A Look Back, Part 4: Jumpstarting Great Ideas

Organizations IncubatedFor the Community Foundation of New Jersey, going from a simple idea to a multi-million dollar force for good has not been without its mix of successes, challenges, and lessons learned. In fact, the wealth of knowledge that the Foundation’s staff picked up over the years made it a natural repository for best practices in philanthropic giving, community organizing, and nonprofit management in the state. Embracing its role as an “incubator” for nonprofit organizations, the Foundation actually has helped launch several programs that have gone on to be successful organizations in their own right.

Jersey Cares is one such organization.

At first, the idea was to create a program at the foundation to promote philanthropic giving and volunteerism. Originally called “New Jersey Gives,” the program included billboards across the state and the promotion of a database through which residents could find volunteer opportunities in their local communities. Original funders for the project included Gannett, Prudential, Mutual Benefit Life, Bell Telephone (ATT), and First Fidelity (today part of Wells Fargo).

The program experienced great success connecting willing volunteers to important projects, and by 1993 branched off to become its own organization, now known as Jersey Cares.

Seeking to promote civic engagement, Jersey Cares today “recruits and engages volunteers in rewarding, effective efforts that address community-identified needs. [It] partner[s] with local nonprofits to identify needs and implement volunteer projects to meet these needs. [It] provides individuals, families, corporate employees and community groups with a wide variety of volunteer opportunities that range from tutoring children to painting new murals in schools.”

“The Community Foundation’s role in these situations is to give the programs legs, and then let them grow,” says Faith Krueger, the Foundation’s COO. “We can help people identify the most effective ways to solve a problem, and provide support if and when they choose to set up an independent organization.”

Other organizations for which CFNJ has served as an incubator include the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers (which now has more than 120 members), Impact 100 Garden State, the Morristown Festival of Books, New Jersey AIDS Partnership, Miraclefeet, and the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund.