Cofounder and President
Sophia Shaw leads the firm’s work with nonprofit clients and donors to nonprofits.
From her experience as a CEO, trustee, board president, donor, volunteer, consultant, and professor of social impact, Sophia has a deep understanding of how to maximize the impact of a nonprofit.
Concurrent with starting her company, Sophia served as an adjunct professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and directed Kellogg Board Fellows, connecting top Kellogg MBA students to Chicago-area nonprofits for an opportunity in board service. Sophia taught both an introductory course on board governance of nonprofits as well as one on advanced topics.
From 2006 to 2016, Sophia served first as vice president and then president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, one of the leading public gardens of the world. Under Sophia’s leadership, the 385-acre campus experienced a 52 percent increase in attendance as well as record-breaking fundraising (nearly $240 million) and operating budget results. The Garden also became recognized as a model for environmental conservation, advocacy, as well as urban agriculture and horticulture jobs training and education emphasizing programs for diverse and underserved communities in partnership with a wide variety of corporations, schools, healthcare centers, organizations, and government agencies. Under Sophia’s leadership, the Garden completed transformational design and construction projects and launched the plant biology and conservation Ph.D. program with Northwestern University. In 2016 Sophia was awarded the Openlands Conservation Leadership Award and Chicago Horticultural Society Medal.
Prior to her decade at the Chicago Botanic Garden, she served The Field Museum for nine years, many of which as vice president of exhibitions, education, and the library. She held curatorial roles at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, and started her career first as a shipping clerk and then leading the property department at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Sophia serves on the board of trustees of Wellesley College and is a director for the Winterbotham Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Formerly, she was active on the boards of The Art Institute of Chicago, the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution; and The Arts Club of Chicago, where she served as president of the board. She also devotes herself to her condominium association boards.
She is a USA Triathlon certified coach specializing in paratriathlon. Sophia is the 2022 Volunteer of the Year at Dare2Tri, a leading nonprofit specializing in adaptive sports. She volunteers for the Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the national’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Essays and Articles
- With Jenny Fisher and Angelique Power,“How to Create a Diverse Board of Directors and Empower It to Thrive,” Kellogg Insight (September 2019).
- “Plan to live a full life because we very well may make it to 100”—my mom (January 8, 2019)
- “Elevate College Access and Success Program (Board Meeting Role-play Exercise),” Kellogg Case Publishing and Harvard Business Publishing (December 2, 2018)
- It is a Myth that Nonprofit Organizations Don’t Need to Make a Profit (October 14, 2018)
- Gardening and Mental Health (February 28, 2017)
- Running: Steps I Took to Find “the Zone” (February 27, 2017)
- Five Succession Planning Steps to Overcome Founder’s Syndrome (February 21, 2017)
- “Cultivating the Power of Plants to Sustain and Enrich Life: How Public Gardens Can Realise our Purpose by Focusing on the Basic Human Needs Universal to Diverse Audiences,” chapter 8 in Plant Conservation Science and Practice: The Role of Botanic Gardens, Stephen Blackmore and Sara Oldfield, editors, Cambridge University Press (with Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, 2017).
- Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden (May 9, 2016)
- “The Positive Effects on Mental Health of Visiting Botanic Gardens,”Sibbaldia, the journal of botanic garden horticulture published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (November 2015)
- “Gardening and Mental Health,”Sibbaldia, the journal of botanic garden horticulture published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (November 2015)
- “Mentoring Is Critical to Keep Minorities in STEM,” Entrepreneur online (July 9, 2015)
- “Life Lessons From the C-Suite: Chicago Botanic Garden’s Sophia Shaw,” (March 9, 2015)
- “It’s Time to Teach Climate Change in School. Here’s How,” The Guardian online (September 2014)
Selected Profiles and Quotes
- Katie Thomas, “Cancer Center Switches Focus on Fundraising as Problems Mount,” The New York Times (September 25, 2018)
- “65 Years, 65 Faces of IES Abroad—Sophia Shaw,” IES Abroad online (October 2015)
- “Sophia Shaw Leaving Botanic Garden,” Crain’s Chicago Business (June 16, 2015)
- “Chicago Botanic Garden CEO Moving on After Almost 10 Years,” Chicago Tribune (June 29, 2015)
- “Women in CSR: Sophia Shaw Siskel,” Chicago Botanic Garden,” Triple Pundit (October 29, 2013)
- “Executive Profile: A Bold Plan for Growth,” Chicago Tribune (July 1, 2013); section 2 cover story
- “One CEO’s garden ethic,” WBEZ 91.5 Chicago (Chris Bentley blog April 6, 2013)
- “Mad Love for Green Women,” Wren (March 2013)
- “100 Women to Watch 2012,” Today’s Chicago Woman (TCW)(July 2012)
- “History Abounds in Arts Club Naming Sophia Siskel to Board Chair,” Crain’s Chicago Business (October 31, 2011)
- “Growth Futures,” Northwestern Magazine (Spring 2011)
- “Botanic Garden plans $250 mil. of new growth,” Crain’s Chicago Business (April 12, 2010)
- “In Winter Gardens, A Marriage of Botany & Stark Beauty,” The New York Times (January 8, 2010)
- “Sophia Siskel ’99 provides a 100-year plan for enduring civic value,” Kellogg World Alumni Magazine (Winter 2008)
- University of Chicago Magazine (October 2007)
- “What Will an MBA Get You?” Chicago Tribune (September 18, 2005)
- “…Great Chicago Families,” Chicago Magazine (February 2005)
- “Field of Opportunity: Sophia Siskel ’99 Leads Chicago’s Field Museum Into 21stCentury,” Kellogg World Alumni Magazine (Summer 2003)
- “Museum’s Goal: Saving the World’s Wild Places,” The New York Times (November 5, 2002)
- “40 Under 40,” Crain’s Chicago Business (November 4, 2002)
- “Frontlines,” Chicago (October 2002)
- “Field Will Dip Science in Chocolate,” Chicago Sun-Times (March 11, 2001)
- “Pure Exhibitionism,” Chicago Reader (October 22, 1999)