Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Yes! We have an ‘Agenda’.

In recent weeks and with increasing frequency, I’ve heard “You [Incourage] have an agenda.” Sometimes stated directly, sometimes indirectly and most frequently in reference to the Tribune Building project. To affect the magnitude of social change necessary needed in our communities, I say, “Absolutely.  Yes! We have an ‘agenda’.” And over the past decade, this ‘agenda’ has become crystal clear.

Incourage’s vision is of a community that works well for all people. Not just a select few. Our ‘agenda’ is to ensure residents have access to the tools, knowledge and support necessary to live a life with meaning and dignity.  To have access to opportunity regardless of past experiences, ideology, or ‘station in life’ in order to shape the future – our shared future – and a new economy. This means every person has the opportunity, ability (and responsibility) to participate, contribute solutions, and make decisions.

We do not accept ‘business as usual’. The time has changed and a business as usual approach – one where entitlement is accepted, operations go unexamined, and traditional gifts are distributed paternalistically – no longer works here.

Many south Wood County area residents have worked hard to find their voice, and have enjoyed sharing it with others for common good. And each day, more residents join in the movement. Incourage is committed to supporting this positive momentum. To continue investing in our neighbors and this place.

As we close 2014, I invite you to learn more about our accomplishments this past year. Visit to see Team Incourage and residents in action, working together, to shape a new economy and a community that works well for all.

Looking ahead to 2015, I offer you a glimpse at three items we’re working on for the new year:

  • Tribune Building Project – A social enterprise, construction will commence and entrepreneurial opportunities will be introduced to the space this year. Incourage is committed to investing in the people who will inhabit the space as much as the functional space needed for production of their goods and services, thereby growing both human talent and our economy simultaneously.
  • Igniting Networks – Connecting individuals, businesses and organizations for community benefit is something we’ve successfully accomplished through the Tribune Building Project in 2014. This coming year, expect to see expanded efforts to deepen these connections, while we work to ignite new networks. The next opportunity to engage is January 27. Contact us to learn more and RSVP.
  • Operating Model – We’ve committed to align every dollar that comes in the door to achieving the greatest impact in our community that will advance our vision.  This means changing the way we think about investments, grantmaking and vendor choice.  It also means rethinking how we align and leverage our nonmonetary assets.  This operating model will be the evolution of our intentional work thus far. To help us accelerate our vision, we have the good fortune of partnering with the FB Heron Foundation ( to engage Next Street ( in developing the new operating model.

Incourage is a values-based organization. We value equity, inclusion and opportunity. As a community, we shouldn’t settle for anything less than authentic conversations about inequity. Because, every person in this place matters to us. What is important to you? Does ‘a community that works well for all people’ resonate with you? Join us.

In 2015, live Incourage. You’ll find us doing the same – as we have for the past 20 years. Wishing you health and every happiness in this New Year!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Movement Underway

A core element of Incourage’s strategy to engage residents is the gathering and sharing of reliable information through easily accessible means.

On November 20, during an interactive community event, we debuted our fourth issue of Vital Signs. Developed in partnership with Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Vital Signs includes rich data and comparative examples to support informed discussions. This is our most robust issue yet.

As expressed during the Vital Signs event, I believe we have a shared destiny. We are connected, by virtue of sharing the same place. And, we need to intentionally think about each person who lives here, because every single person matters.

As a community, we have a moral imperative to help each person realize their full potential. Some of the information presented in this issue of Vital Signs bears out that fact.

During this event it became clear. Residents’ desire to engage more deeply is growing. No longer is there a question of receptiveness. Instead, among many, it has become a matter of ‘what more can I learn?’. Residents are leaning forward, offering new ideas and making commitments to continue connecting beyond the event.

Experiencing this shift was a validation of our work – a 14-year journey to foster a participatory culture where residents are central to the decision-making process.

A movement is underway in south Wood County. But we know this is a long-term journey and are deeply grateful to those engaged residents, businesses and organizations that made the Vital Signs event the success that it was.

I know our founder, visionary philanthropist Virginia Brazeau, would be very proud of the work being accomplished in our community, today. As would Ruth & Hartley Barker and Gilbert & Jaylee Mead who advanced Virginia’s vision, by also investing in Incourage’s operations. Especially in this season of thanks, I’m grateful to these individuals for their many gifts, including their demonstration of courage.

I’d like to also thank our neighbors and again, those who attended the Vital Signs event. Our permanent commitment is to you, this place, and our shared future. Thank you, for walking alongside us in the journey to realize a community that works well for all people.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting Capitals – Incourage is ready for the next century

This week, as I join my peers from across the world at the Council on Foundations (COF) annual conference, we celebrate an industry milestone. In 1914, the first community foundation was established in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, a century later it is clear that the community foundation field is changing as much as the people we serve and the places in which we operate. Yet, how many community foundations, committed to change as they may be, are truly ready for the next century?

Incourage, with more than a decade invested in shaping a new economy, is on the path forward in a very bold way. Today, we’ve become more than a community foundation. Engaging residents in a participatory culture, while leveraging financial and intellectual resources from beyond our place, we’ve become a community development organization as well. And as we hold our neighbors in trust, they too trust that all we do is in furtherance of a community that works well for all people. Guided by our values of equity, inclusion and opportunity we are moving vision to action, starting from within.
Earlier this year, Incourage began taking critical but uncharted steps to connecting each of our capitals – financial, human, intellectual and reputational – in furtherance of a new economy and a community that works well for all. Yesterday, our intentional and forward-facing decision to connect capitals was validated during Ambassador James Joseph’s comments in the COF’s opening plenary.
“The foundation with the most impact in the second century may well be those that integrate into their operating plans, into their goals and into their strategies, the use of at least five forms of capital at their disposal,” shared Mr. Joseph. He further expressed a need for, “an integrated use of social, moral, intellectual, reputational and of course financial capital.”
By no means has Incourage fully realized a connected capitals model. But we are well on our way to becoming one in 2015. As we continue this bold but necessary evolution, we invite our peers in the community foundation field to learn from us. Learn from our successes as well as our possible failures. For it is in taking risks like this one, that failure sometimes occurs. But, as F.B. Heron Foundation President Clara Miller has so eloquently stated before, “The world has changed and so must we.”
Incourage is ready for the next century. Are you?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Look What We Found…Opportunities to Own Our Future

This Tuesday marked the 10th and final meeting of the facilitated, resident-led process for the Tribune Building Project ( and I couldn't have been more impressed with the open dialogue, contributions and resolve displayed by our neighbors in attendance. These behaviors, learned and modeled over the course of the project, were especially critical this evening with the many shared developments. Some of the evening’s news was extremely positive, others more challenging, but I believe that each development discussed presents an opportunity for our community.

Here are a few highlights:

  • On September 26, the Incourage Board of Directors resolved to own the Tribune Building permanently as an affiliated entity. The Board believes strongly in the good work that has been accomplished by the residents to shape a new economy and own their future. They also recognize that the stated operation and vision of the Tribune Building furthers Incourage’s vision of a community that works well for all people.
  • Earlier this summer, we announced our receipt of a $400,000 Creative Placemaking grant from ArtPlace America ( During a special presentation by Lyz Crane, Deputy Director of ArtPlace America, attendees of the Tribune Building meeting learned that only 4% of applicants receive funding from ArtPlace. Lyz shared that the odds of getting into Harvard are better than to receive the prestigious funding that we did. This is a testament to our neighbors and their contributions to the process.
  • The parking lot adjacent to the Tribune Building that Incourage had offered to purchase has been sold. On May 16 we made our offer for $65,000, which represents nearly $3,000 more than the estimated fair market value. Muppet Properties LLC purchased the parcel from NewPage Corporation for $100,000, or $37,900 more than the estimated fair market value. According to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Muppet’s registered agent is Susan Feith. This sale – to a buyer other than the Tribune Building Project – presents limitations to the plans determined by residents. Incourage has reached out to Ms. Feith, expressing our surprise, and has requested a meeting to discuss opportunities for us to work together in the best interest of our community. 
  • A special public meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Centralia Center for residents to come learn more about the parking lot sale as well as tools and ways they can further engage to ensure future opportunities to own our future are not missed. Please RSVP at

As I’ve said before, people are what make a place. This could not have been more clearly demonstrated than it was Tuesday night. At the close of our final planning meeting, I want to take this time to acknowledge the collective work of over 700 residents and their investment of more than 4,400 hours over ten meetings.

Together, we’ve established the Tribune Building as a Community Incubator that helps shape a new economy and community that works well for all people. This space advances:

  • The value and importance of relationships and human potential;
  • An environment that fosters risk and accepts failure;
  • Creativity and innovation. 

The news of the parking lot sale was surprising and disappointing. Yet, again, I go back to the word opportunity and say this is an opportunity to build community and shape a new future, one where the voices of many, rather than single interest or money, lead.

This is an opportunity to have an authentic dialogue and share input on future development. Incourage is not interested in accumulating multiple parcels of land or power, but we’re also not afraid to act INCOURAGE to ensure that a community benefit lens is applied to development choices that impact not only current but also future generations in this community.

Thank you to all our special guests and colleagues, and again, to our neighbors, who were in attendance Tuesday evening. It is with a burning patience that I urge all residents to stay connected and engaged. Together, we’re walking this path for our future and that of future generations. I hope to see you on October 14th.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet your neighbor at the Community Picnic

Each year, our community picnic gets bigger and better, as more and more residents come together to celebrate the many good things in south Wood County. This year, our picnic theme is, “Where one neighbor leads to another.” 

You might ask, “What does that mean?” It means that our community is all about its people, the relationships we build, and the connections we make. Our neighbors make this community a great place to live and work, and we’re celebrating that.

This year, our 3rd Annual Community Picnic is Wednesday, August 6, 4:30-8 p.m. at Lake Wazeecha’s Red Sands Beach. We’re delighted with the number of residents stepping up with supplies and to volunteer. We have more than 100 people and organizations helping out. 

Kids enjoying local ice cream treat at 
2013 Community Picnic.
As always, you’ll experience diversity of local food, local people and local talent. Enjoy a performance of local talent in the Aqua Skiers and Shermalot water ski teams and listen to music by Galynne and Markondrums. Adults and kids can enjoy inflatables and visit with clowns.

As Incourage celebrates our 20th year, we remember our founder, Virginia Brazeau’s vision for a community foundation. Virginia firmly believed in the idea of strengthening partnerships and relationships to reach a shared vision of a thriving community. She and the Richard S. Brazeau Family Foundation understood the true value of a community foundation – unrestricted philanthropy for everyone, focused on the good of the whole, and responsive to changing needs for years to come.

I believe that Virginia would be delighted with the community’s response to this picnic. There is no better way to build relationships than to get to know new neighbors. We believe that when you get to know your neighbors through conversation, it changes the way we understand our community and helps us realize our full potential.

The picnic and festivities are free. And just as Virginia had a vision for our community, we have a vision for this picnic: We hope that in the future, this will be a community-owned picnic and becomes an event where everyone contributes their time, talents, and treasures.

So join us August 6 to enjoy local food, local people and local talent. Start a conversation with someone you don’t know. I’ll bet it leads you to a new neighbor. 

See you there!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We Did It!

I’m proud to announce that the Tribune Building Project has been selected to receive a $400,000 2014 Creative Placemaking grant from ArtPlace America. We are one of 55 projects, and the only grantee in the state of Wisconsin, selected to receive a grant out of more than 1,200 letters of inquiry. 

This investment will help to realize the resident-led vision for the future of the Tribune Building.  To celebrate the area’s history and riverfront asset, funding will be utilized for enhancements to the rooftop, expanded exterior landscape, and interior storytelling and signage.

Through the resident-led process, the community envisions a building that will feature space and programming for artists, makers, local food processors, and other creative entrepreneurs. When complete, the Tribune Building will be reinvented as an iconic symbol that serves as a source of community collaboration, innovation and pride. 

It’s an exciting day for south Wood County – thank you to the more than 500 residents who have invested their time in this exciting process, and thank you to ArtPlace America for investing in our community.

Watch the video announcement.
For more information on the Tribune Building Project, visit

Here’s to our future!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Places Define a Community, But They are Nothing Without People

Think about a place that has had a big impact on you. What was powerful, memorable and special about it?

I remember visiting New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. There was unbelievable devastation. But the more powerful sight for me was seeing people come together to support one another and rebuild the places in their neighborhoods that were important to them.

Places are not just a building or a sidewalk. They are what people make them. Please watch this video, which helps to visualize the opportunities that exist when we view spaces and places with an open mind.

Incourage saw potential in the former Daily Tribune building. As a result, we purchased the space with the intent that residents would make it a place of their own. Over 500 community members have been involved in this resident-led decision making process.

The plans for the building’s future, as determined by residents, were revealed at our first meeting of Phase 2 on April 29. For full details, go to

Because residents came together and viewed this space with an open mind, soon they will be found sipping locally brewed beer at tables overlooking the Wisconsin River, or hooking into a safety harness for an afternoon climb on an indoor rock wall. They might rent a kayak for a paddle down the river, or participate in experimental learning in the creative workshop.

The Tribune Building will be a dynamic place that has a long-lasting impact in south Wood County. Most importantly, it will serve as an example of what happens when residents come together and exercise their power and ability to shape the future of our community.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Local Investment Makes Sense

Here’s a thought-provoking read from Don Schaffer, president and CEO of RSF Social Finance. Don mentions Incourage in an important blog post that highlights the need for community foundations to pursue impact investment strategies. All community organizations have the opportunity to reinvent themselves, but there is a “big gap between the desire many have to pursue impact investing and the knowledge they need to actually do it.”

I couldn’t agree more. Impact investing demands a change in an organization’s culture and mindset — something we’re pursuing at Incourage — but it’s not without challenges.

Don suggests organizations create fertile ground for impact investing by reevaluating investment opportunities, restructuring the organization and by working with their boards to change internal culture.

Read Don Schaffer’s full blog post.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Important Step Forward

We are very pleased to share that the Tribune Building Project has been selected by ArtPlace America as a 2014 Creative Placemaking Grant finalist.  This is an incredibly competitive opportunity – our project was chosen from a pool of over 1,200 letters of inquiry. 

Ninety-seven finalists have been chosen from communities all across the nation, but our project is the only finalist in Wisconsin.  Of the chosen projects, 25% represent rural communities like ours; all other submissions represent suburban and urban communities.  

We look forward to the opportunity to submit our second round application later this spring.  The Tribune Building Project has activated an exciting energy and movement in our community – people who believe in themselves and are optimistic about the future.  Without your commitment, this opportunity would not be possible.

Read the full announcement and learn more about the finalists at: ArtPlace America Names 97 Finalists for Creative Placemaking Grants 

To read our initial proposal, go to: ArtPlace Letter of Inquiry 

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Learning continues for Incourage and Knight Foundation

It was our good fortune in 2008 to be selected as one of the first Knight Community Information Challenge grantees. We remain in relationship with the Knight Foundation to this day.

Over the past six years, we’ve learned that at the end of the day, culture is created and sustained by human beings. Therefore, the unit of change in community is the resident… And change happens one person at a time.

The rules of engagement with communities have changed. Our traditional methods of outreach no longer work. “Sit and Get” meetings don’t cut it anymore. We find that one-on-one conversations and relationship building is far more effective, albeit very time and resource consuming. All of our work is now assessed by asking questions about participant learning, co-creation elements and defining the most appropriate role for Incourage.

We have learned that it comes down to the capacity of the human spirit to care about one another, be compassionate and – in our case – be connected by place. To recreate the threads that weave together community.

Helping people connect with their own souls, passions and ownership of place will – in turn – help us reclaim the souls of our communities.

These are some of my comments made earlier this week at Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar in Miami. To watch the plenary video, and learn more go to: Embracing change: Five key lessons from innovative community foundations  

Learn more about Knight’s continued investment in Incourage at: 4 new community information investments focus on high-impact projects

Thanks for reading.