Friday, October 25, 2019

Reflections on Philanthropy

Twenty-two years ago, I was hired to lead an organization created by Virginia Brazeau and the R.S. Brazeau Family Foundation – South Wood County Community Foundation – known today as Incourage.  Virginia’s vision of an organization designed to meet the changing needs of the community and philanthropy that was by the people, for the people was intriguing to me.

As I close out my final days at Incourage and reflect on what I have experienced and learned, I am reminded of a 2014 talk by Ambassador James Joseph.  His comments were inspiring, thought provoking, and genuine.  I remember one quote in particular and in fact, I have carried it with me for the past five years.  It ends most every presentation I have given in recent years, inspires me, and challenges me.  It embodies what I have come to learn and understand as the true meaning of philanthropy.  He said,

When neighbors help neighbors, and even when strangers help strangers, both those who help and those who are helped are transformed. When that which was their problem becomes our problem, there is a new connectedness and new forms of community are possible.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  “When that which was their problem becomes our problem”…not a problem we have to fund or fix; but rather a problem that is shared, a problem that demands a solution crafted through a common understanding of the issues and of what is at stake, a problem that will only be eliminated when we recognize that our personal future is intertwined in the future of others.

These ideas have important implications for the future of philanthropy.  Philanthropy must be about more than money.  It is not a transaction or transfer of wealth from the haves to the have nots.  It is not about doing to or for.  Rather, philanthropy is about doing with, doing together, and doing alongside.  At its core, philanthropy is about love and relationship; and community philanthropy is about love of each other and this place.

Together, over the past 22 years, we have done some remarkable things in this community.  We inspired innovation, challenged the status quo, and collectively discovered new ways forward in the face of significant economic disruption.  These experiences have helped us grow in our understanding of community, our appreciation for diverse viewpoints and perspectives, our sensitivity to implicit bias, and our understanding of love and kindness.   I have had the privilege to participate in and witness the power of building trusting relationships based in love for each other and our community.

I am hopeful that these experiences have shaped how we think about the future, particularly because the issues that face communities – including ours – are challenging, contentious, and dare I say, divisive.  It is only when we fully embrace problems such as income inequality, poverty, food insecurity, and environmental degradation as collective problems, problems that belong to us all, that we will make headway in creating a community that works well for all.

I continue to be hopeful and inspired by a new generation of people in our community – and our nation – who expect to be part of the solution to challenge and to capitalize on opportunities.  People who are committed to doing with, and who recognize philanthropy as an expression of love, of value, of faith, and hope in humankind. 

It has been an honor and a privilege to have spent the last 22 years stewarding Virginia Brazeau’s vision.  I am a better person for having had this experience and leave this position with gratitude and deep appreciation to all who have shared the journey.


Monday, August 26, 2019

New national focus to redefine corporate purpose resonates with work in place at Incourage

Where just last week more than 200 CEOs of world-leading corporations committed to redefine their corporate purpose, in 2014 Incourage committed to align all assets to pursue our core purpose of co-creating an inclusive, adaptive and sustainable community. The newest way we are doing this is through an active ownership practice that we call Place-Based Shareholder Engagement. Our strategy includes engaging with publicly traded firms that impact our regional and state economy.

Today, Aspen Institute published “Place-based Shareholder Engagement: Where Community and Corporate Purpose Meet” featuring Incourage. Along with our national partners mentioned in this blog, we hope that our efforts will help to establish a productive dialogue and collaboration with the nation’s CEOs committed to a new vision of capitalism that benefits stakeholders as well as shareholders.

As always, if you would like to learn more about our work and the impact we are having here, please contact us directly at

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Co-creating a blueprint for a sustainable community

On behalf of Incourage staff and board, I am excited to share information about an initiative we launched this week, with support from Nathan Cummings Foundation, which we hope will make a powerful contribution to the future of our community: Incourage is convening a diverse circle of residents from our region to form the Sustainable Communities Working Group. This group will engage residents across our community to co-create a “blueprint” for the sustainable community that our region can become.  

Incourage is committed to ensuring that this endeavor is not merely a thought exercise that results in nothing more than words on paper. We will turn the blueprint into real-world action: Incourage is ready to be bold in offering new funding possibilities specifically designed to resource this blueprint created by our community  blending grant, investment and other forms of capital and support, to bring this blueprint to life. 

The blueprint will also inform the priorities and direction for the newly announced Partnership for Sustainable Communities of Incourage and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a center for thought-leadership and action on sustainable communities that is the first of its kind in the state.

Realizing the power of our potential is at the heart of what inspires Incourage to keep pushing the envelope of what is possible in our region, and to continue to explore what our role should be as a community foundation operating by and for the people. 

We are honored to work with 22 thoughtful, dedicated community members who have accepted the invitation to come together toward the shared goal of envisioning a sustainable future for our region. We also look forward to the input and insight that the Working Group members will gather from the intentional conversations they will host with colleagues, neighbors, classmates, clients, and others. Together, we envision a blueprint that represents the ideas, hopes, and priorities of many people across our community.

To help design a process of cutting-edge co-creation, Incourage is collaborating with Joanna Cea and Jess Rimington, whose work and research as Visiting Scholars at Stanford University’s Global Projects Center is represented in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article, Creating Breakout Innovation, and focuses on collaborative processes for community transformation. Together - with Incourage - they will facilitate a process that places residents in the driver's seat to identify a set of practices to realize our community’s vision of a sustainable future.

When I think about us expanding our horizon and looking toward our community’s future, I think of the reaction we enjoy when taking people to the roof of the Tribune for the first time. The rooftop view of the riverfront and downtown invokes awe-inspired comments and vision; seeding conversations about possibility. It is a similar feeling of potential we hope the “blueprint” will spark in setting our collective sights high for what is possible with the future of our community. 

Our staff and board are very excited for the co-creative process ahead. We are committed to learning from and acting on the reflections and recommendations that emerge  making the blueprint as impactful as it can be.  

If you are interested in joining the conversations about this blueprint and sharing your own ideas, please reach out. You can email me at, or Heather McKellips at, or call us at 715.423.3863.

Thanks for reading and for your interest in our shared, sustainable future!