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$2M gift to turn parents into leaders

All politics is local, and no one knows more about identifying local challenges and creating solutions than parents. Rearing a child into young adulthood brings you in touch with every quality-of-life issue at the grass-roots level so you see up close whether institutions are truly meeting the needs of the residents they are designed to serve.

From education, to housing, to health care, to employment, to safety-net needs, to senior affairs (these parents are children too), heads of households have seen it all. They are the experts who can tell you what’s working and what’s not.

That’s why the Chicago-based group Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) is training and supporting nearly 5,000 low-income parent leaders in 44 communities and at scores of schools as they speak truth to power from the community level. COFI’s model for Family-Focused Organizing starts at the neighborhood level by training and organizing parent teams to take action on issues they want to address. The COFI Way then connects parent teams across different communities to multiply their power and facilitates the sharing of effective strategies and tactics. COFI’s leadership training model is the backbone of democracy building. Their leaders work on the local, county, state and national levels to make sure communities have a voice in shaping the legislation and policies that impact them.

COFI has been so successful that in March 2022 the organization attracted a $2 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, a gift that COFI, a Thinkinc. client, will invest in their ongoing strategy of spreading the COFI Way nationwide. The donation was part of a $500 million package Scott was delivering to various groups.

Thinkinc. worked with COFI to schedule a special announcement on March 30. But those plans went out the window on March 18 when COFI got the word that Scott would tell the world about the gifts in a couple of days. That news came at 6 p.m. on a Friday, so Thinkinc. immediately leaped into action to get COFI’s announcement out asap.

In close partnership with COFI, we wrote a detailed news release complete with quotes from parent leaders whose lives COFI changed. We incorporated eye-opening stats that showed the power and reach of COFI’s impact. Then we utilized our extensive contact list of journalists to significantly raise COFI’s profile, introducing them to the essential work COFI has been deeply engaged in since its founding in 1995. (The group’s sponsoring committee included former community organizer President Barack Obama.)

Our flurry of weekend work paid off by getting the word out a day before other organizations announced their share of Scott’s $500 million in donations. After all, timing is everything. That head start got COFI significant coverage, including a featured interview on WVON-AM radio with Rufus Williams, NBC5-TV, Block Club Chicago, Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ (NPR’s Chicago radio station), Politico’s Illinois Playbook by Shia Kapos, WBBM Newsradio and CapitolFax.

Thinkinc. has known of COFI since its inception, and over the years we’ve worked together coalition efforts. We are grateful for this opportunity to work directly with them for the first time and are proud to support them in this pivotal moment. We know from our 30 years of public affairs experience that organizers and change-makers are up to their elbows in supporting our communities, so they don’t always have the time or the connections to lift up their projects’ impact. We work tirelessly to amplify the important work our clients do as they serve their communities.

Thank you, COFI, and congratulations!