On The Table History

Having important conversations that prompt a deeper commitment to our community has been part of The Chicago Community Trust since its founding in 1915 when Albert Harris and his father Norman, of the Harris Bank, brought together other civic leaders over mealtime conversations to talk about how they could make the city even better. They decided to pool their resources to maximize their charitable impact – and the Trust was born.

For more than a century, the Trust has convened civic leaders, nonprofits, and its donors to channel their resources to make our region stronger. This included a series of “Chicago Dinners” in the late 1990s and early 2000s in partnership with the Human Relations Commission. This series of small, informal mealtime conversations brought together area residents from different races and ethnicities to talk in a very personal, and often very challenging way about race relations. On the eve of its 99th anniversary, the Trust continued this tradition, and organized the first ever On the Table to engage everyday residents in discussing ways we can continue to strengthen our community.

On the Table 2014
May 12, 2014


At the inaugural On the Table, nearly 1,100 mealtime conversations were held at private residences, backyards, local restaurants and other community locations. In total, more than 11,500 Chicagoland residents of all ages, from all walks of life and socioeconomic circumstances, engaged in thought-provoking discussions to shape a public agenda to build and maintain communities that are strong, safe and dynamic.

Summer 2014


Coming out of On the Table conversations, participants were encouraged to share specific ideas from their conversations with the Trust and nearly 1,000 were submitted in 2014. Six ideas were chosen as finalists for a follow-on project, an extension of On the Table called “collaboratories.” The Trust provided consultant support to assist these working groups in further defining and stewarding their ideas into action. Their work culminated at “Demo Day” – an opportunity for all six collaboratories to present their ideas and progress to a team of local leaders for feedback on next steps and potential funding opportunities.

Residents Participated
residents participated

On the Table 2015
May 12, 2015


On the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Chicago Community Trust, On the Table officially launched the Centennial campaign with mealtime conversations designed to recognize and celebrate the philanthropic work of organizations and individuals, inspiring more Chicago-area residents to give their time, treasure and talent. In all, more than 25,000 residents participated in conversations at nearly 2,000 On the Table events.

On the Table 2016
May 10, 2016


More than 55,000 residents came together at nearly 3,500 tables across the city and suburbs for On the Table 2016 in an effort to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and create a unifying experience across the region. Coming out of the 2016 conversations, the Trust introduced the Acting Up awards – a video contest that encouraged On the Table participants to submit ideas for positive change to be considered for $1,000 awards to put their idea into action.

With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Trust hosted an On the Table learning symposium in conjunction with the 2016 conversations, attended by more than 60 individuals from 40 cities, 25 states and Canada representing community foundations, government and nonprofit organizations that were interested in learning more and potentially replicating the initiative.

Acting Up in action
Summer 2016


Partnering with Goodcity Chicago, nearly 400 entries were submitted for the inaugural Acting Up awards and 64 awards were given to a wide range of projects – hosting an event to provide accessible breast cancer screenings for women with disabilities, holding art workshops for senior citizens on the West Side, providing youth with free bike helmets to accompany 500 free bicycles on the South Side, mini-libraries built in neighborhoods across the city and more.

Residents participated
Points of

On the Table 2017
May 16, 2017


Nearly 100,000 people engaged with On the Table 2017 on social media; through workshops; and as hosts, participants and partners around 5,800 tables in every Chicago neighborhood and throughout suburban communities. Residents convened on issues that matter and championed causes to strengthen the region.

More Acting Up
Summer 2017


The Acting Up awards returned for the second year – prizes totaling $135,500 were given to 71 diverse projects discussed during On the Table 2017 to benefit neighborhoods.

On the Table 2018
May 8, 2018


On the Table 2018 marked its fifth year by engaging thousands of citizens in conversations – including Helene D. Gayle, who had been named president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust the prior fall. For the third of the Acting Up awards, more than $150,000 was awarded to 37 organizations and individuals to support their action in communities across metropolitan Chicago.

Residents participated
Residents participated

On the Table 2019
May 14, 2019


On the Table is now being replicated in more than 30 cities nationally and internationally through a National Learning Network. In Chicago, where the city elected only its third new mayor in three decades, the time was ideal for people to gather and discuss the programs, ideas, and policies they wanted her new leadership to embrace. In 2019, On the Table guests prepared a collective Memo to the Mayor – a strategic document that was compiled from participant’s 2019 On the Table conversations.

On the Table is a proven and powerful civic engagement tool that has truly sparked a national movement. Since the Trust launched the initiative in 2014, more than 25 communities have replicated the project. This includes an ongoing commitment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as a number of cities who have launched the initiative with support and counsel from the Trust.

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