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An Interview with Candice Payne - CWIP Blog

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 10, 2019

by Morgan Benson, CWIP member, Communications Committee member

In April, on a beautiful spring afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak over the phone with Candice Payne. Many of you will know her as the woman who paid for hotel rooms for homeless individuals in Chicago during the Polar Vortex earlier this year. If you aren’t familiar with her story, you can access a story on it here. Ms. Payne received an overwhelming response to her good deed—being featured on not only local news, but national news as well, including the N.Y. Times, Ellen DeGeneres’ Show, and others.

I was particularly moved by her story, not only as a beautiful example of a regular person helping others, but as an example of how philanthropy can happen in non-traditional ways. Her story, as a professional woman, a Chicago entrepreneur, and founder of her own nonprofit, Action for a Cause really captured my attention and that of our CWIP communications committee. Here is my interview with Candice on what it means to give, how this experience has changed her, and her hopes for what comes next. 


I know you are a busy woman and I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me so that I can share a little bit about your experience and how it relates to people who work in fundraising and philanthropy so that I can share it with members of CWIP and people who follow our blog.

You’re welcome, no problem.

Most people in Chicago and those reading this blog are pretty familiar with your story—you’ve been on both local and national news, including the Ellen DeGeneres show. But I just wondered, within the lens of people who give to nonprofits and give philanthropically, had you ever done anything like this before?

Yes, I had. This last school year, we decided to buy 500 bookbags filled with supplies for the beginning of school. We put them in our pickup truck and drove through what I would call less fortunate areas—we drove through some of Roseland, Englewood, and other areas giving our bookbags. We do things like that, but this here [paying for hotel rooms for homeless individuals] just got so much publicity. So, different things that we can do to give back.

So, along those lines, what would you say that philanthropy means to you?

Well, for me, it doesn’t always necessarily need to mean something monetary. You know, if you have a gift of knowledge in whatever field, sharing that can be a gift. Whether a person is starting a career or a business, philanthropy doesn’t have to mean giving money. I think, that it is a spirit of being open to helping someone.

Yes, I agree with that completely. Now, your story has received a lot of coverage, and in reading more about your gift, I heard that you started a nonprofit—Action for a Cause. Was that a direct result of the gift of housing the homeless during the polar vortex and the publicity you received?

No, it was something we were already doing. Action for a Cause was established two years ago, but I hadn’t really done much with it though until now. I established a nonprofit, I knew I wanted to do something to help others, I just didn’t know what or how. I didn’t know where to focus—if I wanted to help battered women, if I just wanted to help children, if I wanted to mentor felons coming out of the prison system. I wanted to help somehow—I just didn’t know how. The polar vortex allowed me—over those five days—to see what my purpose could be. Knowing that that situation was so temporary—that those hotels rooms were only for a few days—made me realize that finding a more permanent solution was my purpose. So I came to the realization that, you know what, that I can use my passion for real estate, and actually help the homeless get off the streets. Can I stop homelessness? No, but I can do my part. And so that’s where Action For a Cause came into fruition. So its been here, it’s just been sitting on the shelf.

Would you say that there is anything particular to your experience—as a woman, as a female business owner, or anything else unique to you—that really shaped or contributed to your decision to give back in this way?

Well, I would say that around this time, a lot of people have become numb to homelessness, and the reason being is that on every corner you see it—walking downtown, every block you see it, so you put up this shield and become numb. Doing that, some people lose their compassion, and when you lose your compassion you pass them and just ignore them. And I think for me, when I see them, my compassion has grown even more because I feel like I should stop and talk to them. Everyone has their own story, and it’s not what the misconceptions are. The misconceptions are that homeless people are lazy, that they don’t want to work, and that they made these choices to be where they are in life. But that’s just not the case. You know, for me, like I said, years ago, I knew I wanted to do something to help—no I’m not rich, I don’t have a lot, but I can spread the knowledge that I do know the people to help them. And what I do have, I’m willing to give.

What sort of feedback have you received from the community, from individuals, from other nonprofits that has surprised you or been unexpected?

Yeah, I was not expecting this—that there would be so many people that wanted to help. From me, posting on social media—I was offering people money to come help. I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware that so many people just wanted to help but didn’t know how or didn’t know where to start. So, this was a new avenue for them to help, you know—I have a car, I can do this or I can do that. So, I received a lot, a lot, a lot of support. I’ve gotten several other nonprofits that actually reached out to me that want to connect. And I haven’t gotten through them all—there have just been so many—but it’s a lot of support. And that further let’s me know that people want to help, people just need to know how—they need the resources.

So, after all this, what comes next? For you, for your organization. Where do you see the work that you and your organization are doing going in the next 5 years?

Well, with the nonprofit I am still learning a lot of the ins-and-outs of running a nonprofit. I’ve been in business before, I’ve had businesses, I understand business—but the nonprofit is a whole different ballgame. So I am still learning a lot about that, but I close on the first multi-unit building in about two weeks, I’m working with the Cook County Land Bank, and we are going to start the renovation on that, and I hope that we can acquire a lot more. We are going to put together a fundraiser, to raise money to acquire a lot more real estate to do this work as part of our mission.

Very cool! That’s really exciting

So, my last question is: given the audience of women in Chicago who work in fundraising and philanthropy, if you could share one lesson, one takeaway from your experience with women working in philanthropy about how to engage people in giving, what would that be?

Well, what I did is I went to social media, and you know, currently social media is a big outlet for a lot of people, and it actually gets people in contact with each other to connect. So I would say, utilize your social media, and have an idea, put it out there. A lot of people want to do something, but don’t know where to start, and don’t have a lot of money. But it’s not always necessarily the truth that they need money to get involved. Because people can help other people, and they can also help you to get the money to do the work. So, I would say using social media more actively to get people engaged.

Great, thank you so much. We so appreciate you taking the time to speak with me and share your story with our members!

Tags:  blog  chicago  interview  philanthropy 

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Comcast's CWIP Annual Luncheon Coverage

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Check out this inspiring video that Comcast put together for our Annual Luncheon honoring Grace Hou of Woods Fund Chicago


Tags:  Annual Luncheon  Blog  Comcast  CWIP  CWIP Events  News  Wonder Woman Unicorn 

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A Woman Among Many In Non-Profits

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Written by Alexis Allegra


"Before transitioning into a career as a consultant, I spent almost 15 years working in mostly mid-size social service agencies in Detroit, New York and Chicago.  In all that time, I had a male boss for approximately four months.  I worked for women at all levels – my boss’ boss and probably even higher than that when I first started out.  My counterparts on senior leadership teams were overwhelmingly female and the majority of the staff I managed throughout the years were women. 


I feel grateful and lucky to have worked alongside these passionate, intelligent, brave and committed souls.  I can truly say that I have learned something about myself or others from each and every one of the women I have served with.  What I am perhaps most grateful for though, is what I didn’t experience as a result of working in the non-profit sector.  I have never experienced sexual harassment at work. 


Yes, you read that right. 


I have never been passed up for a promotion because there was a man ahead of me who was more sure of himself, or just more vocal.  I have never been made to feel like my accomplishments and hard work alone weren’t enough to get me where I wanted to go.  And I’ve never been in a meeting and felt dismissed or like my voice wasn’t heard simply because it was a female voice.


Have I experienced intimidation, sexual harassment or molestation in other areas of my life?  Yes, of course I have.


But I’m quite aware of the fact that my experiences in the workplace are likely outside the norm.  I don’t know corporate culture.  I’ve never worked in the hospitality or service industry.  I am a straight, white, highly educated woman from an upper middle-class background.  I own all of these things that likely contributed to my personal professional journey.   And I’m so incredibly grateful for the non-profit world in which I’ve worked – where I have felt safe and empowered by so many amazing women.  So, while many non-profit organizations continue to struggle with defining their culture and finding ways to ensure their employees feel valued in the absence of pay raises and bonuses, this is one way that perhaps they can be ahead of the curve. 


And it should go without saying, that though my experiences may differ, I plan to be an ally and an advocate for all the women out there who continue the fight for equality and protection in the workplace."

Tags:  Blog  CWIP  Non-Profit 

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Getting to Know our Members | Carolyn Nopar

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 29, 2018

Despite beginning her career in the corporate sector, Carolyn Nopar found her true calling in philanthropy when she reentered the workforce after taking some time off with her children.  Now a veteran in the field, Carolyn has a broad range of expertise and demonstrated success at Habitat for Humanity, Enterprising Kitchen, Family Focus, YWCA Metro Chicago, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Skills).  Carolyn has also spent the last five years with Chicago Women in Philanthropy (CWIP) and was just recently elected Board Co-Chair. 

The initial draw to CWIP was Carolyn’s desire to meet funders; however, she quickly found a welcoming space where she could meet people without an agenda, which lead to becoming much more involved over the past five years.  Before her role as Co-Chair, Carolyn was a CWIP member, Board Director, Co-Chair of the Communications Committee and Chair of the Partnership Committee.

Within CWIP, and in her professional life, Carolyn is motivated by new ideas and finds implementing “out of the box” projects to be invigorating.  She feels personally successful when using a lot of different skillsets to accomplish one goal, stretching herself (and those around her) to achieve the very best.  An example of this is when Carolyn was hired to launch a social enterprise for Habitat for Humanity Northern Fox Valley.  This project included conducting a feasibility study, writing a business plan, securing seed funding, finding a location, securing inventory and hiring staff.  The ReStore opened in 2006 and provides a substantial stream of unrestrictive revenue that continues to this day.

With Carolyn’s passion for progress, it is no wonder the worst advice she could receive is “it has always been done that way.”  Instead, Carolyn uses the following quote to guide her:

“Trust the wait.  Embrace the uncertainty.  Enjoy the beauty of becoming.  When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

It is this optimism that is required for success in the nonprofit field.  When thinking ahead, Carolyn firmly believes it is the industry’s fragmented practices that will be the biggest challenge to overcome, but she looks forward to tackling these issues head-on.  “Nonprofits need to work together better to avoid duplicating services in order to promote industry best practices.  With the participant need increasing, and more and more limitations on public and private funding, the sector needs to come together to achieve success.”

And, this is what CWIP provides Carolyn – A space to think on a broader scale; to look at the whole ecosystem of a problem instead of the single issue.  “It’s exciting to be a part of something that allows the time and space to look at the broader context.  This makes me a better fundraiser and provides leadership development skills that can benefit anyone, seasoned professionals or those new to the field.”

To learn more about CWIP and how you can become involved, please visit

Tags:  blog  Getting to Know our Members 

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