The Advocates: Cultivating a Culture of Corporate Philanthropy 

In his lifetime, Charles Matthews’ career has taken him and his family around the United States and beyond. Though his title and coordinates have changed, his commitment to serving as a philanthropic leader in the workplace hasn’t.

Serving as president and chief executive officer of Peoples Energy, Charles oversees the daily operations, strategy, growth and administrative activities of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas. Together, the two utilities distribute natural gas to more than 1 million residents in Chicago and the northern suburbs.

Since he took the helm in 2015, Charles has served with a sense of personal and corporate responsibility at the forefront of his mind. A member of United Way’s Tocqueville Society, a global membership organization of community leaders and philanthropists, Charles’ embodies Alexis de Tocqueville’s belief that in order to create a vibrant civil society, people must join forces for a mutual purpose.

In his case, Charles utilizes his leadership position to cultivate a culture of corporate philanthropy that advances solutions to Chicago residents’ most pressing problems.

“I have been committed to United Way my entire career,” Charles said. “I’ve been fortunate that every step of the way, the corporations I’ve worked for have supported and matched my commitment to United Way. It’s part of my corporate DNA.”

A team effort

A native of Macon, Georgia, Charles has had a wildly successful career in the energy and utility industry. Earning degrees from Talladega College and Atlanta University, Charles ventured into the industry in the early 1980s.

Since, he’s worked and resided in New Orleans, Jamaica and Wisconsin, where he served on the board of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. Four years ago, he uprooted and settled down in the Windy City to run Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas.

Among other internal enhancements, Charles quickly urged his new team at Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas to amplify their culture of giving, especially to United Way.

“If you look at the breadth of the organization – the programs in education, income and health – those are the things I personally support to improve our neighborhoods,” Charles said. “It’s no coincidence that Peoples Energy also supports those programs to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve.”

“United Way also makes giving an efficient process for us,” he added. “We don’t have to go out and find different partner agencies that can deliver the best results. We can rely on United Way’s depth of experience and history of supporting the best of the best of those organizations.”

To demonstrate his dedication to corporate philanthropy, he set the stakes high.  “I knew that we needed to make a bigger commitment to the community,” Charles said of his charge to employees. “The commitment was to move into the Top 25 contributors to United Way.”

Under his leadership, Peoples Gas reached, and even surpassed, that milestone, nearly doubling its corporate contribution to United Way of Metro Chicago between 2015 and 2018.

Beyond the boardroom

In his few years in Chicago, a place where he loves to see Broadway plays and explore new restaurants, Charles has made a commitment to the city that extends beyond his office. He’s dedicated to helping shape the Windy City into a place where all can live safe, healthy lives.

That’s evident in his support of United Way and his service as a board member of the Chicago Urban League, Navy Pier, Ounce of Prevention Fund and Economic Club of Chicago.

And though there is still much work to be done, Charles is encouraged by the strides United Way of Metro Chicago and our partner agencies are making across the region, especially in our Little Village Neighborhood Network, where Peoples Gas has greatly invested both money and new company infrastructure.

“There are too many neighborhoods where every day challenges in education, health and income still exist,” Charles said. “United Way is still the one that stands at the top at addressing those challenges.”


Are you interested in deepening your commitment to United Way of Metro Chicago this new year? When you join the Tocqueville Society, you demonstrate your leadership and dedication to building stronger neighborhoods for a stronger Chicago region, all while accessing one-of-a-kind membership benefits. Learn more!


Inside Chicago’s Neighborhoods with Andrea Zopp

On Tuesday, members of our United Way of Metro Chicago’s Tocqueville Society were invited to a breakfast with Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp to discuss the challenges and assets in Chicago’s neighborhoods. “The single biggest challenge facing our neighborhoods is gun violence,” Deputy Mayor Zopp said. “We have to interrupt the violence and deal with it.”

When discussing United Way of Metro Chicago’s Neighborhood Network Initiative, Deputy Mayor Zopp noted that we are on the right track. “The only way to create sustainable change in our city is to go deep into neighborhoods, working with residents and community organizations, the way United Way is doing.”

Neighborhoods like the ones we work in every day—Austin, Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville, Brighton Park, Cicero, Evanston, Little Village, Robbins/Blue Island, South Chicago and West Chicago—have strong community-based organizations doing tremendous work. In addition, they have growing groups of engaged citizens that are committed to lasting change.

“If you can provide stability in a neighborhood they will come through and thrive on their own,” the deputy mayor said. “The work in neighborhoods allows people to have their own stake in changing the place they live.”

To tackle these challenges, Deputy Mayor Zopp encourages residents across the region to recognize the vibrancy in our most challenged neighborhoods and be willing to work together. “Being optimistic and focused can be hard work. We have to stay focused on the good things,” she said. “Dealing with gun violence is hard. Inequity is a hard issue. That doesn’t mean we can’t come together and work on it.”

She went even further to call on corporate and civic leaders to take action, too. “If we have significant areas in the city that are not thriving it impacts all of us—we pay for it in a variety of ways. It is worth it for all of us to think about how we invest in those areas.”

To learn more about United Way’s Tocqueville Society, visit