CSW: 45 Years of Partnering with Grassroots Nonprofits

board members 2014 - closeup

Welcome to Community Shares of Wisconsin’s (CSW’s) blog—”Inspiring Voices”—as we celebrate 45 years! During that time we have distributed $16.5 million to support nonprofits that focus on action and advocacy.

As the nation’s first social action fund, CSW stands apart from many other funders:

  • We have a cooperative model—all of our 66 member groups hold a seat on the board and direct our programs and services.
  • All of our groups advocate in some way for social and environmental justice.
  • We build partnerships with our member groups and connect them with donors—because movements for change are most effective when donors are involved with the work.
  • We support organizations, not projects.  We give  general operating funds, because we trust our groups  to know best how to use the money.

CSW Board of Directors at a recent meeting

CSW Board of Directors at a recent meeting

“Our principles as a funder are a reflection of our values since our earliest days in 1971,” said Crystel Anders, Executive Director since 1994 and CSW staff member since 1992. “Together with our member groups, we continue to build a movement for fairness and justice.

“And because movements move, we offer flexible funding. We don’t tie the funds to certain projects because nonprofits’ work evolves over time. We’ve created a partnership with our member groups that is built on mutual trust and deepens over time.”

CSW member group Freedom Inc.

CSW member group Freedom Inc.

The importance of CSW’s principles are echoed in recent articles in leading research journals. A 2016 Stanford Social Innovation Review noted that flexible funding needs to “adapt to the movement as it evolves.”  The importance of partnership is noted in a Grassroots Fundraising Journal piece, saying that trust is key to “movements’ relationships to . . . institutional funders. When there is trust, resources move more quickly and . . . giving is not directly tied to outcomes.”

The latter article also pointed out the importance of funding work toward racial equality. “We in philanthropy need to commit to funding racial justice work.”

Toward that end, and as a pilot project for our 45th anniversary, we will feature a number of inspiring local grassroots efforts to reduce racial inequality. You can learn more about them in blog entries, on social media, and in our e-news, Voices of Change.

Quote - Social change does not fit an algorithmWe hope that by featuring these groups, others in the community will learn about their work and choose to support them. The majority of these groups were founded by people of color to advance racial justice. Groups like Mentoring Positives, and Positive Women for Change, are doing critical work. “But they could do so much more with added support from individual donors,” said Anders. “That is why we are featuring them, and hoping that our supporters will be inspired to connect with them.”

Anders added that it’s essential to support innovative, emerging grassroots groups that empower the people affected by some form of injustice. “As these groups grow in strength and leadership, they address social problems and bring us closer to equity and equality for all.”