Published Oct. 8, 2009
Community Memorial fulfilling
Foundation’s relationship with partner
agencies goes far beyond making annual grants
By Pamela Lannom
When tens of millions of
dollars landed in their laps in 1995, it would have been
easy for board members of the new Community Memorial
Foundation to start passing cash out like Christmas
“The first thing we decided to do was not to give away money
early,” said Jim Durkan, foundation president and chief
executive officer. “We would do the research and see
what the community really was like.”
That focus on identifying and meeting needs in the community has
remained true for the foundation since it was formed in
1995 following the sale of the nonprofit La Grange
Memorial Hospital to the for-profit Columbia HCA. The
foundation spent most of its first year gathering
information before distributing any funds.
“It was a massive undertaking and we completed that in the fall of
’96 in time for our first grant cycle,” he said.
The research pointed the foundation to five areas of focus:
supporting youth, strengthening families, supporting
older adults, expanding access to health care and
encouraging community cohesiveness.
The board also decided, before making grants, to maintain a local
focus, to serve roughly the same area the hospital did
and to define health broadly, including the physical,
mental, environmental, social and spiritual.
“Philosophically we really believed that you have to work in all
those areas to really bring about the health of a
community,” Durkan said.
Board members allowed the staff to determine which grants to make —
and have continued to do so.
“We use research to keep us honest and to keep us focused on what
the community needs versus what we think the community
needs,” Durkan said. “I think it’s very easy to get into
your own pet projects — what you’re comfortable with,
what you have a passion for versus what are the needs of
the communities. The research has really prevented us
from doing that.”
The foundation board and staff also decided not to tackle problems
“We decided we would work with existing assets,” Durkan said. “Most
foundations are notorious for starting new programs.”
The relationship the foundation has established with its grantees —
better known as partners — makes the organization unique
in the foundation world, board Chairman Allyson Zak
“We approach them on equal footing with us and we want to make them
the best they can be and make the programs we’re
supporting the best they can be,” she said “We’ll work
with them to do whatever it takes to help them be
Donald Gralen, who served as board chairman from the foundation’s
inception until 2004, agreed.
“I would say (the foundation is) probably most successful at
helping other not-for-profits in the area organize
themselves and conduct themselves and become more
successful in their own missions,” he said. “I think
that’s a very, very important part of what the
foundation does in addition to giving them grants.”
The foundation’s effort to build organizational capacity among area
nonprofits has been a constant from the start, Durkan
“The stronger they are, the easier it is for us to carry out our
mission,” said Greg DiDomenico, foundation vice
The foundation’s partners are invited to attend seminars on topics
such as fund-raising, facility needs, working with
consultants and self-assessment. Brown bag lunch
sessions held in the area give nonprofit staff the
opportunity to meet and learn without spending too much
time away from the office.
The annual challenge grant program, which started in 2006 following
the foundation’s 10th anniversary, offers matching fund
to area agencies that bring in new dollars. Wellness
House, The Community House, Hinsdale Community Service
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education all
have participated in the program. These and other
agencies have brought in $5 million dollars from donors
and the foundation as a result of the program.
The building organizational effectiveness initiative will remain a
priority for the foundation in the future. So will
responsive grants to area nonprofits that help to meet
the basic needs of the poor, hungry and homeless.
“We will fund these services so people are not living in the
street,” Durkan said.
But the foundation is pulling back in other areas.
“Philosophically, if we are all over the board, we probably will
not make a major difference in our community,” Durkan
said. “It’s important to take care of the basic needs,
but we probably need to narrow our focus a bit if we are
going to make any difference.”
Later this month the foundation will formally introduce the
Community Health Care Network of the Western Suburbs, a
local partnership dedicated to accessible health care.
Organizations such as Community Nurse Health Association
and Pillars will work to deliver primary health care
services to low-income, medically uninsured individuals.
Before deciding on this new initiative, the foundation conducted
research to determine how many uninsured are in the
area. Leaders also looked at the foundation’s origins
and the greatest need in the community at this time.
And needs exist, even in an affluent area like the western suburbs.
“We don’t know sometimes when somebody is in need, especially in
this environment,” DiDomenico said. “There is a whole
new level of the new poor who are out there, who are
waiting in line at food banks trying to get services.”
Needs are not limited to the poor, Durkan said.
“There are so many silent needs that affect every household,
regardless of the million dollar (price tag) or
regardless of the income,” he said.
And nonprofits do more than help meet needs, Durkan said — they
give all of us an opportunity to do something positive
in our community.
“We are not in the business — I always say this — we are not in the
business of giving away money,” he said. “We are in the
business of trying to make a difference. It’s easy to
give away money. It’s difficult to give it away well.”
Gralen believes the foundation has done just that.
“I personally am very happy with the way the foundation has matured
over time and the amount of money it’s pumped into the
community,” he said. “That’s $47 million that wasn’t
there before, and the foundation has still kept itself
in a position to continue to do that, so that’s a
A look back
1995 — Community Memorial Foundation is established with
proceeds from the sale of nonprofit La Grange Memorial
Hospital to Columbia HCA
1997 — CMF launches the Youth
Initiative, committing up to $1 million a year for up to
three years to support youth development programs in
2001 — CMF announces the
continuation of the Youth Initiative, committing up to
$1 million a year for up to five years
— the Leadership for Excellence
Series is inaugurated in collaboration with the Donors
Forum of Chicago
2002 — CMF commits up to
$750,000 a year for up to five years for the Early
2003 — CMF awards a
leadership grant of up to $10 million to Adventist La
Grange Memorial Hospital for its new patient care center
— a community development
approach called Aging Well begins to create
2005 — CMF celebrates its
2006 — the Annual Fund
Achievement Awards program is rolled out as part of the
10th anniversary year, awarding up to $400,000 (at
$10,000) to organizations successful in raising new and
increased annual fund support from individuals
2007 — CMF establishes
Learning Circles for seven executive directors of local
nonprofit organizations as part of building
organizational effectiveness program
2009 — CMF launches the
Community Health Care Network of the Western Suburbs
By the numbers
from the hospital sale
went to CMF
amount given away
available in matching funds to nonprofits for new or
increased gifts made by year’s end
grants awarded last year
— Making a difference is a yearlong
partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Community Memorial Foundation, whose mission is
to measurably improve
the health of people who live and work in the western