Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists

Chicago hosts the National Symposium on Women, Philanthropy and Civil Society, which is produced by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, on March 14 and 15. This is wonderfully appropriate for many reasons. A 2015 study by the school proves that Chicago is the most philanthropic city in the country by a generous margin. Plus, statistics abound proving that women drive philanthropy and control a greater share of wealth each year.

In honor of our online media sponsorship of this Symposium, and just because it is the right thing to do, we proudly share our list of Chicago’s top 30 female philanthropists with you.

The word philanthropy means love of humanity. Therefore, donating service or donating money qualifies anyone to be considered a philanthropist. Women are particularly powerful philanthropists because they are inclined inherently to donate their time and connections, as well as their dollars, to support causes, as established by Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute Debra Mesch, MBA, PhD.

The biggest philanthropic news in Chicago this year is the merger of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with Pathways and the opening of the new world class hospital Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Follow the lead on every major gift cited here and you will quickly see the connection, too. Women’s philanthropy is changing the world for the better, faster than ever.

The following philanthropists donate prodigious time, talent, connections and dollars. Others may donate more time, connections or dollars, but this group rolls up their sleeves and does whatever it takes to do the most good the fastest.

1. Ellen Alberding

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Ellen Alberding

Photo courtesy of Ellen Alberding.

As president and board member of Joyce Foundation, Alberding oversees $45 million annual distribution, which supports research and programs to strengthen communities, particularly in education, economic opportunity, democracy, gun violence, environment and culture. Of note, the $930 million foundation was established in 1948 by a woman, too — Beatrice Joyce Kean.

2. Carol Lavin Bernick

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Carol Lavin Bernick

Photo courtesy of Chicago Community Trust.

Bernick is the current CEO of Polished Nickel Capital Management and principal of Carol Lavin Bernick Foundation. She also serves on the Chicago Community Trust Executive Committee. She was the immediate past chair of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, is a Northwestern University trustee, and vice chair of Tulane University. She is the founder of Friends of Prentice and donated $5 million to Tulane last year.

3. Carolyn “Kay” Bucksbaum

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Carolyn Bucksbaum

Photo courtesy of the Bucksbaum Institute.

Bucksbaum, the widow of General Growth Properties Co-Founder Matthew Bucksbaum, has served as chair of Grinnell College‘s Board of Trustees. She’s the former chair of Aspen Music Festival and currently serves on the boards of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and the National Public Radio Foundation. She created the University of Chicago Bucksbaum Institute, which aims to enhance the skills of physicians as advisers, and donated $5 million to Grinnell College last year for expansion of the Global Learning Program, which offers opportunities for students to work and study abroad.

4-7. Renee, Susan, Paula and Nancy Crown

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Paula Crown

Photo courtesy of Paula Crown.

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Renee Crown

Renee Crown (Photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum.)

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Susan Crown

Susan Crown (Photo courtesy of Nora Feller.)

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Nancy Crown

Nancy Crown (Photo courtesy of Robert Kusel.)

Principals of Crown Family Philanthropies and described as “Chicago royalty,” the Crown family stays united with much of its philanthropy. As matriarch, Renee is beloved by her sprawling family and at her alma mater, Syracuse University, for her vast philanthropic support in Chicago and around the world, particularly for Jewish causes. However, the next generation of Crown women are philanthropic powerhouses in their own right, too. Additionally, as an artist rapidly developing a national reputation, Paula shines a helpful light on cultural issues. Susan’s foundation connects talent and innovation with forces for positive change, particularly for youth, by supporting social, emotional and digital learning.

8. Shawn Donnelley

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Shawn Donnelley

Photo courtesy of Chicago Community Trust.

Donnelley is president of Strategic Giving, a Chicago-based philanthropy advisory firm, and is a member of the Chicago Community Trust Executive Committee. She’s also a board member of United States Artists, Northwestern Memorial Foundation and American Associates of the National Theatre, on the University of Chicago Division of the Humanities Visiting Committee, a former Goodman Theatre chair, Art Institute trustee, Glassquerade Honoree benefitting Lookingglass Theatre, and received the 2012 Outstanding Philanthropist Award from Trusted Partner.

9. Janice Feinberg

Feinberg, PharmD, JD, is president of the Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation, which aims to improve lives of underserved Chicagoans and supports children in at-risk homes. She was executive director and the research director at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists Foundation from 1991 to 2001 and is a member of the Spertus Board of Trustees.

10. Mary Galvin

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Mary Galvin

Photo courtesy of Stuart Rodgers Photography.

Galvin’s father-in-law, Paul Galvin, founded Motorola and her late husband, Bob Galvin, grew it into an international powerhouse as CEO and chairman while she founded or strategically grew numerous charitable organizations, particularly in the arts, music and education. She founded Stradivari Society, which matches the world’s finest violins owned by wealthy patrons with most talented musicians, served numerous United States presidents, and received the Cultural Visionary Award from the Music Institute of Chicago. The Robert W. Galvin Foundation gifted Northwestern $6 million in honor of Galvin, and the university’s recital hall now bears her name.

11. Phyllis Glink

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Phyllis Glink

Phyllis Glink. Courtesy of the Irving Harris Foundation.

Glink is executive director of the Irving Harris Foundation, which focuses primarily on early childhood development. Harris was considered the godfather of early childhood and founded or substantially funded several powerful programs in this area, including Ounce of Prevention. Glink ensures his tradition continues.

12. Joyce Green

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Joyce Green

Photo courtesy of DePauw University.

With her Disney and NAVTEQ executive husband Judson Green, she strategically supports initiatives designed to grow support for their shared passions: music and education. She’s the former co-vice chair of Chicago Symphony Orchestra, donated $15 million to DePauw University School of Music, and more recently gave $5 million to the Orlando Performing Arts Center. She also endowed the CSO Creative Consultant position, which firmly established a strong Yo-Yo Ma connection to Chicago.

13. Caryn Harris

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Caryn Harris

Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Caryn is the vice chair of Harris Theater, and trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and The Field Museum. She’s also a member of the board of directors at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, on the women’s boards at Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Art Institute and The Field Museum. She chaired the Field Museum gala celebrating the women’s board 50th anniversary that raised more than $2.15 million with her husband, King Harris, a fundraising powerhouse in his own right. She also donated $10 million to RIC/Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.

14. Joan Harris

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Joan Harris

Photo courtesy of Joan Harris.

The widow of Irving Harris and past chair of Irving Harris Foundation, she’s the patron saint of Chicago and United States performing arts and a Presidential Medal of Honor recipient for her service in the arts. She’s the founder and past chair of Harris Theatre, a life trustee of Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Juilliard School, an honorary trustee at Aspen Music Festival and School, and a life member of University of Chicago’s Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities, which includes the Harris Public Policy Center. She was named one of the 100 most powerful Chicagoans by Chicago magazine in 2012.

 15. Mellody Hobson

A post shared by Mellody Hobson (@mellody_hobson) on

Hobson is the president of Ariel Investments, chair of DreamWorks Animation SKG board, CBS commentator, chair of After School Matters, and a board member of the Chicago Public Education FundThe Field Museum, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the Sundance InstituteEstée Lauder, Groupon and Starbucks. With husband George Lucas, she donated millions to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles, as well as $10 million to USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2015 and $1 million to the Smithsonian in 2016.

16. Lindy Keiser

Keiser’s husband, Mike Keiser, developed Bandon Dunes Golf Resorts, which Fortune magazine call the greatest rivals to those owned by Donald Trump. Keiser joined the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Women’s Board and, along with Mike, donated $10 million to its capital campaign in 2016. Teach For America and Chicago’s Big Shoulders Fund received some of their significant philanthropic support for education support. They recently donated $500,000 to Bay Area Hospital, too.

17. Kim Keywell

Keywell signed the The Giving Pledge with her husband, Brad Keywell, who founded Groupon, numerous other tech businesses, and Chicago Ideas Week. She’s the executive director of the Keywell Foundation, which is dedicated to “identifying and supporting the work of social innovators across the world who are developing scalable models that are tackling society’s most significant issues,” vice chair of OneGoal, and a board member of Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Jewish Women’s Foundation.

18. Nancy Knowles

Knowles is the former chairman of Knowles Electronics, president and treasurer of Knowles Foundation, and director of CellCeuticals Skin Care, Inc. She’s also a former board member of the Boy Scouts of America, Loyola University Medical Center and International Shakespeare Globe in London, England. Knowles gave an eight-figure gift to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab for Strength and Endurance and for a rooftop garden to be known as “Nancy’s Garden.” She also gave record-setting gifts to Lyric Opera and Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare.

  • Make It Better is saddened by the news of Nancy Knowles’ passing on Aug. 26, 2017. “Nancy was one of Lyric Opera’s most enthusiastic and devoted supporters. Her smile, friendliness and her optimism will never be forgotten,” says Allan B. Muchin, chairman emeritus, Lyric Opera of Chicago Board of Directors. We send our thoughts and prayers to Nancy’s family and friends. 

19. Liz Lefkofsky

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Liz Lefkofsky

Photo courtesy of Liz Lefkofsky.

Lefkofsky signed The Giving Pledge and established the Lefkofsky Family Foundation with her husband, Eric Lefkofsky, who founded Groupon. Their foundation supports “high impact programs, initiatives and research in areas of education, human rights, medical research and the arts.” Liz is a passionate advocate for public education and the rights of women and girls in the U.S. and beyond. She serves as a board member for Teach for America, Museum of Contemporary Art, Ravinia Festival and Human Rights Watch. As an advocate for public education, she created a unique partnership between Chicago Public Schools, the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute and the Academy for Urban School Leadership to launch the Success Project.

20. Rika Mansueto

With her husband, Joe Mansueto, who founded Morningstar, Mansueto signed The Giving Pledge and gave a $35 million gift in 2016 to the University of Chicago to found the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, which will address issues such as violence, housing and the well-being of youth.

21. Alexandra Nichols

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Alexandra Nichols.

Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Nichols is chairman of Harris Theater, former chairman of Music Institute of Chicago, and a board member of the Art Institute of Chicago and WTTW. She has also chaired multiple significant galas, including the Paris Opera Ballet Gala in 2012 and the New York City Ballet Gala in 2016. With her husband, John Nichols, she endowed the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre of Writers Theatre, Nichols Tower, Nichols Auditorium of the Music Institute of Chicago, the Nichols Bridgeway of the Art Institute and the Alexandra and John Nichols Chief Correspondent and Host of “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW.

22. Gigi Pritzker Pucker

Pritzker Pucker is a prominent film producer. With her husband, Michael Pucker, she founded the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, which supports violence prevention and educational programs, and local, national and international programs in arts and culture. She donated a statue suspended above the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital drive port. She’s also founder and board member of Chicago Children’s Theatre.

23. Colonel Jennifer Pritzker

Colonel Pritzker is founder of Pritzker Military Museum & Library and the Tawani Foundation, which supports military, education, gender and human sexuality, cultural institutions, environment, health and human services. She launched a campaign for gender nonconforming patients of Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Gender & Sex Development Program, which was the first of its type in the Midwest.

24. Margot Pritzker

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Margot Pritzker

Photo courtesy of WomenOnCall.

Margot Pritzker is founder and president of WomenOnCall, a national volunteer match organization. She’s chair of the Zohar Education Project, translating the Zohar, the canonical work of Jewish mysticism, into English and likely to be completed with its 12th volume in 2017. She’s trustee of The Aspen Institute and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and serves on the governing board of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Initiative, the International Board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. She’s director of the Pritzker Early Childhood Foundation and Advisory Board of America Abroad Media. She’s also an acclaimed Asian art collector and official “godmother” of the Royal Caribbean International ship “Radiance Of The Seas.”

25. M.K. Pritzker

Along with husband J.B. Pritzker, who is a tech entrepreneur, M.K. Pritzker founded the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation with a mission of fostering effective solutions in the critical areas of early childhood, community and women’s health. They’re considered preeminent supporters of early childhood development nationally, as reflected by the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development at the University of Chicago, donated $101 million to Northwestern University in 2015, including naming rights for the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and $5 million to both the Illinois Haulocaust Museum and Education Center and Ounce of Prevention in 2016. She’s founder of Evergreen Invitational Equestrian Grand Prize benefiting Northwestern Memorial Hospital and serves as a trustee of the hospital, and is a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Women’s Board.

26. Penny Pritzker

Penny is the founder and Chairman of PSP Capital Partners and its affiliate, Pritzker Realty Group. She served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration from 2013 to 2017, and is the former chairman of the board of TransUnion. She’s also co-founder of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that invests in people and programs that enrich the life experiences of Chicago area children.

27. Susan Regenstein

Regenstein is the granddaughter of Chicago industrialist and prolific philanthropist Joseph Regenstein and chair of Regenstein Foundation. She continues to donate prodigious sums to Chicago institutions, including $10 million to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab last year to support its Center for Bionic Medicine, the largest prosthetic research enterprise in the world, $10 million to Lurie Children’s Hospital to establish the Regenstein Comprehensive Cardiac Unit, and at least $45 million to the Chicago Botanic Garden since 2001 that included the Regenstein Learning Campus, which opened this past fall.

28. Nancy Reinsdorf

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Nancy Reinsdorf

Photo by Maria Ponce.

Reinsdorf is president of Chicago Bulls Charities, whose fundraising efforts are amplified with additional donations from the McCormick Foundation. Reinsdorf revamped programs to boost the players’ local involvement outside the stadium, including visits to hospitals and schools and working with groups on violence prevention, and to learn what causes are important to them. She was named a “woman of influence” by Michigan Avenue magazine and a “Chicagoan You Should Know” by ABC Channel 7.

29.  Shirley Ryan

Top 30 Chicago Female Philanthropists: Shirley Ryan

Photo courtesy of RIC.

Ryan is founder of Pathways, which merged with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to become the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and opened a new facility in March. She’s advised multiple U.S. presidents from both parties, serves on the Executive Committee of the Lyric Opera of Chicago Board of Directors and as director of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Alain Locke Charter Academy, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Recently, she received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Notre Dame and was honored by the Chicago History Museum for distinction in civic leadership. With husband Pat Ryan, she founded the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera for emerging singers and directors and the Ryan Education Center of the Art Institute of Chicago and has endowed multiple facilities at Northwestern University.

30. Julia Stasch

Stasch is president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropies with assets of more than $6.3 billion, supporting creative people, effective institutions and influential networks building a more just and peaceful world.

31.  Helen Zell

Zell is executive director of Zell Family Foundation and the first female chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. She’s vice chair of Chicago Public Education Fund and on the Board of Trustees at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She’s former chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, on the Ounce of Prevention Fund Board of Directors, Teach For America Board of Directors, and the Art Institute of Chicago Photography Committee. She is also a thought leader in arts and education, with an emphasis in music, literature and visual arts.