago, driving membership, and promoting an understanding and appreciation of the arts. Named the 2015 Associate Board of the Year by Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Chicago (YNPN Chicago), this group has really connected me and stimulated my interest in becoming more deeply involved with the Art Institute,” says Chairman Jeremy Rothschild. Members get access to special tours, early access to exhibitions and they organize “After Dark” events in the Modern Wing as well as the annual “Night Heist” fundraiser supporting an annual exhibition of an emerging artist.

Joffrey Auxiliary Board

Young Professionals Groups: Joffrey

Photo courtesy of the Joffrey Auxiliary Board.

Age range: under 40

This group seeks to bring young Chicagoans to the ballet, as well as to promote and support The Joffrey Ballet company. Their signature Generation J event provides performance tickets paired with cocktails hosted with company members three times per season. Emily Strobel Amiet, co-chair of the Joffrey Auxiliary Board, says, “As a member of the Joffrey Auxiliary Board, you build a connection with the company and the community that supports it. Our mission is to expand that community by bringing new young audience members to performances and events.” Additionally, members host happy hours, volunteer events, and attend behind-the-scenes salons with dancers and choreographers.

Junior League of Chicago

Young Professionals Groups: Junior League

Photo by Caitlin Spear.

Members: 1,500+

This organization of women is committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving the community. Members donate more than 200,000 volunteer hours each year to build better, healthier communities in Chicagoland around their signature issues: education, healthy lifestyles and human trafficking. Junior League of Chicago President Ruth Gallagher Nelson says, “Our role is to do actual, committed, relationship-based service. We change our members’ lives. I cannot tell you the number of women who tell me, ‘If not for the Junior League’ stories. The end results range from being inspired to start an agency or a business to getting a promotion to meeting their best friend. This is what has kept me involved for 27 years.”

Lyric Young Professionals

Young Professional Groups: Lyric Young Professionals

Photo by Kevin Devick.

Age range: 21-45

Members: 150

A project of the Renée Fleming Initiative Lyric Young Professionals (LYP) is a group of opera-curious young professionals dedicated to building the next generation of supporters for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Members have an active, year-round calendar of performances, educational social events, collaborations with other Chicago YP groups, volunteer opportunities, and fundraising. Current Lyric Young Professionals President Justin Breitfelder says, “We fundraise through two main events, our epic Halloween Masquerade — a party with a purpose — and our pub-style trivia night. Our fundraising directly benefits The Patrick G. and Shirley Ryan Opera Center, Lyric’s opera training program.”

The Overture Council of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association

Young Professionals Groups: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Age range: 21-45

Number of members: 130+

This group of music fans enjoy member social events with CSO musicians, happy hours, and a pre-concert series on the inner-workings of music. Dan Luby, immediate past president of the Council, says, “What I love about being on the Executive Board of the Overture Council is the opportunity to build leadership skills that translate into the daily business world. It’s also exciting to shape how the next generation of CSO patrons engage with the orchestra.” In its ninth season, the Council offers support of the programs of the Negaunee Music Institute, which engages young musicians and other community members with the music of the CSO.

PAWS Chicago Professional Board

Young Professionals Groups: PAWS

Photo by JuxtaPose Foto.

Age range: no age restrictions

Members: 90+

The Professional Board supports the mission of one of the nation’s largest “No Kill” animal shelters through volunteering, fostering pets and planning fundraisers. Young professionals commit to two-year membership to ensure continuity and engagement. “After I got my first dog from PAWS, I knew I wanted to get involved,” says PAWS Chicago Professional Board Member Jena Gambaccini. “Connecting with other people who have the same passion and vision and making a real impact in the lives of the homeless animals of Chicago means the world to me!” PAWS will be looking for new Leadership Committee members in the fall.

Steppenwolf Associates

Young Professionals Groups: Steppenwolf

Photo by Michael Courier.

Age range: 22-40

Members: 100+

With an eye toward inspiring Chicago teens to become lifelong fans of theater, the Steppenwolf Associates describe themselves as “a collective of the curious, the creative, and the compassionate.” Members plan events, mentor high school students, network and enjoy world-class plays. “The Associates are united around a love of live performance and a commitment to supporting arts education,” says Steppenwolf Associates President Aimee Graham. “Our members have a wide range of opportunities to engage with the theater and support Steppenwolf for Young Adults (our fundraising cause). This season we’ve established the Associates Board — a new membership level that offers our most engaged members formal leadership opportunities and access to Steppenwolf’s leaders.”

Young Professionals Network of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Age range: 21-40

Members: 2,000+

This is the premier place to connect with other globally-minded and civically-engaged young leaders in Chicago. The Council allows young professionals to engage and interact with the world’s most influential thinkers and doers; connect with Chicago’s prominent business and civic leaders; and gain insights needed to compete in a fast-changing global economy. “As YP Ambassador for the Council, I’ve had the opportunity to broaden my global issue knowledge base. The quality speakers and connections are unmatched anywhere else. There are not many places where you find young adults discussing real issues, sharing opinions, and doing so with ease,” says Vice President of Vendor Management at J.P. Morgan Private Bank Amera McCoy.

Others young professional groups to consider: