Philanthropist Janice Feinberg donates much more than just money to the nonprofits supported at her direction by her family’s foundation — the Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation (JBFF). She also brings the power of her presence, talents, connections, and strategic insights.
Feinberg’s approach is typical of women-driven philanthropy, according to a growing body of knowledge from experts like the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, but it’s a strategy worthy of emulation by all who aspire to make greater impact through their philanthropy.
As a general rule, when women commit to give financially, they also share their connections, time, and other resources. This is one of the reasons that women are now considered the more powerful driver of effective philanthropy in the United States. Because Feinberg facilitates annual donations of about $2 million, thinks like the PharmD and JD she is, and draws on decades of experience in association management and as executive director of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists Foundation, she is a particularly powerful example of an impactful female philanthropist.
Intriguingly, Feinberg routinely visits the most challenged neighborhoods in Chicago as part of her philanthropic strategy. That’s why I spent a day shadowing her as she commuted on public transportation from her Streeterville home to Englewood for the quarterly meeting of the Englewood Data Hub (EDH). This umbrella support organization for child and youth service providers was founded by Feinberg to foster dialogue, collaboration, advocacy, and community building among nonprofits based in Englewood and other organizations with resources to help them help their community.
From Bricks and Mortar to Programmatic Philanthropy
You probably recognize the Feinberg name from Northwestern University schools and infrastructure — like the Feinberg School of Medicine and Feinberg Cardiovascular and Renal Research Institute, as well as the Feinberg Pavilion at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. JBFF was established in 1969 by brothers Bernard, Louis, Reuben, and Samuel Feinberg to honor the memory of their parents. Janice and her brother, Joe, inherited responsibility for JBFF after the death of the last surviving brother.
Janice decided that the philanthropic dollars she controls would most directly benefit the people in greatest need through programs with strong potential for success and effectiveness. She and her brother have steered the Foundation toward social impact investing, supporting community-based organizations that improve the lives of the economically underserved population of Chicago, serve the needs of abused or neglected youth, and support children in at-risk or economically disadvantaged households too.
“I’m not interested in building buildings or curing cancer; I’ll leave that to others,” she says. “My goal is to support organizations that provide services directly to those who most need them.”
Feinberg’s involvement in Englewood began in 2013 when she met Jean Carter-Hill, an environmental justice worker and long-time community activist who co-founded and served as executive director of Imagine Englewood If… (IEI). On her trips to Englewood, Feinberg was struck by the clear neglect of the community by the city, and by the passion of the residents for their neighborhood. She wanted to do more to help.
This led to a pilot project to help small nonprofits collect data on the youth they serve, which soon blossomed into the official EDH organization. “The initial EDH meeting was the first time many of the organizations serving youth in Englewood were around the same table together,” Feinberg explains. “Some organizations didn’t know the others existed or about other services provided.”
The information sharing and collaboration that began with the first meeting continues today through a much more structured platform, including the quarterly EDH meetings and the Englewood Resource Directory (Directory). In 2016 the EDH discussed the need for a resource to identify other organizations where youth could be referred for needed services, and as a result JBFF funded an asset scan of youth and related services in the greater Englewood community. The result is an online, searchable Resource Directory, designed by a group of researchers at the Electronic Visualization
Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Directory contains more than 140 organizations that provide a wide variety of supportive services in Englewood — including basic needs, education, early childhood, parenting, employment, health and wellness, family stability, violence prevention, and youth engagement.
EDH meetings rotate among community locations in Englewood. “This allows the different organizations who host the meetings to showcase their site and services,” Feinberg says. Outside organizations also are invited to attend and present their services, in order to explore opportunities for collaborations and partnerships that will help Englewood.
A Red Nylon Suitcase Commute, Active Shooter Tips, and Other Collaborations
In order to attend the early-March EDH meeting at Englewood’s Hope Manor II, we commute in freezing rain for an hour. We travel to Englewood from Feinberg’s home by foot, bus, L, bus, and foot again. Feinberg lugs a well-worn, duct-tape-repaired, wheeled red nylon suitcase filled with meeting supplies — including fruit, bagels, muffins, water, plates, and napkins — the entire way. Good nutrition accompanies valuable content when this determined woman runs a meeting.
Attendees represent a wide range of nonprofits, including Imagine Englewood If…, Teamwork Englewood, Salvation Army Red Shield Center, Children’s Home + Aid, Chicago Public Library Kelly Branch, Chicago Child Care Society, ACCESS Community Health‘s Center for Discovery & Learning, The People’s Music School, Share Our Spare, American Red Cross, and MAPSCorps. They introduce themselves and share collaboration stories and other news.
“When the Kelly library branch reopens after remodeling, it will be a distribution point for the gently used infant and preschool items we collect and redistribute,” Amy Gudgeon, executive director of Share Our Spare, explains. She smiles and nods toward Greg McClain, librarian and manager of the Kelly branch.
“Unfortunately, we learned firsthand what you need to do to get the city to be more responsive in an active shooter situation,” says Natalie Butler, dean of learning and teaching at The People’s Music School, grabbing everyone’s attention with this statement.
Active shooter? Unresponsive city officials?
Butler continues, “We had one right outside our school, in the early evening when the building was filled with students, teachers, and families. It took 13 minutes for the police to show up!”
She goes on to provide a litany of helpful tips:
- Make 911 calls from landlines (rather than cell phones)
- Repeat the term “active shooter” frequently
- Identify your organization as a school even if it isn’t
- Ask to speak to a sergeant or supervisor
It turns out, in the active shooter situation Butler was describing, the most effective communication of all was a direct Twitter message from a board member to the local alderman. Yes, unfortunately, politics matters even in active shooter situations.
MAPSCorps representatives describe their summer internship program and request partnership opportunities. The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois representative discusses its “Sound the Alarm” campaign in Englewood to install free smoke alarms, as well as AmeriCorps internship opportunities and other partnership initiatives.
With every question or comment, Feinberg proves that she understands the barriers and opportunities, costs and responsibilities of “doing business” in Englewood. Authentic progress must be apparent to her well-trained critical eye or relationships aren’t likely to be fostered, nor contracts signed.
After the 90-minute meeting ends, we repack the red bag and make the reverse commute. The weather is even worse, but somehow the world looks a little better because of our experience.
A Broader Influence Worthy of Emulation
EDH isn’t the only example of Feinberg’s hands-on attention. She serves as board chair for My Block, My Hood, My City; mentors the founders/executive directors of Girls 4 Science and Ladies of Virtue; and works tirelessly as a “connector” when she sees potential for collaboration elsewhere.
Feinberg is also known for highly effective work on behalf of larger civic organizations. For example, she serves on the WTTW|WFMT board of trustees, where she chairs its Community Engagement Committee. She is also regularly sought after for “braintrusts” and strategic planning sessions throughout Chicago.
Feinberg takes on some of Chicago’s thorniest philanthropic challenges in order to help the most underserved. And, because she contributes her heart, smarts, and personal presence too, it seems far more likely that the organizations she and JBFF support will succeed. By rolling up her sleeves and getting personally invested, she takes her impact so much further than those who simply write a check. Indeed, it is a model for effective philanthropy that would do well to be broadly emulated.
More from Make It Better:
- 5 Ways Metropolitan Evanston/Skokie Valley Center ‘Mpowers’ Families
- These Illinois Women Touched by Alzheimer’s Are Leading the Charge to Raise Awareness and Find a Cure
- Leadership Greater Chicago Celebrates 35 Years of Convening, Connecting and Mobilizing Chicago’s Leaders
Susan B. Noyes is the founder of Make It Better. She practiced labor law at Sidley & Austin before deciding to lay down the law full-time for her six children instead. Her favorite time of the day is family dinner, despite her children’s constant misbehavior. Susan loves to network, build community, write, and organize lots of moving pieces. Her motto: “A clean home is a wasted life.”