A Better Chicago: COVID-19 and Venture Philanthropy with Christy Barton Joyce ’10, M.A. ’14

July 9, 2020

Wheaton alumna Christy Barton Joyce ’10, M.A. ’14 speaks about her work with a nonprofit venture philanthropy fund during the global pandemic.

Barton Joyce 380x253Christy Barton Joyce ’10, M.A. ’14 is the Director of Portfolio Impact for A Better Chicago, a nonprofit venture philanthropy fund based in downtown Chicago. Her work revolves around developing the organization’s investment strategies, as well as overseeing its data and evaluation efforts.

"Our mission is focused on fighting poverty with opportunity to build a more equitable Chicago, and we pursue that by investing in incredible organizations and initiatives that are helping Black and Latinx youth in Chicago thrive, all the way from early childhood to careers," she said.  

Since its founding in 2010, A Better Chicago has invested more than $20 million in Chicago nonprofits. The organization’s unique grantmaking model employs a rigorous sourcing and due diligence process to select grantees. Portfolio organizations are then supported with meaningful grants and management support focused on helping grantees build organizational capacity to continue growing their impact.

Joyce’s work accelerated with the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. In early April, A Better Chicago launched an Emergency Relief Fund to provide immediate support to organizations serving low-income Chicago youth and families impacted by the COVID pandemic.

"We launched our relief fund quickly and immediately got to work getting dollars out the door in a way that is structured and highly thoughtful yet extremely fast-paced," she said.

A Better Chicago typically thinks about the organization’s investment strategy on an annual basis, recommending new grants to our board of directors at quarterly board meetings. But given the urgent nature of relief funding, the fund has been convening a board committee on a weekly basis for more than two months to approve new grants and discuss the rapidly evolving strategy.

"On a personal level, this has been an incredibly busy and stressful time, but it’s been energizing as well," Joyce said. "I’ve felt grateful to be able to channel my efforts toward something so relevant. In the wake of recent events that have shone a light on the anti-Black racism that persists in our country, I’m also humbled by the work that remains to be done in our nation, city, and lives while proud to be part of a team that is committed to putting racial equity at the core of everything we do."

A Better Chicago has received more than 600 applications since the launch of its Emergency Relief Fund on April 6 and has made 40-plus investments to-date focused on providing direct financial assistance, basic essentials, and critical programming to people facing hardship due to COVID.

"Importantly, we are focused on low-income Black and Latinx communities—communities most affected by the devastating impacts of the pandemic," she said.

Joyce holds a master’s degree in Historical and Systematic Theology and a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Urban Studies from Wheaton, in addition to an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She noted that Wheaton in Chicago was the most formative part of her Wheaton experience and prepared her for the work she’s doing today.

Wheaton in Chicago allowed Joyce to see the city in a way she hadn't before. Her experience also led her to believe that she could use her privilege, education, and power to work toward creating more opportunities and equity for marginalized populations. Her Wheaton in Chicago semester also included an internship with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

As an advisory board member of Wheaton’s Center for Urban Engagement (CUE) since its launch in 2015, Joyce is eager to support opportunities that encourage current Wheaton students to learn about critical social issues such as systemic racism and their manifestation and interconnectedness in cities.

"I’m eager to lean into any ways I can help perpetuate student experiences like the one I had through Wheaton in Chicago," Joyce said. 

Joyce said that CUE Director Dr. Noah Toly ’99, M.A. ’12 had a formative influence on her during her undergraduate experience at Wheaton, starting the first semester of her freshman year through Toly’s “Chicago” course and continuing through the rest of her urban studies coursework and Wheaton in Chicago experience.

"Noah impressed me right away with his wide-ranging intellectual understanding of critical issues, combined with genuine passion and empathy for communities impacted by injustice," she said. "He was also great at meeting [students] where we were and fostering a hunger to learn and do more."

At a time when coronavirus is creating major challenges for large, densely populated cities like Chicago, Joyce noted that A Better Chicago has been well-positioned to help provide support and resources to the Chicago’s most vulnerable populations.

"This has been an amazing opportunity to be nimble, deploying our existing model in a way that is highly responsive to the current context. It’s been possible to operationalize this work quickly and effectively because of the strengths and experience our organization has built over the past 10 years," Joyce said. "We’ve made a ton of progress really fast, and we feel good about that. Alongside our actions focused on immediate relief, we are also thinking strategically about how to evolve our longer-term grantmaking in the wake of the pandemic. Given the breadth and depth of COVID’s impacts, our work in the foreseeable future will necessarily be informed by a recovery lens."

When asked what encouraging words she might have for the Wheaton family worldwide, Joyce said: "In the midst of a crisis that is affecting all of our lives and is creating widespread suffering, so many have felt an urgency to do something, which has been really important. And, unfortunately, the reality is that COVID has exacerbated and put a spotlight on pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequities. These won’t go away when our society reopens or even down the road when many people no longer see their own communities as being in crisis mode. So, my encouragement is to build on the momentum that this terrible crisis has created by staying involved. Continue to recognize and respond to the struggles of your neighbors and of communities in need."--Allison Althoff Steinke ’11