Creating A Strong Foundation

In 1997, the Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (AKA) was looking for ways to increase its fund-raising and endowment efforts. The Chicago graduate chapter, with more than 350 members, is one of the largest AKA chapters in the country. It has always been extremely active in giving away scholarships and providing community-related programs and services.

By chance, Gladys Smith, an AKA member, mentioned to another member, Marva Lee, that her husband was on the board of Chicago Community Trust, which currently manages about $1.1 billion. Smith arranged a meeting between the two organizations. As a result, the AKAs and the Chicago Community Trust worked together to strengthen a foundation.

“The relationship has been extremely beneficial to us,” says Bette Reid, president of the AKA chapter. “We are always looking for ways to make our money go further.”

The Trust was established 87 years ago, and its No. 1 mission is to help organizations and individual philanthropists build endowments. Trust-related philanthropy generates about $40 million in grants annually. To get more community-oriented organizations involved in building assets, the Trust began a program in the 1980s to give $1.50 for every dollar that its partner organizations raises, explains Carol Crenshaw, vice president of finance for Community Trust. For example, if the AKAs raise $60,000, they are able to make grant recommendations for up to $90,000, which are supported by the Trust. The only stipulation is the AKAs must agree to keep the retained assets with Community Trust for at least 10 years. Currently, the AKAs have recommended $300,000 in programming and fund grants and have $200,000 in endowment funds, explains Crenshaw.

When the Chicago AKAs were beginning negotiations with the Trust, it had just received its full not-for-profit status with the establishment of the AKArama Foundation Fund. Through the foundation, the women give 10 to 15 annual scholarships worth $20,000 to $30,000 to high school students, and operate a $35,000 budgeted program called Families as Mentoring Entities (FAME). The program supports elementary school children with tutoring, an arts program, parent training, and healthcare. The chapter is also building a $1.45 million community center, for which it received a $500,000 government grant.

The organization’s administration is simple. The AKAs elect nine members from the group at large to take the helm in running the foundation’s day-to-day operations. And the two programs each have a chairperson. Also, the AKAs make smaller grants to one local black theater group, a program for the disabled, and the local chapters of the NAACP and the Urban League. The foundation board and the chairpersons only make recommendations to the membership at large, which means all of the AKAs cast the final vote.

Every fall, the AKAs convene an annual fund-raiser, which collects $80,000 to $100,000. Afterward, it draws up the annual budget and the Trust gives them a matching check from its endowment funding. The relationship between the Chicago chapter of the AKAs and the Chicago Community Trust has allowed the AKAs to fulfill principle No. 7 of the