Established in Lake Forest, Illinois in 2005, The John and Kathleen Schreiber Foundation has supported ChicagoCAC since 2007, providing generous funding over the years for our operations and mental health services. We were fortunate to talk to philanthropist John Schreiber (pictured above with his wife Kathleen) and his daughter, Heather Sannes, the foundation’s Executive Director since its inception, about their giving philosophy and their ongoing, productive partnership with ChicagoCAC.
Heidi Bloom, ChicagoCAC Development and Communications Manager: Philanthropy is obviously a family affair for the Schreibers. I know several of your children are involved with the foundation and I wanted to ask about your philosophy of giving - why is philanthropy important to you as a family?
John Schreiber: You may or may not know that we have eight kids, and that gets the ball rolling! I spent my life in the real estate investment business and did well, which got me and my wife thinking about philanthropy twenty-some years ago. I was raised a Catholic. If you know anything about Catholicism and the gospel you hear regularly in church on Sunday, God’s message is to help the least of our brethren. And that is particularly applicable, I think, in the work you do. I’ve visited your place a couple times over the years, and I’m really moved by the obvious obstacles these kids have. It takes something bad for you all to get involved, but I think it’s great that you’re available to help kids in these very difficult circumstances.
Heather Sannes: The foundation initially was driven by John and Kathy – I think our first grants were in late 2005 or early 2006 – and it focuses on their priorities now. They have always been philanthropic but directed their efforts into a “shape the future” foundation. Molly (Molly Cullum, foundation Director and Heather’s sister) and I are employees of the foundation, and we work on behalf of John and Kathy. Both us of began working with the foundation when we were ready for a change.
Heidi: How did you first learn about Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center?
John: A friend of mine, Richard Kincaid, who’s now passed away, ran an office building company, Equity Office, that my firm bought in the early 2000s. Richard and I had known each other for a long time and when he brought up the Children’s Advocacy Center, I said we’re going to follow up. It was the number one not-for-profit that Equity Office supported as a company, so Richard felt both personally and professionally connected to you. We went and investigated it and realized why and became connected ourselves. We’ve been donors for about 15 years. I’ve been to the center twice personally over the years and I know Heather and our staff have visited you without me once or twice. We do that with a lot of not-for-profits that we support, and we try to stay in touch so we understand what you’re doing. And for certain organizations like yours, where we think you’re doing a great job, we’ve tried to raise our support, and in some cases dedicate it to new things that you’re doing.
Heidi: That has really had an impact because private grants help us leverage our public support, which often requires private matching funds. We used your grant last year to supplement a federal grant that enabled us to add a new clinical supervisor and three new therapists and develop a partnership with Mujeres Latinas en Acción, which serves domestic violence survivors. Now, we can refer caregivers who have domestic violence concerns to a skilled counselor onsite, at our center.
John: Because a big chunk of your revenue is coming from governmental sources, another thing we like is the fact that private resources can help you connect and raise public resources. This obviously gives you more firepower. You get the job done, and I think that’s terrific.
In years when we’re thinking of increasing our support, we often ask, if you had more money, where would you spend it? What you’re doing I would describe as adjacencies – you’re finding ways to go next to your primary theme, to find people who need help and connect them to it. I think that’s a wonderful story. And where it’s possible, we try and support that.
Liz Baudler, ChicagoCAC Marketing and Communications Specialist: I’m wondering what you would say to somebody who found themselves in the fortunate position, as you did, of being able to engage in philanthropy. How does that person decide what organizations to support?
John: We have some broad fields that we’re highly focused on. And again, I go back to this “least of our brethren” theme, because I think it’s a good way to describe how we think. For instance, education is an area where we spend a lot of time and money. We think that, particularly for kids from under-resourced communities, if you can get them through good grade schools, good high schools, and ultimately good colleges, you can change that kid’s life, change the life of their future family, and perhaps the family they came from.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment for donors in the outcomes of many organizations. Yours is a huge example of that. As painful as the facts are in the cases you’re involved in, the outcome is really wonderful to see. To a donor, I think that’s motivating, and when you’re looking for places to support, you’ve got to be motivated. You’ve got to understand the problems and find organizations that are dealing with them well.
Another clue for me is to find organizations that have the managerial talent to sustain the effort over a number of years. So many not-for-profits are run on a financial shoestring and often have management challenges. From my business background, I’d say many of the poorest competitors in business have either lacked financial support or have weak management. And the same applies in the not-for-profit world. Finding organizations, evaluating them, and finding ones that have strengths in both management and finances is key to sustaining the efforts that they’re pursuing and the donors’ interest to support them.
Heather: John, I think it’s relevant to say that we used to think of the causes as sectors. Can you describe how and why you came to realize that you wanted to support younger kids and all the wraparound services that entails? I think that progression was very interesting in your philanthropy.
John: We started with grade school education because it’s an obvious way to improve people’s lives. But we started to see the other problems affecting these same families. Sexual abuse is a serious problem, and it’s often by family members, which we’ve learned from your work. So that led us in your direction – Richard Kincaid helped get us there, but we saw the connection to the things we’ve been doing. Another example which has come up in the last couple of years is early childhood education. It’s clear if you listen to educators, much of what they talk about is kids who are behind their peers in school. Isn’t that curious? Well, there’s a whole process of early education for kids, before they start school, that’s mostly parent- and family-oriented that some kids just don’t get. We’re interested in things we see that naturally lead to adjacent problems. We’re putting a lot of effort into that now on the theory that so many problems that come up later in life for kids in school, could be solved early on.
Heidi: Any final thoughts or advice?
John: You’ve got to understand the organizations you work with to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. You can’t be all things to all people, and you have to say no often. I’ve only had two businesses in my life, and I retired from the second one. When people ask me today what I spend my time on, I say that I do like to play golf. I also describe myself as someone who spends a third of my time enjoying life with my wife, a third of my time investing for my family, and a third of my time on philanthropy.