CFO, Mesirow Financial
While the holidays are a festive time, they’re also a time for stepping up where there is unmet need. And Chicagoans tend to rise to the occasion.
Illinois is ranked fifth in giving out of 51 states (including Puerto Rico) according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Chicago is ranked third in the nation, with annual giving topping $1.2 billion. This doesn’t surprise me. I attend a number of charitable events during the year, and although it’s just a small sampling of the many charitable organizations that fundraise in Chicago, it’s clear to me that Chicagoans give from the heart.
That especially applies to Chicago-area businesses. At Mesirow Financial, most of our employees – over 85 percent – are actively involved with various charitable organizations. We touch hundreds of local and national organizations through board memberships, volunteer roles, donations and other activities. From small clothing and food drives to corporate partnerships with large organizations, we try to support as many efforts as possible. While we understand that we could maximize our annual give if we focused on one grand initiative, we choose to channel our efforts to support the diverse causes that are important to our employees and clients – the people who matter to us most – by mirroring their involvement in the community.
Our involvement also tends to be multi-layered. One of our employees leads a “Letters to Santa” program each year at an elementary school in Lawndale, giving gifts to children in one of the city’s most underserved areas. Some of our younger employees recently helped start an associate board for one of the firm’s partner charities, the Lynn Sage Foundation. Our “Dollars for Doers” program allows employees to earn funding for their non-profit of choice by volunteering in the community.
Like many other companies, the firm has long sponsored a workplace giving program, allowing employees to contribute to non-profits through payroll deductions and rewarding them with an extra day of paid vacation. Even our summer interns perform charity work as part of our internship program each year.
As a financial services firm, we are, of course, interested in economic development and feel very strongly that it can be accomplished largely through education. Earlier this year, Mesirow Financial partnered with United Way of Metropolitan Chicago for their LIVE UNITED Neighborhood Network initiative in the Brighton Park neighborhood. Through this partnership, we fund a program that places parent mentors in the classrooms in three CPS middle schools. We also recently connected with Big Brothers Big Sisters to bring some of the Brighton Park students to our offices for one-on-one mentoring.
On a personal level, I’m involved on a number of philanthropic boards. I encourage all female professionals to engage with a least one. While women have long been involved in volunteering, their leadership roles have further expanded to include being donors, fundraisers, CEOs and COOs of non-profits. So as you gear up for the holidays, think about making an additional impact on the world. Pick something you’re passionate about, and give your time and expertise. You’ll feel festive all year long.