2020 Leadership Institute

Applications for the 2020 Leadership Institute are NOW OPEN!


Early bird deadline: September 9, 2019*
*Applications received by this date are guaranteed an interview
Final deadline: October 9, 2019

Who Should Apply?

Advancing Leadership Fellows are energetic, aspiring leaders with disabilities who are passionate about making change in their communities. Will you join us in 2020?


You may apply for the Leadership Institute if you:

  • Are seeking to make change in your community
  • Identify as a person with a disability (visible, invisible, or acquired)
  • Live in the seven-county Chicago region
  • Are looking to deepen your leadership skills or take on new leadership experiences
  • Are familiar with (or willing to learn about) disability rights and identity
  • Have at least 5 years of leadership experience (can be professional or volunteer)


The Leadership Institute is an immersive program that requires Fellows to commit to the full 12-month leadership program. This includes:

  • Orientation Session (February)
  • Fellows Retreat (5 full days, February - April)
  • Spring and Summer Networking Events
  • Half-Day Symposium (September)
  • BoardLead Training (October)
  • Fellows Graduation (December)
  • Mentoring and small-group Fellows meetings (Year-round)

There will be additional opportunities in 2020 and more details are available by contacting staff, but a basic commitment to this timeline is essential to eligibility.

How Do I Apply?

STEP 1: Begin your online application HERE. You will need 2 people in your network to submit a nomination on your behalf.

STEP 2: Finish your application by submitting your resume and 3 short essays.


  • Early bird deadline (guarantees interview): Monday, September 9, 2019 5:00PM CST
  • Final deadline: Wednesday, October 9, 2019 5:00PM CST

Only complete applications will be considered. Late applications will not be accepted.

For questions or technical assistance, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org or (312) 616-8000 x 262.


Tuition represents a small fraction of the costs associated with this year long program. Employer sponsorship is strongly encouraged. Financial resources should not be a barrier to participation, and financial support may be discussed upon acceptance.

  • $3,000: Corporate
  • $1,500: Non-profit, Government, Small business or Self-employed

Application: Guide & Overview

Follow these simple steps to complete your Leadership Institute application:


  • Decide which deadline makes the most sense for you. The early bird is September 9 and guarantees an interview. The final deadline is October 9.
  • Identify 2 people in your network who will be able to submit a nomination on your behalf. Unless your Nominator approached you, notify your Nominators that you will be submitting an application for the Leadership Institute and your selected deadline. Two Nominators are required for consideration and be from a professional context, either an employer or supervisor.
  • The application process does require a short essay response. To preview the essay questions, applicants may go HERE.


  • Click here to start the online application: HERE
  • Complete all three sections: Applicant Information, Voluntary Self-Disclosure, and Nominator notification form, then click the submit button.
  • You will receive an automatic email to your preferred email confirming the receipt of the first part of your application and a link to the second step of the application.


  • After completing Step One, you will receive a link to Step Two of the application.
  • Complete all sections including: Current Volunteer or Civic Positions, Current Civic Engagement and Interest, and Areas of Expertise, Short Essay Questions, Brief Bio, and upload your resume.
  • Review next steps carefully, then click submit.
  • Once submitted, you will receive an automatic email to your preferred email confirming receipt of the second part of your application.
  • Once an application is fully completed and received (including 2 Nominator forms), applicants will be contacted by staff with next steps.


  • Nominators will receive an automatically generated email with a link to the form and the deadline (please check junk folders!). If you have not received this and believe you should, please contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org or (312) 616-8000 x 262.

2020 Application Alternate Forms

The application is available as a downloadable Word document on this site, however, online submission is preferred. For preparation purposes, you may access the Essay Questions HERE.

If using this format for your final submission, return by one of the two following methods:

Email: Complete, scan, and email each section to Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org.

Use the subject heading: 2020 Leadership Institute Application.

Email may be time stamped no later than 5PM CST by your indicated deadline. If mailing via USPS, all forms must be postmarked by your stated deadline for consideration.

  • Early bird deadline (guarantees interview): Monday, September 9, 2019 5:00PM CST
  • Final deadline: Wednesday, October 9, 2019 5:00PM CST

USPS: Complete (use word processing program do not complete by hand) and mail completed forms to:

Robin Burnett, Program Manager
c/o Chicago Community Trust
225 N. Michigan Avenue, 2200
Chicago, IL 60601
ATTN: 2020 Leadership Institute Application


Word Forms:
Application Form
Nominator Form

For questions or technical assistance, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org or (312) 616-8000 x 262.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you define disability?

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and can be visible, invisible, or acquired. ADA 25 Advancing Leadership uses the broad definition of disability, which is a person who identifies as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. For example, some, but not all, Fellows accepted into this program self-identify as: blind, Deaf, low vision, Autistic, Deafblind, hard of hearing, having a physical or mobility, mental health or learning disability.

Who is an emerging leader?

Some of our Fellows are just starting out while others are recognized leaders seeking to understand our disability identities and diverse perspectives. Experience may include both professional and/or community-based volunteer leadership experiences such as founding or leading an organization, serving on a board or committee, or other ways of demonstrating leadership and initiative.

Who should apply?

Fellows are passionate about growing as leaders and becoming part of Chicago’s civic landscape. Energetic, aspiring leaders with disabilities who are passionate about making change in their communities. Our Fellows range from community activists and artists to entrepreneurs and corporate employees in the Chicago region.

How do I know if this is the right fit?

The Leadership Institute is an immersive year-long learning experience that prepares Fellows to collaborate, influence, and lead. While there are many definitions and attributes of leadership, our program is guided by the following framework.

Vision, Passion and Collective Action
We seek leaders who articulate and excite people to act around a shared vision of a more just and equitable future; and have the resilience to engage in the lengthy and complex process of realizing their vision.

Self and Social Awareness
Effective leaders recognize that making a difference rests on awareness of who you are, how you engage with others, and how social systems impact personal and collective experience. They facilitate trust and partnership by listening attentively, communicating clearly, and following through.

Disability Leadership
Our program encourages leaders to embrace disability identity as part of a larger community, inclusive of intersectional connections, to effect change with power and influence.

What will I get out of this experience?

Together, Fellows learn about both disability rights and leadership to become more prepared for civic and professional leadership roles. Our Fellows advance with a sense of empowerment that comes from gaining leadership skills and a network of influential leaders.

What information will help strengthen my application?

Tell us your story. We know that everyone is in a different place in their leadership journey. Appropriate answers include specific examples that help illustrate how participating in this program at this time will help your identified goals.

Who/what is a “Nominator”?

Nominators help us get to know you better. A “Nominator” should be someone familiar with your talent, experience and passion for civic engagement, and who can speak to your strengths. Nominators may be supervisors, managers, or a leader of a volunteer position to which you devote a significant degree of your time and talent. We know family may be our biggest fans, however strong applications include Nominators who are not family relatives.

How many Nominators do I need? And how will they be notified?

Advancing Leadership requires 2 Nominators to apply. We require at least one Nominator be from a professional context. Once you submit your Nominator information in Step One, an email is sent to that individual containing a notification and link to the Nominator form. It is the applicant’s responsibility to communicate stated deadlines to Nominators.

How and when will I be notified?

You will receive an automatic email confirmation upon completion of Step One. Applicants also receive a second email from staff after completing Step Two with next steps if applicable.

Can I save and return to my application?

You can save and return to your application for Step One and Step Two by generating a private password. You are encouraged to save work as a separate Word document in case you experience technical difficulties.

Why does the application include questions about gender, sexual orientation, disability, race and ethnicity, and veteran status?

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership seeks to collect a variety of demographic information about our applicants. Your response will not influence a decision regarding acceptance and will only be used to help measure our success in attracting a diverse applicant pool. Please note that you are only required to indicate your self-identified disability, all other information is voluntary.

While we annually review and revise this section based on user feedback with the intention of including diverse response options, we would like to acknowledge that this system is imperfect. We recognize the limitations of the response options provided and value the opportunity for all applicants to self-identify. We encourage the utilization of the “Other” response option as a way to self-identify beyond the categories provided.

Additionally, we have created a resource to further explain the various category options. We encourage applicants to educate themselves on the variety of ways that individuals self-identify in order to promote learning and inclusive interactions. Click here for this resource.

If you have any feedback, we welcome you to reach out to Risa Rifkind at rrifkind@ada25advancingleadership.org.

How will this time commitment impact my work days (M-F 9am - 5pm) - how much will I need to request from my employer?

  • Leadership Institute: 5 Full work days over two sessions of the leadership institute retreat (February and April)
  • Networking, partner, end of year, and other events: Plan on approximately 5-7 late afternoon or early evening events and 1-2 possible morning or lunch events (lunch events run approximately 11:30am - 1:30pm, and evening events usually begin at 4 or 5pm).
  • One half-day Saturday in September (this would not impact a typical work week)
  • See website for full calendar of events for the Fellows Year HERE.

Will there be an orientation or information session prior to application deadline where I can learn more?

Thanks for your interest! At the moment, no informational sessions are scheduled for 2019. To learn more contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org or (312) 616-8000 x 262.

Is there a way I can connect with past Fellows to learn more? How do I get to know past Fellows?

Check out this story about 2018 Fellow Grishma and her journey. Feel free to browse our Members page to see the diverse backgrounds, interest areas, and expertise our Fellows bring to the table. Their contact information is included.

I’m interested in supporting the Leadership Institute. How do I get involved?

Thanks for your intended support! The Leadership Institute is supported by generous donors like yourself. For ways to get involved by donating, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@cct.org or (312) 616-8000 x 262.