" We owe it to donors to invest in the most effective nonprofits and those best positioned to move the needle."
The team behind A Better Chicago: (from left) Alli Henry '10,
© Andreas Larsson
Collaboration at work While launching A Better Chicago, Liam Krehbiel '07 finds spirited partners in Kellogg alumni
In between corporate-world stopovers at William Blair and Bain & Company, Liam Krehbiel '07 spent three years with the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, a New York City-based, $800-million fund that "stands at the intersection of philanthropy and private investment," Krehbiel says.
There, the native Chicagoan began contemplating an organization that would harness the desire of donors to strategically contribute and support nonprofits in his hometown.
In the summer of 2010, Krehbiel transitioned his long-simmering idea into reality when he launched A Better Chicago, an organization that brings a venture capital game plan to Chicago's nonprofit arena.
A Better Chicago serves as a donor clearinghouse of sorts, vetting prospects to ensure that the necessary ingredients for growth — leadership, vision and mission among them — are present. Before issuing a dollar, A Better Chicago interviews senior and frontline staff, board members, program participants and donors, reviews four years of financials and administers its own ROI analysis.
"We owe it to donors to invest in the most effective nonprofits and those best positioned to move the needle," says Krehbiel, whose organization also provides strategic planning, board development and technology support.
Much to Krehbiel's satisfaction, he's found plenty of Kellogg alumni willing to join the adventure.
Through a fellow Kellogg alum, Krehbiel met Alli Henry '10, who in June 2011 joined A Better Chicago as its director of programs. She now develops and executes the organization's grant-making strategy.
Henry was present when A Better Chicago awarded its inaugural grants last November, including a $100,000 grant to Year Up Chicago. Headed by Alan Anderson '04, Year Up Chicago works with 18- to 24-year-old Chicagoans, connecting them to livable-wage careers and post-secondary education. Anderson says the $100,000 grant will help Year Up Chicago double its operational efforts and grow from helping 77 students in 2011 to 320 by 2016.
"What's so refreshing about A Better Chicago is that they're providing the investment, but also time, resources and thought," Anderson says.
Another inaugural grantee was LEARN Charter School Network, which CEO Gregory White, a lecturer of entrepreneurship and innovation at Kellogg, calls a "college prep elementary school." A Better Chicago's $175,000 award will help LEARN quadruple its student population by 2020.
The Kellogg connections extend into the boardroom.
Inspired by Krehbiel's passion as well as his organization's analytical approach, Jack Keller '98 joined A Better Chicago's board of directors in 2011.
"This is about rolling up the sleeves, understanding what an organization does and assessing how it will stretch the dollar to improve lives," Keller says, comparing the work to a business analysis class at Kellogg.
Within the next five years, A Better Chicago hopes to see a clear impact on its earliest grantees and broaden its portfolio to 20 nonprofits.
"Our grantees' success will be our success," Krehbiel says.
— By Daniel P. Smith