A Q&A with Wintrust Community Banks Founder Ed Wehmer

Ed Wehmer, the founder of Wintrust Community Banks, grew up working in his father’s Wilmette grocery store alongside his four siblings until the onset of competition from “big box” grocery stores eventually killed the family business. I grew up working in my dad’s independently owned grocery stores, alongside my four siblings, too. Big-box competition eventually killed both family-owned businesses. In fact, my dad died of a stroke while fighting a legal battle with one of them. I was pregnant with the fourth of my six kids while I sadly shepherded those stores through bankruptcy and foreclosure.

Ed started his own business, a community bank in Lake Forest, while raising seven kids. Soon thereafter, he bought the building where his dad’s store had been and opened the North Shore Community Bank (NSCB). (Read more about Ed’s background and his tips for success in work and life.) I founded Make It Better along with the “Kitchen Cabinet” of co-founders and one employee, in a small office across the street from NSCB. Wintrust was an important early partner. NSCB President Cathy Pratt wanted to present Best Money Practices For Teens and we promoted this through our email newsletter the “Better Letter” and print magazine. On a school night, their conference room was standing-room only. 

Ed with his family

Ed kept adding banks to his brand, expanding the Wintrust footprint. I kept adding activities and new titles to mine, expanding our footprint too. Wintrust even hosts our Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards Celebration in their magnificent LaSalle Street flagship lobby. As Ed kindly said in the launch video for Better last year, “Wintrust and Make It Better grew up together.” 

I checked in with Ed to see how he, his family and the bank have fared during the pandemic and this time of social unrest. I was happy to learn that not only are all fine, the bank has been incredibly helpful to the community during these trying times too. Wintrust facilitated over 12,000 businesses and organizations receiving PPP loans, totaling nearly $3.5 billion. More than 500 were for local nonprofit partners. I also learned that—once again—our businesses have been on parallel tracks, with Better having supported many of the organizations that Ed specifically names below too.

How have you, your family and the bank fared during the past six months of pandemic and social unrest?

The family’s been great. We spent five weeks back in May together in Georgia with 17 of us in one house. It was a crowd, but we managed to have a pretty great time all together. Nothing like a pandemic to encourage everyone to be cooped up together! These days, I head into the office two or three times a week and find it pretty strange to be one of 50 or 60 people walking our campus that usually has 1,600.

Ed with his family

As for the business side of things, overall, things have been pretty good. It’s a challenging time in a lot of ways, but we’ve managed to have some pretty good growth amidst it through our Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lending and our mortgage business. Obviously, it hasn’t all been great, but we’ve focused on being there for our customers and communities, just like we always do, and that has served us well, all things considered.

Obviously, with all that everyone is navigating right now—between the pandemic and the social unrest—we’ve been just trying to be something reliable for our communities to count on. We’ve been very lucky to be able to provide stability amidst so much uncertainty.

What has been the silver lining of these complicated times?

As I’ve already mentioned, more quality time with the family has been a big one.

Celebrating together

From a business perspective, the silver lining is that I’ve watched our team do what they do best, particularly with the PPP loans for our local businesses, and I couldn’t be prouder. We had employees from across our organization come together to deliver when it mattered most. 

Our IT department pooled resources to build a system to accept PPP loan applications within a week of hearing that these funds were going to be available through the SBA. Employees from all different departments worked around the clock to help process applications. Our business bankers were communicating updates and verifying information at all hours when people were telling us we were the only bank to answer their calls. Our staff came together to deliver a 10-day turnaround on PPP loans when our clients were depending on those funds to get their employees paid. Overall, we lent more than $3.4 billion to assist more than 12,000 local businesses and secured more than 114,000 jobs. It was incredible to see.

How has Wintrust pivoted during the pandemic?

Our preference is always to connect with our customers in person, so when we got the shelter in place order, it was a challenge, but we knew we could still provide the service we’re known for no matter the circumstances. We’ve had to lean a lot on our technology and service customers virtually where possible, but we’ve done it while staying true to who we are. Our mission is always to put our customers first, so we’ve managed to find other ways to support them from afar. 

We’ve obviously transitioned from the initial lockdown and most of our locations are now open, but we’ve also been leaning on things we know will keep our customers, employees, and communities safe. People can go online to make an appointment to come in and meet with a banker or open an account online. When they do come in, we’re taking all the proper safety measures. We had to adjust quickly to this new normal, but we were able to do that because of our culture and our principals as a company. We keep it high tech, but also high touch, so our customers are always supported, especially right now.

Social distancing precautions at a local Wintrust Bank

So far, it’s been working out. I just heard a story recently from one of our bankers about a customer who came into the bank after we opened back up and gave our staff a round of applause she was so appreciative of the service she received. Those are the stories I hear that make me extremely proud of our staff and their agility.

What is your best advice for individuals and for businesses trying to help or serve their communities well?

Adapt, but also remember what you should be focused on. For us, it’s all about our customers and shareholders. That’s who we are delivering for and, no matter what happens around us, that’s our guiding light. This time has taught us well: It’s important to be flexible and be able to pivot when necessary, but you have to have a solid foundation to fall back on. 

What are some of the most impactful nonprofits or civic institutions Wintrust has supported during the pandemic?

Economic/Neighborhood/Community Development

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC): LISC connects communities with valuable resources to help build homes, businesses and schools among other public needs. Since 1979, LISC has invested $22 billion in local neighborhoods. LISC is a strong reflection of Wintrust’s support of economic development in Chicago communities. 

Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI): Focused on distressed Chicago neighborhoods like Pullman and Englewood, CNI collects resources to help build economic activity. In total, 117 small businesses have received micro loans through CNI. Wintrust and CNI have had a long-term partnership to aid South Side individuals and businesses. 

My Block, My Hood, My City: My Block, My Hood, My City is a grassroots organization that teaches underprivileged youth awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood. The organization has a newer, emerging partnership with Wintrust. On this year’s Juneteenth, My Block, My Hood, My City was the highest grossing organization of Wintrust employees Match Pilot Initiative. 


Boys Hope Girls HopeMore than a college-readiness program, Boys Hope Girls Hope helps high school students break through the vicious cycle of poverty. Wintrust’s collaboration with Boys Hope Girls Hope reflects the company’s strong support of education and anti-poverty among youth.

Metropolitan Family Services: Serving more than 93,000 families across the Chicagoland area, Metropolitan Family Services advocates for healthy familial relationships. A Wintrust board member, Metropolitan Family Services reflects Wintrust’s values of supporting families and children.

HFS Chicago Scholars: HFS Chicago Scholars provides underserved Chicago high school students rich academic resources to succeed beyond high school. HFS Chicago Scholars implements a lifelong mentorship and college readiness programs and provides financial aid to Chicago colleges.

City Year Chicago: City Year Chicago knows that many Chicago Public School students lack access to the right educational tools due to systemic inequality. Wintrust is a proud partner of City Year, helping support equal education for all students.

Metropolitan YMCA: YMCA Chicago is the recipient of a large grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank COVID funding and a Wintrust board member. Additionally, Wintrust is a strong supporter of the YMCA Chicago for serving first responders during the crisis.

What your hopes and your predictions for the coming year?

It feels hard to predict anything right now. Who could have seen any of what this year has brought us? I will say, it’s going to be interesting. And, likely, challenging for a while longer. I’m predicting a vaccine, hopefully soon, but it will probably still take a year to get it out. A lot will depend on what happens with the election in November. That will have a big impact on where we go from here, but if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that America is resilient. My hope is that we’ll come out of this stronger than ever. 

Cubs or White Sox?

Wintrust on display at the White Sox

You know, I have a strong allegiance to the Cubs, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the White Sox. They’re having a great year. My picture is in one of the seats behind home plate, so I think I must have given them some good mojo! 

Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards

PhilanthropistEach year, in honor of National Philanthropy Day, we announce the winners with a live-blogged roadshow. Please watch this year on November 14 through your social network.

Winners earn compelling fundraising content—videos, articles, connections—which brings to life their missions and proves that donated dollars are well spent. They also receive expert advice on how to use this content to improve their fundraising and grow their own network. We celebrate them at our annual spring gala—an Oscars-like, red carpet star moment.

PhilanthropistThis year, we also will celebrate the 2014 winners at our November 18th party in honor of the launch of our new site, the fifth anniversary of our magazine and new Chicago footprint. Better yet, this year’s winners will also earn proceeds from the Shop For Good section of our new site for an entire year. Please join us at the party- you can RSVP here.

Categories this year include:




Human Services

Most Improved Fundraising Award Social Justice

Audience Choice

Please watch for the winners on November 14 through your social media, come to our party November 18th, and look for ways our work can help you make the world a better place.

To learn more about our Philanthropy Awards, please contact:  Mindy Fauntleroy        Make It Better Foundation 847-256-4642 Mindy@makeitbetter.net


Every child deserves a good education, a safe, loving home and adequate health care. Every adult honestly trying to overcome difficulties and succeed in life does too. Many Americans believe this and want to help. They pay their blessings forward by starting or supporting nonprofits which help to accomplish these bold goals.

We love to identify, elevate and amplify nonprofits demonstrating best practices—as well as create connections and opportunities for collaboration. The more funders and effective nonprofits learn from and help each other, the faster every child and well-intentioned adult gets the help they deserve.Make It Better 2013 philanthropy awards

We started the Make It Better Foundation and our Philanthropy Awards to grow a network of venture philanthropists and social entrepreneurs as judges and sponsors of the awards (similar to the Academy of Judges for the Oscars) and to provide rocket-fuel support for the nonprofits they select.

Check out last years winners here. Please also subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the awards for 2014.

MLB Take Note of Jackie Robinson West

In a recent article interview about Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West winning the US Little League World Series Championship, Cubs President Theo Epstein wisely observed that the smartest thing Major League Baseball could do to reinviCubs owner Theo Epstein on MLBgorate interest in baseball is actively nurture more opportunities for kids like the JRW team. Theo is right.  And then some. Not only would MLB start developing the next generation of fans in the stands, it would immediately give more kids in difficult urban environments inspiring, safe places to put their time and energy.

And it would earn the League immense love within the communities where their teams play.Giving back to the cities that support their multimillion dollar businesses – by helping more kids play their sport and providing thoughtful additional resources like good information on nutrition and fitness – is the kind of virtuous circle that Make It Better loves to amplify.

If you can make this happen Theo – with just the Cubs or through all of MLB – we will help.

To learn more, please read this reprint of Theo’s interview with
| Get In Touch: @GDubCub | gwittenmyer@suntimes.com of the Chicago Sun Times:

I wanted to re-post the fantastic interview with the Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein and he view on the importance of the accomplishment by Jackie Robinson West on the the city of Chicago and the sport of baseball as a whole.

Jackie Robinson West Little League BaseballRePrint of Chicago Sun-Times Interview with Theo Epstein. I fully support his efforts and we will be involved in all initiatives moving forward.

Cubs’ Theo Epstein on JRW success: “It’s an important moment” for baseball

 Cubs president Theo Epstein, who joined other dignitaries and city officials at a rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West Little League champs at Millennium Park on Wednesday, sounded as caught up in the grip of their story as the rest of the city – and called it an “important moment” for professional baseball to heed.

“Just watching the whole city come together in support of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team was remarkable,” Epstein said. “I think anyone who watched that team play for an inning or two probably couldn’t help but watch the whole rest of the tournament. There was a sort of magnetic quality to that team.

“Probably the best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer – clearly from a baseball standpoint – was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side of Chicago.”

And he hopes that’s not lost on professional baseball officials who have spent years debating and brainstorming ways to reverse a generations-long trend of declining interest and participation in the sport among American kids, particularly African-Americans.

“At industry meetings and in lots of front offices around the game people ask the question how we can get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner city,” Epstein said. “And there’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that will be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, to make baseball cool again for young kids.”

MLB should take notice, he said.

“We really have to support them and capitalize on this moment and learn from what the Jackie Robinson West Little League has been doing effectively for four decades now—plus,” Epstein said. “Which is proactively go out to schools, find kids and sell them on the game of baseball, get them off the streets, get them learning from great mentors, playing together, learning about sportsmanship and competition and hard work and discipline and make them better people.

“The Jackie Robinson West Little League has made a positive impact on tens of thousands of kids over the years, and it’s really a model organization. We can all go to school on how they built their program.

“The more programs like that in cities across the country the better off we’ll be and the better off our industry will be.”


Back to School Time for City Year Chicago

For many of us, “back to school” means our children continue their outstanding educations in safe, clean, well supplied schools, under the guidance of spectacular teachers.

This is not so though foeducation philanthropy at back to school timer too many students in Chicago Public Schools.

The good news is that decades of concerted civic attention has created many opportunities for us to help.  Even better, Make It Better has given Philanthropy Awards to or worked with several of them too.  Because of this, you can trust that any donations of your talent, things or financial support will be well-spent. A few organizations we’ve been proud to work with include :

Bernie’s Book Bank and Literature For All Of Us, to name a few. It’s a good time to recognize the work that City Year is doing at this important back-to-school time.

City Year – Helping Chicago Public Schools

When you think that nearly a third of Chicago public school students from grade 3-9 are at risk to drop out, you know there a lot of work to be done.  City Year Chicago’s 206 highly skilled City Year Chicago corps members step in as near peer mentors and serve to keep students in school and on track. This is a mission that really shows results. I recently wrote about it for our Make It Better Magazine and feel passionate about the cause. Here are just a few mentioned on their website;

Our corps members serve students in 20 Chicago public schools and we continuously track and measure our impact. Here are the results from the previous school year:

Improved academics

89% of Chicago teachers say corps members improved their students’ overall academic performance.

Better grades

64% of students in grades 6 through 9 earning a D or worse, improved to a C or better.

More attendance

86% of principals felt confident corps members boosted school attendance.


Please consider supporting this impactful and extremely important organization by attending their Back to School Soiree 


More Details here;

Back to School Soiree!

Infused with energy from City Year’s red-jacketed AmeriCorps members, this one-of-a-kind event will celebrate the impact City Year Chicago has on the lives of students right here in Chicago.

Date: Friday, September 19th 2014 
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Location: The Library Club (190 S. LaSalle Street, 40th Floor Chicago, IL 60603)

For sponsorshop information and earlybird ticket rates, please visit the event registration page.

Please direct questions about the event and sponsorships to Nicole Camboni, Major Gifts Officer for City Year Chicago.


 Please keep us posted on the issues most important to you and your family. We always like to discover new way to help and make it better for yet another population in need.


Top Reasons to be a Not-for-Profit Partner with Make It Better

Not-for-Profits fundraising    I’m sharing a letter I sent out to all of our not-for-profit partners , sharing the great news about our progress. Please read and share with your charitable organization so we can do more for more charities.

Thank you for working with Make It Better in the past. We hope to be even more helpful to your important work going forward. You are important to us.

Since our inception, we’ve been working tirelessly to fulfill our mission to be the most trusted, easiest-to-use community resource – online, in print and in person. We’re delighted to announce that, due to our great success, we are continuing to grow, and this fall, we will launch a spectacular new website.

We’re equally proud of our stats:

  • 60,000+ homes receive our monthly magazine, for an average of 200,000 readers who value and act on the content (subscribe at LINK:[ http://www.makeitbetter.net/print-magazine%5D
  • 115,000+ unique page views per month at makeitbetter.net
  • 27,000+ Better Letter email newsletters delivered semiweekly (please sign up at makeitbetter.net/email-newsletter to receive yours)
  • 70,000 views of MIB TV videos at YouTube
  • 8,000+ total social network followers

Most importantly:

  • $3,589,886 raised for nonprofits as of July, 1, 2014.

We’re also delighted to announce that, in her new role as Advertising Account Executive, Denise Borkowski will continue to work with our not-for-profit partners on media sponsorships, event planning and advertising.

Here’s how we can help your organization grow, too. Start planning now for 2015:

  1. Events calendar, OpEd and You Said It submissions.

We welcome all Events Calendar and OpEd submissions. Comments you send via any channel (email, phone call, social network, letter,) may be included in our You Said It section of the magazine as well. Please Contact Us.

  1. Be included in our annual Guide To Giving.

Our charitably inclined audience particularly focuses on giving near the holidays. Therefore, we publish and highlight our annual Guide To Giving every November and December. To learn more about our Guide to Giving and other advertising opportunities, please call Denise Borkwoski at (847) 256-4642 or email her at Denise@makeitbetter.net.

  1. Apply for a Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award.

Applications accepted online from now through September 15, 2014. Our Philanthropy Awards are presented on November 14, to coincide with National Philanthropy Day. Winners will receive the following:

– Television-production quality four to five minute marketing video

– Editorial inclusion across Make It Better’s multiple platforms:

  • Better Letter email newsletter, sent to 27,000 opt-in subscribers
  • Make It Better magazine, sent to 60,000 homes
  • Make It Better website

– Exclusive training in philanthropic best practices to assist in promoting the new video

– Contributions from Make It Better’s Shop for Good proceeds

  1. Earn a Make It Better media sponsorship for your nonprofit’s next fundraiser by taking our fun and informative “How To Raise More $$ For Your Favorite Nonprofit” class.

Register for our “How To Raise More $$” class and learn how to maximize the fundraising tools embedded in our media sponsorships, while you improve your tech, networking and fundraising skills. That’s a win/win/win for you, your volunteers and potential sponsors.

For more information, contact Denise Borkowski at Denise@makeitbetter.net

  1. Be connected with a significant Make It Better for-profit advertiser.We love creating virtuous circles that connect nonprofits, businesses and our audience; so, we enthusiastically amplify the nonprofit relationships of our best marketing partners. These include event media sponsorships, placement in Shop For Good (launching with our new site in September), Better Makers coverage and many other activities.

6. Be our guests at two fantastic events.

Our Best Of 2014 celebration and concert at the Chicago Botanic Garden on August 26.

Finally, The launch of our new website on October 2 at a location soon to be announced. These will not only be great free parties, they also will be outstanding opportunities for you to network.

Please don’t wait. Send us your upcoming events, join our Guide To Giving, attend our events, take our classes, promote your NFP on our media channels and apply for our Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award.

Again, you are important to us. We hope to be even more important to you.

 Warm Regards,  Susan Noyes


$3,000,000.00 raised for nonprofits!!

As of Feb 28, 2014, Make It Better has officially raised $3,009,451 for nonprofits.

Thank you to the Make It Better staff, readers, advertisers and nonprofit partners. It has been a great pleasure growing a valuable and effective community resource with you.

You are officially invited to the $4 million party. Our goal is to have it by National Philanthropy Day, November 15, this year.