Billy Feitlinger: CSW Is Philanthropy at Its Best

From the Cap Times, December 16, 2009

We all want our donations to fund good work and achieve admirable goals.

As a longtime supporter of Community Shares of Wisconsin, I know that for decades now they’ve been on the cutting edge of long-term change in our community.

I also thought of Community Shares recently when I read guidelines from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. The guidelines, “Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best,” help donors think through an organization’s effectiveness in grant-making and support of nonprofits. Community Shares of Wisconsin clearly aligns with three important criteria in the guidelines:

No. 1: Gives at least 50 percent of its grant money to benefit lower-income communities and other marginalized groups, and at least 25 percent of its money for advocacy, organizing and civic engagement.

For Community Shares of Wisconsin, the percentage of money in both categories is higher, which is a testament to its commitment to mission. It’s also an indication of the necessary work done by and on behalf of marginalized groups that are part of Community Shares.

For example, many of CSW’s 51 member nonprofits, like Project Home or Housing Initiatives, serve low-income people. Just as important are the CSW nonprofits working for or with marginalized groups including people with disabilities and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

No. 2: Invests in the health, growth and effectiveness of its nonprofit partners — for example, by giving funds for general operating support.

Clearly, having operating funds is essential if a nonprofit is going to effectively work on mission and programs. Operating funds help nonprofits grow — and pay the rent, provide staff salaries, and pay the utility bills. CSW has always believed that its member nonprofits know best how to spend their funds. Because CSW does not tie any of its funding to specific projects, its nonprofit groups are able to use funding for their most critical needs, whether it’s service, advocacy or fixing the leaky roof.

No. 3: Demonstrates ethics through accountability and transparency to the public.

The report mentions exemplary grant-making, board diversity, a board that serves without pay, and a focus on building public trust. In all of these areas Community Shares exceeds these ethics benchmarks.

Community Shares of Wisconsin has been on my radar screen since I was first working on social change issues in Madison in the early 1970s — when it was difficult to find long-term funding. CSW was there to provide financial help.

Later, when I was on the Madison City Council, I was also keenly aware that city funding — at times provided to nonprofits like Common Wealth Development — could be used only for very specific projects. But CSW was there with funding for operations, to leverage what these nonprofits received from foundations, the city or the county.

I personally appreciate the fact that if you want to give through Community Shares — to ABC for Health, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, or Nuestro Mundo Inc., to name just a few — 100 percent of your donation is passed on to those nonprofits.

Seeing these guidelines confirmed for me that Community Shares provides opportunities to support our local nonprofits, to strengthen our community, and to improve our quality of life.

Now, about 35 years after I gave my first donation, they’re still getting my support.

Billy Feitlinger is a former member of the Madison City Council.

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