In 1971, Madison peace activists established the Community CHIP® program to support local, grassroots nonprofits. That momentous action was the founding of what is known today as Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW). Thanks to the innovative work of these activists, CSW has the distinction of being the nation’s first social action fund.
And what does that mean? Social justice is working for structural change on behalf of “those who are the least well off politically, economically, and socially,” according to the Foundation Center.
“Giving funding and other support to nonprofits that do this type of work has been CSW’s guiding mission since day one,” said Crystel Anders, CSW Executive Director. “Changing our social structure to benefit all people, and especially the marginalized, is what our members strive to do each day. And though we have other funding sources today, the Community CHIP program remains a significant source of revenue for us.”
From $300 to $900,000 Annually
In our first year, CSW distributed $300 to 10 member groups. We’ve come a longway since then, raising over $900,000 for our nearly 70 groups last year.
And co-ops like Willy Street Co-op have always been critical partners to CSW. In fact before CSW embraced workplace giving—and now The Big Share™ online giving day—to raise funds for our groups, some of the funds came from UW-Madison campus movies and cultural events.
All the remaining funding in CSW’s infancy came from local co-ops. An example was the Green Lantern Eating Cooperative, which had been in Madison since the Depression era.
In those early days CSW’s member groups included RPM Printing Co-op, Madison Consumer’s League, Blue Bus (a healthcare group), the People’s Office (a telephone counseling service), Freedom House Free School, and the Wisconsin Alliance.
One group, Tenant Resource Center as it’s known now, has been with us since the beginning. Other early member groups—which are still members today—include Rape Crisis Center, Common Wealth, and OutReach LGBT Community Center.
Steve Starkey, Executive Director of OutReach, noted that he’s been involved with CSW for 34 years. “I was involved first with OUT!, an LGBT newspaper and CSW member group 1982-1987; then when I worked with former member group Wisconsin Community Fund 1986-2006; and now for the last 10 years with OutReach.
“As a donor, volunteer, and CSW board member all of those years,” Starkey said, “I know the value of supporting nearly 70 great nonprofits by giving to CSW—while making our state a better place to live and work.”
Anders noted that many of the causes that CSW took up in its early years, though mainstream now, were controversial at the time. “Sexual assault, domestic violence, and LGBT equality were considered too controversial for other funders to support. That’s the nature of supporting grassroots groups.
“Grassroots groups tend to emerge in response to injustices that aren’t being addressed by our society. All of our groups—from League of Women Voters of Wisconsin to the Center for Family Policy and Practice—have an advocacy component to ensure that systems are fair, and to change those that are not. Another common priority for our groups is to empower those who are marginalized, and who are not typically included in policy decisions.
“Empowerment and advocacy go hand in hand. Because it’s only by changing policies, laws, and minds that our groups create lasting change,” Anders noted.
Embracing environmental justice nonprofits has been another way that CSW propels positive change that benefits us all. In its first decade CSW’s focus was more directed toward social justice.
“We welcomed the move, in the 1980s, when CSW began including environmental justice groups,” said Denny Caneff, long-time CSW board member and Executive Director of River Alliance of Wisconsin. “That funding from CSW has always been so important, in part because it’s flexible funding. When a nonprofit receives money that’s not tied to a specific project—which is rare—it allows us to use the funds for greatest need.”
Willy Street Co-op has been a critical Community CHIP supporter of Community Shares’ groups since 1978, just four years after the Co-op was founded. In 2008 Willy Street Co-op became the sole CHIP site because of its dedication to helping fund CSW groups.
As Times Change, CSW’s Leadership Remains Strong
“I feel so lucky to continue the work that was started 45 years ago!” said CSW Board President, Emily Dickmann. “CSW has always been pushing the envelope to fight for causes that impact those most vulnerable in our society. I see that with the group I represent on our CSW board, GSAFE. CSW builds awareness and provides donors the opportunity to address needs that go unnoticed without advocacy.”
Our member groups are the community’s leaders in grassroots organizing. And Dickmann stated that she “hopes that we will make real and powerful change regarding racial justice in our community. Thanks to groups like Freedom Inc., which challenges the root causes of violence, racism, and poverty, and Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, with its Race to Equity report, we are shining a light on injustice.”
Dickmann also pointed to the Co-op’s role, noting that “The Co-op has a key part in funding this work. I love shopping at the Co-op because of its support for our groups through the Community CHIP program. Each time I’m there and the cashier asks ‘Would you like to CHIP?,’ I am reminded of how little contributions like mine add up to significant change.”
Anders mentioned that “All of our groups make progress in their own ways—whether it is related to families, housing, the environment, or those who are disabled. When I think of the remarkable progress that we’ve seen thanks to the work of our member groups, it reminds me of the African proverb ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’
“The way we move forward, to greater equality,is with a large contingent of people committed to positive change,” Anders said in conclusion. “We look forward to what we all can achieve—together—in the coming decades.
“And thank you to the Co-op for partnering with us for nearly all of our 45 years!”
To see how CSW groups helped improve our community and our state in our first few decades, visit http://www.communityshares.com/about/our-videos. To see recent examples of our member groups’ successful work, you can visit www.communityshares.com/member-nonprofits/recent-results. And you can look at each month’s Community CHIP ad in the Reader for updated examples of our groups’ work.