Our History

It was 1971. The country was deeply divided over the Vietnam War, as well as civil rights and racial issues here at home.

But rather than becoming disillusioned to the point of complacency, a handful of people in Madison started down the path of community activism. And in the process they created the Madison Sustaining Fund–which we know today as Community Shares of Wisconsin.

These volunteers found that sometimes substantial change simply couldn’t happen by working within society’s existing framework. They realized that to achieve justice, they needed to alter the framework.

  • They saw that some landlords were running roughshod over low-income tenants—so they instituted Fair Housing Reform laws.
  • They were disturbed about air pollution—so they led the way in getting limits on hazardous air emissions in Wisconsin.
  • They saw how often lesbians and gays faced discrimination—so they offered counseling to and advocacy for LGBTs long before it was common in other cities.
  • They recognized how many low-income people lacked medical care—so they founded a free medical clinic on wheels.

Our Video: What Does 40 Years of Change Look Like?

Community Shares of Wisconsin (the nation’s first social action fund) created a brief 40 Years of Change video about the work of some of our current and past member nonprofits. Clearly our lives would be different if it weren’t for their work!

Our Work on the Front Lines Continues

Over more than 40 years, this handful of activists has been joined by thousands more—all working together as part of Community Shares of Wisconsin, and all continuing to change the framework in order to improve people’s lives. Likewise, the number of Community Shares’ nonprofits working on the front lines has grown from 15 in 1971 to over 60 today.

Community Shares of Wisconsin—the nation’s oldest social action fund.