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Michelle Bess: Associate Board President and Sprout Social Guru

Curious why Associate Board President, Sprout Social All-star and die-hard Chicagoan, Michelle Y. Bess, supports the Chicago Public Library Foundation? Follow along to see how free wi-fi, a love of books, and a personal definition of philanthropy brought her into the fold.

Admittedly, the President of the Associate’s Board set out with the end in mind. “I set goals every year, she explained, “And one year, one of my goals was to join a board.” After meeting one of our fellow associates and talking with a Foundation staffer, “It was clear CPL made a lot of sense.”

On Michelle and the Library

The early part of Bess’ relationship with the Library was similar to most great patron experiences: checking out books, listening to authors speak and walking the stacks to find a good read. But after going away to college, that relationship took on much more of a 21st century tone.  “We grew up going to the Library,” Bess gushed. “(But) when I went away to college, my siblings didn’t have internet; the Library had free internet, so they’d go to the Library to do their homework or their research – even to fill out their college applications!”

What Does Philanthropy Meant to You?

“I knew you would ask me that,” she laughed, “so naturally I had to look up the origin of the word.” It means “goodwill to fellow members of the human race.” Which is a great definition. But it was her interpretation of the word that really made us smile.“That shows me,” she continued, “that we should care not only for our friends and family but rather how we can care about the city of Chicago. That’s how I can give back. Not just to a small subset of Chicagoans – but to Chicagoans no matter their gender, race or zip code.”
A definition, we could not have penned better ourselves.

The Sprout Social Tie

When Bess started her career, she was in a non-profit, so understandably, when other organizations asked for corporate donations, she would explain “‘I can give you my own personal money, but I won’t be able to bring money from my company.”   Sprout Social, where Bess works as their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead, changed all that.
The Library’s reach goes into many Chicago offices and board rooms, but at Sprout Social, it reaches right up to the arm chair of their current Chief Executive. “Our CEO learned how to code from his local library,” Bess explained.“He’s self-taught. He utilized the public library. And now he’s the CEO of our company!”
Through this incredible connection and Michelle’s willingness to step up for her favorite non-profit, Sprout Social has become a partner and sponsor of CPL Foundation – helping ensure that CPL programs stay free and accessible to the city of Chicago.
Before ending the interview, we asked Michelle what was her favorite part of being on the Associate Board.  Without missing a beat, she replied.  “It’s the people! I get to talk to people that read and can tell me about new books and events on a regular basis.”

 About the Associate Board

Since its inception in 2013, the CPLF Associate Board has raised nearly $650,000 in support of CPLF programs. This cohort of 50+ young professionals hosts 4 fundraising events every year to engage bibliophiles within the Chicago community in support of their Library. To learn more about becoming a Associate Board member and their events, click here. To learn more about Sprout Social, one of the largest tech employers in the city and corporate supporter of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, click here.