Meet James O’Connor and his most giving family
December 24th, 2016
James O’Connor Sr. doesn’t make headlines for multi-million dollar donations, but he’s invaluable to the nonprofits he wraps his arms around.
During the past year, the former CEO and chairman of Commonwealth Edison and his family combined to raise millions of dollars for more than a dozen nonprofit organizations in Chicago.
It’s not about a lot of zeroes but “breadth,” says O’Connor. “We’re particularly interested in working with those on the margins.” He and his wife, Ellen, are a symbol of generational giving as their three grown children and spouses also step up to support causes–from social service agencies to cultural institutions and civic groups.
This year, O’Connor helped Monsignor Kenneth Velo and a few others raise a whopping $12.5 million for Big Shoulders Fund’s annual gala–surpassing all other fundraising events in Chicago and putting it on par with some of the largest fundraisers in the country.
O’Connor and his family wrote checks and sought donations from their many business and civic relationships. They helped raise $2.2 million for Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Butterfly Ball, $1 million for the 100 Club, which helps fallen police officers and firefighters and $1.1 million for WINGS domestic-violence centers. They also supported Shedd Aquarium’s gala after last year leading the event.
“He doesn’t just give. He asks. He’s genuine and truly believes in the cause,” says Josh Hale, the CEO of Big Shoulders Fund. O’Connor helped found that organization and remains chairman.
Son Jim O’Connor Jr., an investment banker, chaired the Momentum gala that raised $1.5 million for the 1871 entrepreneurial center. “That’s the crux,” he says. “Our parents are involved and now we’re picking up the mantel.”