Three Chicago philanthropy leaders discussed successful strategies to maximize impact at a panel discussion hosted by the City Club of Chicago on Monday.

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Joshua Hale, president and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund; John Canning, Jr., co-founder of Madison D ...

Joshua Hale, president and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund; John Canning, Jr., co-founder of Madison Dearborn Partners; Steve Solomon, vice president of corporate relations for Exelon and president of the Exelon Foundation; and Liz Thompson, president of The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education (Photo: Business Wire)

Steve Solomon, Vice President of Corporate Relations for Exelon and President, Exelon Foundation; Liz Thompson, President of The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education and John Canning Jr., co-Founder of Madison Dearborn Partners shared their perspectives at a forum moderated by Joshua Hale, President and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago.

Collaboration with impact…What can corporations help solve?

Solomon noted that 12 years ago, Exelon started looking at philanthropy differently. "We said, what are the needs of the community, what can we help solve, and who can we bring together to solve that? At the time, Chicago high school graduation rates were only 54%."

Exelon met with leadership at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, and discussed how they could work together to improve high school graduation rates and make sure students were moving from one grade to the next. Exelon created a collaborative partnership with United Way and six social service non-profits agencies in communities where dropout rates were high and attendance rates were low.

Solomon said since the program started, 27,000 students have participated, and 92% of the core seniors have graduated from high school.

"Partnering with the social service agencies, schools and parents, we - and our people - are able to make a difference," Solomon said. "We teach these kids lifelong lessons, like how to write a resume with the help of our HR team, and we hire some of those students to work as summer interns, as do the social service agencies we work with.

"When I think about philanthropy and what works well, it's that collaboration - we can do so much more when we bring more people into the process," Solomon said.

On lessons learned…look for the win-win-win

"We are always looking for the win-win-win," Solomon said. "How do you make it a win for the organization you're funding, how do you make it a win for the people who are the clients or the recipients of those funds and how do you make it a win for our employees?"

"We're fortunate that last year, Exelon employees gave back 171,000 hours of service," Solomon said. "Our CEO Chris Crane and in fact, our corporate culture is focused on giving back; it's just a part of who we are as a company."

Employee engagement delivers high impact results

Solomon highlighted employee engagement -and through National Volunteer Week, which became National Volunteer Month at Exelon - the company took on 335 projects, and 4,000 employees were working in the communities we serve. It creates awareness of how important that community organization is to the local neighborhood. "What's great about this is we'll plant a garden on the south side of Chicago, and we would learn during the course of the day that about half of the volunteers were from that community," Solomon said.

Solomon noted that Exelon's people are focused on giving and the company is committed to making it easy for them, via an app or other social media platforms.

"We just wrapped up our employee giving campaign -$8.1 million contributed by our employees, with more than half of all Exelon employees participating," Solomon said.

In support of #GivingTuesday, volunteers from Exelon - the parent company of ComEd - have expanded their efforts beyond this year's designated day of giving by performing dozens of service projects in Chicago throughout the month of November.

In addition to employee volunteer efforts, Exelon is matching employee donations of $100 or more dollar for dollar, and contributing another $100 to their charities of choice. Last year, employees donated more than $500,000 before the company match and gave nearly 10,000 hours of community service for #GivingTuesday.

Exelon Corporation (NYSE: EXC) is a Fortune 100 energy company with the largest number of utility customers in the U.S. Exelon does business in 48 states, the District of Columbia and Canada and had 2016 revenue of $31.4 billion. Exelon's six utilities deliver electricity and natural gas to approximately 10 million customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania through its Atlantic City Electric, BGE, ComEd, Delmarva Power, PECO and Pepco subsidiaries. Exelon is one of the largest competitive U.S. power generators, with more than 35,500 megawatts of nuclear, gas, wind, solar and hydroelectric generating capacity comprising one of the nation's cleanest and lowest-cost power generation fleets. The company's Constellation business unit provides energy products and services to approximately 2.2 million residential, public sector and business customers, including more than two-thirds of the Fortune 100. Follow Exelon on Twitter @Exelon.

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