News & Media

Kelly Ryan: Redefining philanthropy

Fri. Mar 4, 2016

I’m officially re-committing to this blog today.

I commit to delivering an imperfect, honest chronicle of our journey towards realizing a simple yet bold vision: A Community That Works Well for All People, including the commitment to embody our values: Equity, Opportunity and Shared Stewardship.

I’ll share our journey to redefine the potential of place-based philanthropy from my lens: a CEO with nearly twenty years of experience in a very special community and innovative institution. I’ve been here long enough to see resilience emerge after crisis. Residents are gaining self-confidence and a greater sense of agency; institutions are acknowledging the need for collective action and relationships built on trust and a general shift from a mindset of “I cannot” to “I can” to “We can do better”. I have deep pride in the people I’m privileged to work with, both at Incourage and in our community, for their commitment to one another and our shared future.

Incourage itself has adapted over the years. We’ve worked with great intentionality to create an organizational culture of reflective action: challenging embedded orthodoxies, examining our own behavior, policy, practice and power, as well as framing strategy and decisions through a values lens with a vision objective. When we assessed our investment portfolio through this lens, the choice was clear. The board moved quickly to a position of full support for what one member deemed, “the logical next step”. If we were to truly realize our commitment to place then our financial resources should be values-aligned to maximize mission impact and realize vision. This prompted deeper dialogue and reflection on the full range of resources Incourage possesses – how we assign value to them and in what ways they had been utilized to shape new economic opportunities and cultural norms.

In early 2014, the Incourage board of directors approved and subsequently led an organizational commitment to align 100% of all Incourage resources or capitals to mission. Driving change happens not just through financial currency, but rather through all of our capitals—moral, human, intellectual, social, reputational working together with financial. The ensuing work resulted in a strategy map articulating guiding principles, capitals, key levers and desired short-, mid- and long-term outcomes toward realizing vision.

February 16, 2016 marked the unanimous approval by Incourage’s board of a 100% mission and values-aligned Capital Deployment Policy—what some call an Investment Policy Statement. Twenty-four months in the making with the wise expertise of individuals willing to forge relationships outside their respective fields to work collaboratively in place: impact investment advisor, traditional investment advisor, and cultural anthropologist.

An early exemplar of our connected capitals strategy is the Tribune – a “community accelerator” designed with deep resident participation. Tribune is more than a building:  it is testament to the resilience of a community. It represents hope, inclusiveness and development strategies that conserve, restore and leverage resources for generations to come.

“We did then what we knew how to do, when we knew better we did better.”   ~Maya Angelou

This favorite quote serves as a constant reminder. Realizing a community that works well for all people requires a commitment to not only ‘knowing better’ but also ‘doing better’. This guides our work at Incourage and it seems that it should be applicable to philanthropy writ large.  When we know better we must all do better.  We must practice reflective action in philanthropy: constantly examining our structures, business practices and cultural norms within our institutions and the broader field. Not just an episodic focus on the issue of the day or minor tweaking of practice.

Join me in this blog as we build on experience, learn, adapt and implement a place-based strategy that challenges embedded orthodoxies and redefines philanthropy to nurture communities that work well for all people. Our communities and the nation need and deserve nothing less.


  • Press Contact

    [email protected] | 715.423.3863
  • About Incourage

    Established in rural Wisconsin in 1994 to serve the changing needs of the south Wood County area, Incourage has become a nationally-recognized leader in place-based philanthropy and community development. Guided by values of equity, opportunity, and shared stewardship, Incourage envisions a community that works well for all people. One physical manifestation of this vision is the redevelopment of the Tribune building, which demonstrates Incourage’s user-centered approach to growing a strong and inclusive local economy.