History

Circa 1967: A group of foundation and corporate contributions leaders informally meet to form the Chicago Contribution Discussion Group. Bob Johnson, Executive Director of the Wieboldt Foundation, and Claude Peck from Inland Steel-Ryerson Foundation, lead the group. 
 
1968: Bob Johnson surveys Chicago foundations and corporations seeking data on their giving programs and funding issues. 
 
1969: The Tax Reform Act of 1969 passes in Congress, and for the first time there are regulations and taxes on private foundations. This further incentivized local foundations to create an association.
 
1972: Bob Johnson hires David Palmer to survey donors in Chicago about their interest in meeting informally to compare foundation experiences and to hear from experts in the field, particularly around the Tax Reform Act of 1969. Dr. Thomas James, President of the Spencer Foundation, agrees to be chairman of an initial committee to explore ways and means. 
 
1973: Kay W. Levin is appointed Acting Director of the  Chicago Foundations Group. Dr. Thomas James chairs a Steering Committee of 12 foundations, which identifies three services it can provide: an overview of the non-orthodox, unrecognized needs identifying new ways that foundations can use their philanthropic dollars; assistance in the selection of appropriate projects as requested by individual foundations; and a conduit between private foundation and recipients. The Chicago Foundations Group holds monthly meetings. The first meeting features Washington, D.C.-based attorney Tom Troyer. The Chicago Community Trust makes a grant of up to $30,000 to the Chicago Foundations Group for its first year’s operating costs and to assist in formalizing the group. Donors’ Forum of Chicago incorporates in Illinois and files for 501(c)3 status.
 
1974: Dr. Thomas James is elected the first Board Chair and Bob Johnson the first Board Vice Chair. Eleanor Petersen becomes the first President of the Donors Forum of Chicago. Donors Forum’s offices are immediately adjacent to the offices of the Chicago Community Trust. The Foundation Center Collection, established at The Chicago Community Trust in 1973, is transferred to the Donors Forum of Chicago. Barbara Denemark Long becomes the first Librarian.
 
1975: The Newberry Library and the The Center for Research Libraries at the University of Chicago transfer their Regional Collection to the Donors Forum of Chicago. The first Library Bulletin is published. 
 
1977: The first newsletter, The Forum, is published.
 
1977: The Library Partners Program is established, with 100 Partners.
 
1979: The Emergency Loan Fund is created at the Community Renewal Society to provide short-term, cash flow loans to nonprofits. 
 
1982: Forum, a quarterly newpaper on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, was published. The first issue states that “only eight independent foundations have professional staff."
 
1983: Donors Forum of Chicago calls itself a regional association of grantmakers for the first time.
 
1986: The first edition of the Directory of Illinois Foundations is published.
 
1987: Eleanor Petersen retires; Valerie S. Lies as the new President and CEO.
 
1988: The Summer School for Professional Development is introduced. The Philanthropic Database (PhD) is created as an electronic grants list.
 
1990: The Board adopts a policy on inclusiveness to emphasize its commitment to diversity.
 
1992: As an aspect of the new strategic plan, Leadership for the '90s, the Library Partners Program is re-named the Forum Partners Program. Nonprofit leaders are elected to the board in greater number. 
 
1995: Donors Forum launches its first website.
 
1996: The Chicago Area Grant Application is introduced.
 
1997: Donors Forum houses the new Fund for Immigrants and Refugees, a collaboration of local grantmakers. 
 
1998: Six Associate Members, a new membership category for professional advisors to grantmakers, join Donors Forum. The Nonprofits of Greater Chicago: Giving Voice to Your Heart, a new public education campaign, is launched. 
 
1999: Giving in Illinois, the first report on philanthropic giving in the state, is published.
 
2000: Giving Greater Chicago (originally Greater Chicago Philanthropy Initiative) is established. The Philanthropy Center at College of DuPage opens. Philanthropy Centers open at six additional suburban and state-wide locations in the coming years.
 
2001: Donors Forum promotes legislation to create the Charitable Advisory Council, a permanent body to advise the Attorney General. Illinois Nonprofit Employment, the first report about the nonprofit sector in the state, is published. 
 
2002: Illinois Funding Source, an online database of Illinois foundation and grants data, debuts. Consideration of statewide growth begins.
 
2004: The Preserving the Public Trust Task Force is established and charged with developing a set of guiding principles and best practices for nonprofit organizations and grantmakers in Illinois. The 30th Anniversary Legacy Project is launched as a giving and volunteering curriculum for middle-school students in Chicago Public Schools.
 
2005: Illinois Nonprofit Principles and Best Practices is published. 
 
2006: The Board of Directors approves the Statewide Growth Initiative.
 
2007: Individual Giving in Illinois is published. The organization’s name changed by dropping “of Chicago.” Donors Forum is now a statewide organization.
 
2008: The Illinois Nonprofit Economy Report is published.
 
2010: Donors Forum launches the Public/Nonprofit Partnership initiative to streamline the contracting practices of the State of Illinois with nonprofit service providers.
 
2011: Donors Forum conducts sustainability planning. One result is to change the mission to define Donors Forum as an association of both grantmakers, nonprofits, and their advisors. "Advocacy" is added to the mission statement. Two funder/nonprofit Communities of Practice are established, reflecting the mission change. 
 
2012: The first funder/nonprofit Convening is held around community engagement and our sector's role in strengthening it. Donors Forum conducts strategic planning to provide a vision and priorities to reflect the new mission statement. 
 
2013: Valerie S. Lies announces she will retire in June, 2014 after 27 years as President and CEO. Real Talk about Real Costs, the second funder/nonprofit Convening, is held. Donors Forum becomes a national leader in this discussion. A three-year strategic plan, Engaging For Impact, is launched. Donors Forum approves Public Policy Principles and Priorities for its advocacy work. Building a Stronger Illinois is launched to strengthen the nonprofit sectors role in statewide advocacy.
 
2014: Donors Forum celebrates its 40th Anniversary. Donors Forum takes over management of Good Works Connect, a network of funders and nonprofits in Central Illinois, and opens a Springfield office. Eric Weinheimer is appointed President and CEO, effective July 1, 2014. 
 
2015: Donors Forum completes a rebranding initiative, the final phase of the Engaging for Impact strategic plan. Our new name is Forefront; our new mission is: Forefront builds a vibrant social impact sector for all the people of Illinois. Read our press release here.