June 2, 2023
Interview with Lloyd "Chip" Fry
Lloyd A. Fry III – or “Chip” as he is known by his friends – has been a member of the Fry Foundation Board since 1992 and Chair since 2016. This year, Chip will step down as Chair, but remain on the Board and will continue to bring his historical perspective and insights to help guide the Foundation's future direction.
We thought this was a good time to sit down with Chip to get his views on philanthropic leadership and the mission of the Foundation.
As someone who worked on both sides of the fence, fundraising and grantmaking, you bring unique insights. What are some of the more interesting changes or trends you have observed at the Fry Foundation?
Chip: I have had the privilege of being a Director of the Fry Foundation for 31 years and for the last seven years as Chair. It's something I could have never imagined as a young person coming out of college and working for the family business, a national manufacturer of roofing materials. Because my grandfather created the Fry Foundation – this introduced me to the field of Chicago philanthropy. And – as you say – I did work on both sides of the fence. I had a long career as a professional fundraiser for three excellent Chicago nonprofit organizations, while at the same time, serving on the board of the Foundation.
I think my main insight is that the Fry Foundation has not been a static organization through the years – we have changed with the times as new challenges in the city came along. We continue to learn from the work in the field and from our grantees. For example, early on, some areas of our grantmaking were very broad. So, instead of relatively small grants to organizations addressing issues under the “community service” banner – the board decided to be more focused, with larger grants tackling employment and preparing people for jobs. Employment is now one of our four main areas of grantmaking.
The same is true of the arts. Over time, we have moved from supporting a lot of arts organizations and their programing to Arts Learning. We learned that students in Chicago Public Schools, involved in and exposed to the work of arts organizations in Chicago, do better in school and in life. And in the Education program we have learned over and over again that we can't have strong schools without strong, effective CPS principals.
We also responded very quickly to the unexpected conditions created by the Pandemic. Throughout the Pandemic we provided as much flexibility as possible to our grantees. We told our health grantees that if needed, they could use our grant for general operations rather than the original purpose of the grant.
I think we have also done a good job responding to the gun violence crisis in Chicago. We have always been focused on addressing the needs of communities on the South and West Sides of Chicago. What happens in this city every day is tragic. We are citizens, first and foremost. We know what is happening and we have to do the best we can – with the resources we have – to support organizations devoted to stopping the violence and providing young people with better opportunities, better options and a path away from violence.
Program staff are often the public face of the Foundation. But we know that Fry Foundation directors are very involved and active participants in grantmaking. They set funding priorities and policies, interrogate (in a good way) grant recommendations, and approve grants. Can you give us a peek under the hood and share your perspectives into the work of a foundation board?
Chip: One of my great joys, having served as Chair, is that each of us brings our own talents and backgrounds to the table. The most important thing is, the composition of our board is vastly more diverse than it was decades ago. So, our individual experiences and perspectives are also vastly different. And our professional backgrounds really inform our roles as foundation directors as well. As I said, I was a development officer for 30 years. Scott McCue and Graham Grady are highly regarded attorneys and bring their legal expertise. Stephanie Pace Marshall founded the Illinois Math and Science Academy. Amina Dickerson has been a grant maker for a large corporation, has led nonprofit organizations and has served as Chair of another major Chicago foundation. And our newest board member, Librada Killian, is an executive with one of Chicago's leading banks. And all of us serve on various nonprofit boards. In addition, of course, we have a wonderful staff. Each program officer is an expert in their field. They are constantly informing us of what is happening with our grantees, what changes and trends are taking place in their grantmaking area of responsibility. One great example of that is our commitment to Medical Home Models of Care in our Health program. Several years ago, I had no idea what that meant until our Health program officer introduced us to the concept. Now, it's one of the most important things we support with many of our Health grantees. From time to time, we also accompany our program officers on site visits, individually or as a group. Just the other day, the entire board and program staff visited several Employment program grantees on the West Side. In other words, between the board and staff we have a lot knowledge, we have robust discussions and we bring a lot of commitment and passion to the process.
I also think that, as a foundation board, we not only have to be thoughtful, well informed and ethical in our decisions, we have to be transparent as well. We cannot be inconsistent or mysterious to potential or current grantees. I experienced this as a development officer and it's just wrong. The Fry Foundation guidelines are clear, we welcome letters of inquiry, we welcome grantee conversations with staff. The point is, we work hard to keep communication channels open to those working in our funding areas. This is so important to the board and we communicate that clearly to our program staff.
You are passing the baton. What are your hopes for the Fry Foundation as it makes this shift in leadership?
Chip: Well, I am passing the baton, but I am not leaving the Board. I am looking forward to another decade as a Director!
Look, foundations are, by the very nature of their missions, optimistic. We strive to make investments in good, well run, effective, nonprofit organizations serving people and families in need and addressing important quality of life issues in Chicago. We don't always know how things are going to turn out, but we fund organizations that we believe will be successful in meeting their goals – that will make a difference. I cannot predict the future, but I hope we stick to our core areas of grantmaking. At the same time, we know that Chicago will have many challenges in the years ahead – some we know about or can predict, others are unknown right now. What I do know is we all love Chicago and we will always try to be as forward thinking and as nimble as we need to be.