As Community Shares of Wisconsin marks its fiftieth anniversary, we asked Candace Weber, who received the Founders Award, to discuss the organization and its work through the years.
Describe the origins of Community Shares of Wisconsin.
We started the Madison Sustaining Fund in 1971 as a way to continue our social justice work beyond the bail fund established for anti-war protestors. The goal was to help small forward-thinking nonprofit organizations support their work. The group of 8 or so nonprofits developed a collective structure that functions to this day, with decisions made by consensus. Each organization had an equal voice in determining what was important.
Three of us became the first staff, and we kept books, organized fundraising events, and put out a newsletter. Several small businesses and co-ops supported the Fund, including Green Lantern, Mifflin Street Co-op, WSA Community Pharmacy, Soap Opera, and Yellow Jersey. A big part of the job was collecting community CHIP funds from jars near cash registers in area businesses, wrapping the coins in coin roll wrappers, and making sure the funds went to the designated organization. This was the precursor to today’s Community CHIP® Program.
You say Community Shares allows everyone to be a philanthropist. Why is that important?
A lot of young people felt very powerless fifty years ago, and found that coming together helped us become more powerful. This is still true. If we come together as a group, a community, we can make meaningful change.
We’re always in a place where we can see that there’s change required. That’s been my life experience. What change we’re able to make can be very incremental. Sometimes just giving that $10, $20, or $100 makes it easier for that change to happen. So when we look at an organization like Freedom Inc. and we look at their leadership it is very encouraging to me to be able to send my small donation to them. When they first applied to be a member of Community Shares I was lucky enough to be on the interview committee and got to meet those incredible young women and know they were going to make a difference. Being able to give a small amount based on your ability means their work can go on, as can the work of so many other Community Shares organizations.
Why is local giving so important?
I feel most powerful when the money I give goes to organizations whose work I know. I have been, and remain, a firm believer that change happens from the ground up. Local change is going to be substantial and real. My contribution can mean change for my community and my neighbor. Grassroots work is work that allows the trees to grow.
How does the unique collective framework of Community Shares of Wisconsin benefit the member nonprofits?
Access to other member groups and the work that they’re doing gives each group an opportunity that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t part of Community Shares of Wisconsin. There are valuable connections made between groups, and leaders learn about the opportunities that exist outside their organization.
This collective organization is also a model for the kind of house we want to build. A place where everyone can participate fully, and where we encourage everyone to walk in the door. Community Shares of Wisconsin has never given up on each organization having a full vote in establishing the group’s goals. That model offers a window into a way of life that’s better, more sustainable, and more egalitarian.
What advice would you give to people yearning for change?
Don’t stop; change takes time. I think of the local people who continue to give their small amount of money, or speak up when they see an injustice, or protest, or volunteer. They continue to do this work to make sure the work they’ve already done doesn’t slide into the abyss, and to ensure we keep moving forward. Those people don’t get celebrated enough, but it’s understood that the member organizations are standing on the shoulders of these local individuals. Their continued commitment helps the organizations do this important work.