From the President: February 2019

Halfway Around the Track – LI’s Strategic Plan at the Midpoint

February 4, 2019

By Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO, Landmarks Illinois

I was on the track-and-field team throughout high school. My sport: running the hurdles – both the 100-meter quick dash and the 400-meter, once around the track. The first felt like a mad dash to the finish line and the other felt like a marathon. Few people will take on the more grueling 400-meter; those that do find it gives them the grit to take on even tougher physical and mental challenges. What kept me going on that long haul around the track, tackling 10 hurdles without missing a step, was hitting the halfway point. At that point, you know you’re closing the gap and that race is only getting shorter. Your adrenaline surges to finish the race strong (and then you collapse).

Though the hurdles we jump at Landmarks Illinois are the proverbial kind, the metaphor works in describing where the organization stands at the beginning of 2019. We’re halfway through a race of sorts: our organizational Strategic Plan. Adopted in 2016, the plan envisioned a five-year strategy to achieve our vision where people value places of the past as vital to the future. Preservation advocates, historic building owners and caretakers, and municipal staff members came together at seven regional meetings held across the state in the winter and spring of 2016. Attendees stated their needs and aspirations for preservation in their communities. My team and I greatly appreciated the nearly 200 people that participated in this process.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  – Benjamin Franklin

What did Landmarks Illinois plan to do between 2016 and 2021? You can find our one-page Strategic Plan by clicking here, including goals and strategies. The goals are listed below followed by a progress assessment and any pertinent details to better describe our status.

Goal 1: Express why historic preservation matters.

MAKING HEADWAY. When we talk about saving historic places, we often include a community development and/or economic development argument. We pull together data from successful projects in and outside Illinois to show the financials of preservation and its positive economic impact. However, preservation is not just an economic activity; saving places also preserves culture and community and has a positive psychological and physiological impact. In partnership with PlaceEconomics, Landmarks Illinois published a study about the economic impact of our Preservation Heritage Fund Grant Program.

That study included not only quantitative, but qualitative data about community impact. Our field truly needs to partner with local health departments and social scientists to better understand, document, demonstrate and promote the data about positive individual and community health outcomes from historic preservation. Then, our work will be to package all of the numbers into easy-to-understand talking points for local advocates to use.

Goal 2: Engage and inspire more people across Illinois to save historic places.

MAKING HEADWAY. Much like our work on Goal 1, we can look back with pride at how Landmarks Illinois as a whole, including the board, former board members and the Skyline Council has increased engagement. The Board of Directors has maintained its commitment to board tours of LI’s projects outside of Chicago. Last year, for instance, the board traveled to Peoria and this year plans to visit Springfield.

In addition, LI launched the Emeritus Board to reengage board members that have sunset to retain their wisdom and commitment to preservation. I have to say, too, that the Skyline Council has been killing it in the engagement department. LI’s young and emerging professionals committee has doubled attendance at its signature event, the annual Skyline Social, added free mixers with other nonprofits and meet-ups for new members. The Skyline Council also added a second trivia night in 2019 due to popular demand and is ensuring a “heart bombing” event is held each year. Their volunteer days have included cleanups of Chicago’s Central Park Theatre, disassembling the Ebony Test Kitchen and cleaning and prepping Campton Hills’ Whitney Schoolhouse for its future move.

Landmarks Illinois has worked to make our organization and preservation more inclusive and equitable with our new Values Statement, partnering with the National Trust Diversity Scholars at the Skyline Social, and providing more focus and support on African American heritage. We’re beginning a new project with Arquitectos – the Society of Hispanic Professional Architects to determine how we can support the Latinx community. Though engagement is continually growing, it has been a continual capacity challenge to host multiple engagement events across the state and expand our regional advisory network. This is where I feel we need to put more focus.

Goal 3: Deliver solutions that save more historic places.

SUCCEEDING! Landmarks Illinois has focused much of our programmatic time on achieving this goal since it is our core mission. In 2017, many hours were spent advocating to save the Federal Historic Tax Credit during the Congressional tax reform process. In the end, the program was saved, but somewhat diminished. That same year, we assisted with the successful effort to extend the River Edge Redevelopment Zone State Historic Tax Credit and, in 2018, succeeded in advocating for passage of the new Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

At the same time, Suzanne Germann, Director of Grants and Easements, secured a first-round $250,000 federal African American Civil Rights Grant to help repair masonry and roofing on the National Historic Landmark Oscar Stanton De Priest Home in Chicago. She also managed a new grant program with a $100,000 gift from the Pritzker Military Foundation to preserve WWI monuments. A $100,000 grant from the 1772 Foundation allowed Landmarks Illinois to launch its Reinvestment Program revolving loan fund, which I manage.

While all of these new programs were launching, advocacy duo Lisa DiChiera, Director of Advocacy, and Frank Butterfield, Director of the Springfield Office, were working hard to help local advocates with our Most Endangered Historic Places List properties. Important recent saves include the Mill Race Inn in Geneva, the Harley Clarke Mansion in Evanston, the House of Seven Gables in Wheaton, the 1908 Race Riot Site in Springfield and strong progress made on Chicago’s Thompson Center and Wilmette’s Stran-Steel House. They also managed over a dozen pro-bono building assessments with our partners at WJE, SOM and Antunovich Associates.

Goal 4: Tell our story.

SUCCEEDING! Hiring former newspaper reporter and editor Kaitlyn McAvoy has significantly enhanced Landmarks Illinois ability to share our impact. Kaitlyn has ramped up the organization’s press outreach, helped launch and improve our new website and its features and significantly expanded our social media presence. She has redesigned our e-newsletters to make them an easy and interesting read, as well as launching Landmarks Illinois’ blog and the new end-of-year News Roundup. Her focus on adding digital content, such as the People Saving Places video series, is enabling advocates to tell their stories through our network. She’s solidified our role as a go-to resources for reporters across Illinois. Our next communications challenge that we are tackling is how to share more about our advocacy team’s daily work in real time.

Goal 5: Organize and efficient and successful resource development program.

SUCCEEDING! Through the strong leadership of Director of Development and Engagement Amy Ege, and her team, including Membership Manager Marija Rich, Events Manager Tiffanie Williams and the aforementioned Communications Manager Kaitlyn McAvoy, support for our work is growing. All areas of giving are seeing increased numbers of donors and donation amounts, as we’re making giving both easy and personal.

The 2018 launch of our new Annual Corporate Sponsor Program is providing a customized giving platform for our corporate partners. Just this year, we launched the Monthly Giving Program as a tool for donors that prefer an easy, online program to sustain the organization with an automated monthly donation. The development team has begun to work on our strategy of launching a planned giving program by 2021. The board just constituted our 50th Anniversary Task Force to prepare both celebratory programming and start the background work to launch a capital campaign during this commemoration. Innovation is continually necessary in diversifying our funding streams, so there’s more work to be done, including focusing on legacy giving for those who want to sustain Landmarks Illinois long into the future.

Writing this blog post was a rewarding exercise. It’s quite easy to lose the forest for the trees when tackling the day-to-day work of preservation. The list of accomplishments is impressive when considering the ramp-up it takes to start and expand programs. Even as we take a little victory lap around that 400-meter track, I’m keenly aware of the work that lies ahead to achieve our aspirational vision of an Illinois where people value places of the past as vital to the future. Here we are at halfway, the adrenaline is kicking in and we’re ready to take on that next hurdle thanks to your support as advocates and donors. Together, we are people saving places for people. Please join us in the sprint to the finish line by becoming more involved in our work.

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