What motivates you to be active in your community?

What does philanthropy mean to you? How can you improve the neighborhood and region around you?

The Chicago Community Trust celebrated community involvement and philanthropy with these discussions through its annual event, On the Table. This year marked the event’s 100th anniversary.

In celebration, we hosted a conversation and dinner here at Ensemble Media that sparked some interesting discussion. Ensemble Media creates video, print and web-based media to help nonprofits reach their communities, but we wanted to think about our role vis a vis our own communities, too.

New to the Chicago area and looking for a way to feel involved, I was eager to hear what others had to say about making a difference. We explored what it meant to actually engage in a community. We talked at length about what brings a community together—what creates cohesion.

A community is bound by a cause. Maybe the cause is neighborhood well being, poverty alleviation in a region, or barriers to education. Common causes bind people together, and together in collaboration or as a collective, perhaps issues and concerns are better addressed.

But what motivates people to get involved?

Philanthropy is an “altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement”.

Can this concern for society be measured by involvement or the activity itself? Does this mean getting to know your neighbors? Does it mean joining a local council or volunteering with a nonprofit?

Joining an organization can help you feel a contributor of large-scale efforts, but is it possible to become lost in a larger cause? Is it possible to forget about your immediate community or neighborhood, and if so, how can you give for the greater good while to your immediate community’s good?

As local communities deal with changes like gentrification, new residents and established residents share common space, but may not share much else. How can bridges be formed between them?

Reaching out to all residents and making connections can help create a greater sense of belonging—this motivates people to share regard and responsibility for where they live. When communities become more inclusive for common purpose, rather than exclusive entities, maybe we are closer to progress as a whole.

If the idea of philanthropy can spread, then community can spread. I believe being a part of a community in any way that contributes positively to society only inspires more good. And what is wrong with more good in the world?

While our discussion did not pinpoint solutions or answers, and there are many more questions to be asked, I still took away a sense of inspiration for what could be possible—and I hope it’s contagious.


By Kathleen D.