Behind many of Chicago’s most established and important hospitals, theaters and museums are philanthropic women who come together to support and raise funds for those in need or to better some of the city’s greatest cultural institutions. Here are 28 of Chicago’s most impactful women’s boards.
Comprised of 44 members, the board has been active for 14 years and is the museum’s lead partner in education. In addition to supporting scholarships for young men and women pursuing STEM careers, the board holds two annual events. The first is the Women in Space Science Award Celebration, where a woman who has made a significant contribution to space science is honored. The luncheon is followed by a program at the museum for female junior high school students, many from Chicago Public Schools. The program aims to expose young girls to hands-on science, and perhaps inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The second event is the board’s gala, the Celestial Ball. Last year’s gala raised more than $1.6 million, which is unrestricted funding for the museum and comprises approximately 10 percent of the museum’s budget. The funds support STEM programming, including Far Horizons (launches of high-altitude balloon experiments to the edge of the atmosphere), hack days (encouraging approximately 140 students annually to use existing technologies to solve real world programs), summer camps (hands-on experience in programming, robotics, and experimental design), and teen telescope facilitation (training teens to facilitate the Adler’s project to bring telescopes to underserved areas of the community).
Established in 1952, the Woman’s Board has approximately 110 members (65 active members), all of whom advocate for the Art Institute and raise funds in support of the museum’s mission and art education. Recently, the Woman’s Board hosted a lecture and luncheon celebrating the Edlis | Neeson collection, the largest gift in the Art Institute’s 137-year history, generously donated by Chicago collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson.
In 1984, four determined women sought to provide security and beneficial resources to the women and girls of the Chicago area. Sunny Fischer, Lucia Woods Lindley, Marjorie Craig Benton and Iris J. Krieg took the first necessary steps in creating what is known today as the Chicago Foundation for Women. The foundation promotes and seeks ways to offer women and girls emotional encouragement, economic support and essential health services.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Women’s Board is a passionate group of women committed to fundraising and advocating for the outstanding education programs of the CSO. One of their most successful fundraising activities is the annual Symphony Ball. It is a night composed of extraordinary music, food and dancing.
Chicago Women in Philanthropy (CWIP) is celebrating more than 35 years of creating connections and fostering change to build better communities. CWIP is a community of philanthropic, corporate-giving, and nonprofit women, whose members are passionate about helping other women advance in society. Their mission is to educate and encourage philanthropy by facilitating dialogue and uncommon connections that positively impact the lives of women and girls. Learn more about becoming a member here.
The Founders’ Board is made up of 105 active members and 60 associate members whose goal is to support the hospital’s mission through active engagement and philanthropy, stewardship and fundraising, advocacy, hospital governance, and volunteerism. The two signature fundraising events each year include the Pro Amateur Golf Championship and Winter Wishes. Proceeds from these events are always directed to the Founders’ Board’s current fundraising commitment, which aligns with the highest priority needs of Lurie Children’s Hospital. In the past fiscal year, the Founders’ Board raised more than $4.36 million, which supported the Department of Clinical Research and the Division of Pediatric Surgery as well as other key hospital programs and physicians.
“Many Chicagoans are familiar with the work that the Goodman Theatre produces on its stages, but they may not be aware that we are a leader in education, offering free programs to students, teachers and others,” Women’s Board President Cynthia K. Scholl says. “The Women’s Board raises awareness of, and funds for, these fabulous community engagement and educational opportunities — and we have so much fun doing it! We are a dynamic group of women from varied backgrounds and experiences united in our desire to provide access to the theater for all Chicago-area residents.”
For nearly four decades — next season marks their 40th Anniversary — the Goodman Theatre Women’s Board has raised more than $40 million for 37 Goodman productions and an array of educational programs.
Established in 1953, the woman’s board of the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired has gathered more than $5 million in donations to ensure economic security and support. The Hadley Woman’s Board is made up of women who demonstrate excellence, compassion and determination to meet the goals that will benefit the Hadley Institute.
Founded in 1955, the Women’s Board supports Lyric Opera of Chicago as a cultural and educational institution alongside the Board of Directors and other Lyric groups. The board’s 57 members share a passion for the grand art of opera and play an essential role supporting the Lyric. Annual events include the Opening Night and Opera Ball and Spring Musical Celebration (net proceeds for the events have averaged at $1 million each year). Special events include the Chicago Voices Concert and Gala as well as the triennial Wine Auction. The auction was named one of the “Top 10 Charity Wine Auctions of 2012” by Wine Spectator magazine and will take place again on April 14, 2018.
Northwestern Settlement boasts three women’s boards: the Evanston Woman’s Board, the Winnetka Board and the North Shore Board. The Winnetka Board hosts the annual Style Under the Stars fashion show and supports the Settlement’s general operation while the North Shore Board’s House In The Wood Camp gala raises money for the Settlement’s Wisconsin camp. Each board provides something for everyone who wants to get involved in supporting Northwestern Settlement. If you are interested in joining one of Northwestern Settlement’s boards, please contact Katie Taylor ([email protected]).
“As an alumna and a member of a family that includes a current Northwestern student, it’s incredibly rewarding to be involved with the Women’s Board,” says Margo Reese, the 20th Women’s Board president. “I’m especially proud of the scholarship support that we provide each year.”
Founded in 1978, the board’s fundraising efforts aim to bring the university and the public closer by fostering and encouraging interest in Northwestern education and research activities. More than $1.3 million has been awarded to more than 60 scholarship recipients since creating the Northwestern University Women’s Board Scholarship Fund in 1998 upon their 20th anniversary.
Having raised more than $27 million, the Ravinia Women’s Board is devoted to enhancing as well as improving the resources and lives of the community. Funds collected by several favorable activities such as the Ravinia Cruise, the annual summer Gala, the Tribute Fund, Ravinia gifts and chair rental go toward scholarships, education programs and the Ravinia Festival.
Members of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Women’s Board, which was founded in 1961, serve as ambassadors for the institution, volunteering and raising funds for clinical care and research. In the past, the board has joined forces with other Shirley Ryan AbilityLab boards for signature events. For example, the Women’s Board works with the Foundation Board to host Dinner Dance, which annually raises more than $1 million.
The Associate Board of the Chicago Lighthouse has raised more than $2 million since their establishment in 1986. The women of the Associate Board of the Chicago Lighthouse find ways to endorse the advantages and benefits offered by the Chicago Lighthouse.
The Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, founded in 1974, ensures that the museum continues to flourish in displaying the artistic wonders and historical significance of clothing. In addition, the museum’s extravagant costume-based exhibitions are kindly funded by the Costume Council.
For more than 50 years, the Women’s Board, comprised of approximately 250 members, has made an extraordinary impact on the museum. Through their events and programs, and the personal gifts of board members and their families, the board has raised more than $100 million for The Field Museum. The board is responsible for the museum’s annual Gala, which raises critical unrestricted support for the museum, making possible its work as a cultural institution and world leader in scientific discovery, collections management, education and conservation. In 2016, the event raised more than $2.1 million.
Additionally, the board invests in the future of women in science through the annual Women in Science Luncheon. Proceeds from the luncheon support a Women in Science graduate fellowship at the museum, as well as five undergraduate and five high school internships. On the day of the luncheon, the museum also engaged female high school students from Chicago Public Schools in hands-on programming activities.
“Guild members embrace the museum’s goal of telling Chicago stories. Our meetings range from a focus on such fascinating Chicago lore as the history of Lincoln Park or a political cartoonist’s perspective on Chicago politics to the reformist agenda of social activist Frances Willard,” Guild President Libbet Richter says. “We understand that we’re better citizens today if we understand the lessons of the past. Since our founding in 1948, we have sought to further the museum’s agenda through our efforts to educate, serve and support the museum in its efforts to engage all residents of the region.”
Since 1972, the Guild has donated more than $2 million to more than 25 individual museum projects. In 2012, the Guild hosted a celebration called “200 Million Reasons to Celebrate Women!” to honor 17 Chicago women’s boards that support culture and education. The Guild most recently completed a $350,000 pledge to create the interactive “Guild Gallery” in the museum.
For more than a century, the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital has been proud to be devoted and faithful in supporting the responsibility of placing patients first in all aspects healthcare. The board demonstrates their commitment to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and its patients by supporting programs such as the Women’s HIV Clinic, the Evergreen Grants, Music Matters and more.
One of the oldest boards in Chicago, The Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center includes two affiliated boards active in Chicago’s northern suburbs: The Auxiliary of the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center and The Junior Board of the Auxiliary of the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center. Through the operation of two of the hospital’s gift shops and annual fundraisers, the board has raised funds for scholarships, programs in nursing and epilepsy education, Rush Day School, Rush’s Chapel, and its Pastoral Care requests. The board established the Chair of Pediatrics and the Chair of Child Psychiatry and has provided major support for The Woman’s Board Cancer Treatment Center, The Woman’s Board Nursery, Rush Children’s Hospital, The Woman’s Board Heart and Vascular Center, the Rush University Cancer Care Center, and Rush’s Road Home Program for veterans and their families.
This year, the board hosted their 23rd annual Spring Luncheon on May 11 at the Hilton Chicago. Mel Robbins was the featured keynote speaker. Proceeds benefitted community outreach programs supported the board’s principal project for this year, Rush’s School-Based Mental Health Program.
The University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation Women’s Board (UCCRF Women’s Board) was established in 1947 to fund cancer research at The University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. The group holds an annual Grand Auction, which alongside their annual appeal serves as the primary fundraising vehicle to establish a pool of funds to pay for annual projects.
“Initially, I was reluctant to join a ‘women’s board,’ as it seemed like such a throw-back; however, I could not have been more mistaken,” Chair Priscilla Levine Kersten says. “The women, more than half of whom are not even affiliated with the University of Chicago, are intellectually engaged and value access to the best and brightest of the University’s faculty. I’ve been on many boards and until this one have never experienced a board whose members uniformly enjoy their participation. The UCWB is highly regarded for its contribution to the University and proudly owns its role as a women’s board.”
Established in 1960 by the University of Chicago Board of Trustees, the 518 member board supports and advocates for the entire University of Chicago community, including faculty, staff and students. One hundred percent of all funding received through the University of Chicago Women’s Board Grants Fund supports annual grants to all areas of the university in four broad categories: faculty research and support, the arts and cultural institutions, quality of student life, and community outreach.
More than $9 million — all coming directly from the members themselves — has been raised by the board since its inception. Last year, $$600,000 was raised, and this year the board is on track to raise $750,000.
What started as a small group of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff women is now a board of 160 members from both Lake and Cook counties, as far south as Chicago. “Since 1917, Catholic Charities has responded to the needs of the most vulnerable residents in the Chicago area. Our Women’s Board is honored to be part of that mission through our hands-on volunteering and fundraising to support the services and programs in Lake County,” President Jan Zukowski Elwart says.
In addition to hosting two yearly benefits, the board members volunteer at some of the 150 programs in Lake and Cook counties, including the Christmas Gifts Program and Meals on Wheels. Funds raised by the board support Catholic Charities programs in Lake County including family self-sufficiency, food pantry, Diaper Depot, and veteran and youth programs. On May 13, the board hosted its 28th annual Art of Caring signature benefit to raise funds for the many programs provided by Catholic Charities to Lake County residents urgently seeking help. In the 28 years that the Women’s Board has been in existence, this event has raised nearly $5.1 million dollars.
“There is something truly amazing about a group of women coming together for the common good. The energy and ideas generated are out of this world, and then they have great follow-up,” President Sasha Gerritson says. “I feel very fortunate to serve CZS with these highly intelligent, passionate and capable ladies.”
The board was established in 1992 with a mission to provide philanthropic and community support. Brookfield Zoo’s largest annual fundraiser, Whirl, is a black-tie reception and dinner attended by more than 700 guests. The event is hosted by the Women’s Board and raises $1 million annually. In addition to Whirl, a focus is placed on Women’s Board Scholarships that reward students in the pursuit of conservation leadership. Additionally, Community Outreach Events increase the reach of the Society by partnering with organizations that may not have the opportunity to experience the zoo’s magnificent animals. The board has raised more than $30 million since it’s inception.
Each year, the Women’s Board of Joffrey Ballet hosts prominent events that gather more than $1 million. The Women’s Board of Joffrey Ballet was established in 2002 and has ever since been in support of the educational and cultural benefits the Joffrey Ballet offers.
The Women’s Board of Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago is loyal to the advancement and growth of the various programs and exhibits offered at the museum. These 40 members regularly seek the support of generous families and organizations to promote the education of children through the development of the museum.
“It’s a privilege to be part of a board that ensures everyone can freely enjoy one of our favorite Chicago landmarks that is Lincoln Park Zoo,” President Caroline Huebner says.
For more than 40 years, the board has provided more than $25 million to help keep the zoo free and support its capital, conservation and learning efforts. The Women’s Board has contributed to various projects including the Nature Boardwalk, the Waterfowl Lagoon and Scenic Overlook, Regenstein Center for African Apes, Regenstein Macaque Forest, and Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. One of the board’s largest events is Zoo Ball, an annual black tie gala that draws nearly 1,000 civic and social leaders from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. This year, funds from Zoo Ball will help support the new Visitors Center. ZooLA is the board’s more intimate evening, attended by approximately 200 guests, featuring a live auction, hors d’oeuvres, and cocktail reception.
Since 1951, the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society has been devoted to the relevance and influence of conservation and horticulture. The Woman’s Board continues to support the interest and importance of gardening within the Chicago-area as well as the mission of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
“The Women’s Board is thrilled to be celebrating our 50th anniversary alongside the museum itself,” President Kristin Stevens says. “We are a group of women with a long legacy of being committed to supporting the MCA and its truly exceptional education programs. At this time in our history, we are especially proud to be an integral part of a museum that not only encourages active engagement with contemporary art and artists, but also provides a safe place for civil dialogue.”
The board’s central mission is education, with yearly contributions to education and a leadership role in volunteering for family days. A few of the board’s donations included establishing the store, café, art auction, and education program. Their largest fundraising event is Vernissage, the annual opening event of EXPO Chicago, which attracts more than 700 guests each year and benefits the MCA’s education programs such as the Teen Creative Agency and school tours.
Additional reporting done by Rebeca Ballesteros and Anna Carlson.
More from Make It Better:
- 4 Chicago Charity Events for Foodies
- 11 Best Young Professionals Groups in Chicago
- Empowering Lessons From the Women’s Philanthropy Institute DREAM. DARE. DO. Symposium
Jenny Muslin, Beauty Editor at Make It Better, has been writing for the magazine for seven years. She has also written for Chicago Parent, NS Modern Luxury, Red Tricycle, Stroller Traffic, and is a contributor for beauty app PrettyQuick. When she isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her 3 year old son or trying to keep her eyes open after a late night feeding with her new baby girl.