JustDane Innovation Incubator

Photo by JustDane

Though all nonprofits focus on their individual missions, from education to recreation and healthcare to home repair, they’re simultaneously improving the lives of everyone in their communities by addressing underfunded or inadequately met needs. But even with around 3,000 nonprofits in Dane County and 19,000 public charities across the state, the undertaking is often larger than many of us appreciate.

As a nonprofit with 50 years under its belt, JustDane amplifies its impact by dedicating some of its resources toward functioning as a nonprofit incubator. They have their own programs to achieve their mission statement—to transform individual lives and social systems to create a just and equitable community—but they can better meet their aim by working as a fiscal agent and providing administrative services to those who share in their vision.

When deciding whether to take on a new nonprofit, Executive Director Linda Ketcham says, “First and foremost, the board looks at how does that align with our mission statement. … The board also looks at how much of my time or how much of an office administrator’s time being a fiscal agent might take and whether we feel like we have the capacity to do that. … Typically the goal is that the group would spinoff and become its own nonprofit so that it doesn’t necessarily stay housed under us forever. That then frees us up to provide that function for another idea or another group.”

Photograph provided by JustDane

It’s not hard to imagine that there’s a wide variety of services different organizations require when they approach JustDane—sometimes it’s just a person with an idea and other times it’s an established organization looking to grow. The nature of adopting such a wide variety of initiatives means not just evaluating how much time is needed each day for JustDane to provide their services to another organization, but how long the organization will need to operate under the JustDane umbrella.

For example, “One of the more recent projects we served as the incubator/fiscal agent for was the Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, which is a statewide interfaith advocacy group. That group focuses a lot on economic justice, so that fit us well. They were under our umbrella, and I’m still on the board with them. Part of it is just to have that nonprofit umbrella so you have some internal administrative functions covered while you’re working on things, like developing your bylaws, developing a business plan, doing some fundraising.” It only took three years before Wisconsin Faith Voices became its own nonprofit.

Photograph provided by JustDane

In contrast, their work with Street Pulse Newspaper started 14 years ago and is still ongoing. “With Street Pulse, individuals who are experiencing homelessness are the vendors; they essentially function as contractors, so they purchase the newspaper from Street Pulse at 25 cents a copy and then sell the paper at 75 cents. That income then is theirs as contractors. Then they can purchase more to sell. Our vendors are screened, and they’re approved by Street Pulse. They have assigned areas in which to sell. A lot of our vendors also write for the paper.

“It still aligns with our mission because we have focused always on housing and homelessness, but because the board membership and the vendor membership can be transient, it’s just a much longer process in terms of getting bylaws in place and just the day-to-day stuff. Being homeless, I can’t fathom what that’s like in this community, but I know that if I’m serving on the board for Street Pulse and I’m also a vendor, there’s a million other things on a day-to-day basis that I have to focus on. … The long-term goal for Street Pulse is to become its own 501(c)(3).”

Fortunately for organizations like Street Pulse, there are other organizations in the country doing similar things. One function of JustDane’s incubator program is to reach out to those doing work similar to the nonprofits under their umbrella to make a connection, which sometimes results in the nonprofits merging to benefit everyone involved. In fact, Porchlight resulted from Transitional Housing, Inc. merging with CHAS, Family Enhancement is now part of Centers for Family, and Linda just learned that Centro Hispano started out under the JustDane fiscal agency program.

Photograph provided by JustDane

One of the most time-intensive aspects of running a nonprofit that sometimes gets overlooked by startups actually delayed my interview with Linda for this article. We had to push it off because she was in the middle of writing four grants. It’s something that many new nonprofits simply don’t have the resources for, be it time or knowledge.

Because of JustDane’s work to ensure nonprofits are prepared before going off on their own, the advantages of getting under JustDane’s incubator program’s umbrella has historically led to ongoing success. Consider one of their oldest incubated organizations, Project Home, which dates back to the early 70s. Since its inception, Project Home continues to be extremely successful, lifting up everyone in Dane County by directly helping nearly 60,000 individuals.

With its incubator program, JustDane is able to ensure a wider range of our community’s needs are being met. More importantly, those needs are being met thoughtfully and more thoroughly with the aid of an experienced hand backed by an impressive track record.

Kyle Jacobson is a writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson

Organizations Incubated by JustDane (formerly MUM)
• Project Home, Inc.
• Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice
• Befrienders Program
• Dane County Affordable Housing Coalition
• Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center
• Project Self Determination
• Mentoring and Tutoring Program
• Madison Community Health Center
• Elder Care
• Older Adult Coalitions (Near East Side, East Side/Monona, West Side, South Side)
• Over 55 Employment Services
• Family Enhancement
• SAFE Nights
• Family Connections (Family Connections has become a JustDane program again)
• Transitional Housing, Inc. (merged in 2004 to become Porchlight)
• Extended Day Kindergarten Program
• Voices Beyond Bars
• Allied Wellness Center

Current Incubator Projects
• Allied-Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Association
• Street Pulse Newspaper (Homeless Cooperative)
• Allied Partners
• First Unitarian Society Eviction Prevention Fund