Boding well for the effort is that former Sara Lee chief John Bryan, who led the Modern Wing campaign, is also involved in this one.
"Asks are not hard," Bryan said in November about raising funds for the successful Millennium Park project. "The people you're asking — what I say (is), I'm inviting them. We've chosen you to put your name on this now, for all time. You've been chosen by a group."
A key difference is that Millennium Park is, as Bryan put it, "for all time."
The NATO and G-8 summits will last only three days and likely draw thousands of protesters. In a worst-case scenario, Chicago will be shut down by angry demonstrations, not exactly the kind of event, or association, corporations typically crave.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel believes that hosting the May summits will burnish Chicago's image. He and World Business Chicago have said that Chicago residents won't pick up the tab; a combination of federal dollars and money from private sources will be used. The city has not disclosed what percent of the estimated $40 million to $65 million price tag would be covered by donations, but if, for example, the number is $20 million, the monthly pace of fundraising would nearly need to match that of the Modern Wing.
Because of the short timetable, Bryan and Anne Olaimey, a longtime fundraiser for Emanuel, likely are seeking amounts in excess of Millennium Park's $1 million minimum. According to a source, at least one company has been asked for a $3 million donation toward the G-8 and NATO events, a number summit organizers declined to confirm. Bryan did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Corporations such as BP PLC donated to the park effort, but wealthy families — Wrigley, Crown, Pritzker — and philanthropies, such as the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, supplied the bulk of the donations. That balance is likely to be reversed for the summits, with companies taking the lead.
In fact, four Chicago billionaires contacted by the Tribune said they had not been approached for a donation.
The list of donors is expected to include many companies headquartered outside Illinois.
"There's been a great deal of interest from the business community nationally to help support this," Lori Healey, executive director of the G-8/NATO host committee, told WBEZ-FM 91.5 Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a prominent leader in Chicago's business community, who declined to be named, sketched a fundraising strategy heavily dependent on corporations with global operations. Chicago-based Boeing Co. has been approached to support the summits, the source said. The company declined to comment.
Aon Corp. spokesman David Prosperi said the Chicago company had been approached about supporting the summits, but the conversation had evolved into the insurance brokerage offering support "for a totally different project we're not ready to announce."
Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of CME Group Inc., parent of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, said companies will be motivated to support the summits, first, out of civic pride and, second, as a vehicle to get their "business cards or business logo" in a room filled with the most powerful people in the world.
Betsy Brill, who serves as a philanthropic adviser to wealthy families, said the motivation for corporations is obvious.
"They have skin in the game," she said. But she found the idea of individuals supporting the summits "bizarre."
"The donors I work with are working on very specific social issues, whether that be housing and homelessness, poverty alleviation, climate change," she said. "These are the kind of pressing social issues they're investing in to move the needle.
"How does (the summit) move the needle? I would ask anyone asking for my advice on this, 'What would you hope would change or be altered by giving this money? What is the impact?'"
Not only would the summit not "fit the bill," but Brill also suggested donors instead consider funding community-based organizations more aligned with the protesters.
Melissa Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential