Leslie Bluhm is the founder of Chicago Cares, one of Chicago’s most successful nonprofits, which organizes more than 35,000 volunteer opportunities every year.
A University of Chicago Law School graduate, former attorney, and self-described workaholic do-gooder, Bluhm co-founded Chicago Cares twenty years ago after noticing that her colleagues weren’t volunteering. “I realized it wasn’t because they didn’t want to volunteer,” she recalls. “They really had no idea where to turn. They were afraid of overcommitting, or they didn’t want to do it alone.”
Bluhm had a simple but innovative solution: partner with nonprofit organizations to create service opportunities for busy working people. Since its inception, Chicago Cares has hosted over 330,000 volunteers. Collectively they have clocked more than a million hours of service, tutoring at-risk children, preparing meals at shelters, leading art workshops, and teaching computer skills to seniors, among other things.
The unique funding model that Bluhm created for Chicago Cares, in which roughly 75 percent of the organization’s income is derived from donations it receives for its customized Business Shares programming, provides a firm platform for sustainable growth. Chicago Cares is one of only 9 percent of nonprofits to receive the highest financial rating over four consecutive years from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator—a testimony to exceptional financial health and fiscal responsibility.
Bluhm served on the University of Chicago Law School’s Visiting Committee for six years. In 2010, Bluhm and her husband, David Helfand, created the Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellowship, which recognizes socially minded innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents who are under the age of 35.