Blog: Amplify

Redefining Philanthropy: Values-led, Resident-centered and Place-based Sustainable Development


Incourage’s work is redefining place-based philanthropy to realize a simple yet bold vision: A Community That Works Well for All People, led by values of Equity, Opportunity, and Shared Stewardship.

Over two decades, we have seen a resilient community emerge after crisis with a shift in mindset from “I cannot” to “I can” to “We can do better”. Residents are showing self-confidence and agency, while institutions are acknowledging the need for collective action and relationships built on trust.

Incourage itself has adapted over the years. We’ve worked to create an organizational culture of reflective action that challenges embedded orthodoxies, including our own behavior, policy, practice and notions of power, to frame strategy and actions through a values lens and vision objective.

Assessing our investment portfolio through this lens, prompted reflection on how Incourage could deploy the full range of its resources to help realize a community that works well for all.

In early 2014, the Incourage board led a commitment to align 100% of all Incourage resources or capitals – moral, human, intellectual, social, reputational along with financial – to mission. The ensuing work resulted in a strategy map articulating guiding principles, capitals, key levers and desired outcomes for the short- and long-term.

In February 2016, Incourage’s board unanimously approved a 100% mission and values-aligned Investment Policy Statement. Twenty-four months in the making, we worked with an impact investment advisor, traditional investment advisor and cultural anthropologist who forged relationships outside their respective fields to focus collaboratively in place. The policy assumes that economic value resides not just in financial currency, but in human integrity, skills, curiosity and relationships, including a commitment to steward all human and natural resources. It calls for connecting and cultivating capitals to shape new economic opportunities and cultural norms in our region, including through investments in values-aligned regional funds, organizations, and projects, corporations that reinforce these values more broadly and shareholder activist positions with corporations whose operations undermine Incourage values within our region.

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.

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

This 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 could be applicable to philanthropy writ large. When we know better we must all do better. We must practice reflective action, constantly striving for greater mission impact articulating and authentically living our values, examining and adapting structures, business practices and cultural norms within our institutions and the field. Not just an episodic focus on the issue of the day or minor tweaking of practice.

Incourage invites partnership as we build on experience, learn, adapt and implement a place-based strategy that redefines philanthropy to nurture communities that work well for all people. Across the nation, our communities need and deserve nothing less.

Kelly Ryan is President and CEO of Incourage Community Foundation.

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