Federated Charities Incubator In Downtown Frederick Helps Fledgling Nonprofits Grow

By Nancy Lavin The Frederick News-Post, Md.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Federated Charities recently opened the Lloyd and Charlotte Hoover Charity Incubator in the basement of its downtown building. It is aimed at helping fledgling social service groups and entrepreneurs, although it's also open to the for-profit sector.

The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Elin Ross started Cakes for Cause out of her home in 2007.

Ross recalled the piles of paperwork stacked on her dining room table as she worked to launch the social service organization, which is aimed at providing jobs and work experience to at-risk youths.

"It was chaos," she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

She later rented an office in the Federated Charities building on South Market Street. The rent was a financial stretch and the 12-month lease a risk for a fledgling nonprofit, she said.

Her risk paid off. In 2009, she opened the Moxie Bakery and Cafe at the Bernard W. Brown Community Center. The cafe gave jobs and career training to young adults who had aged out of the foster care system. It closed in 2013.

Ross wants to make it easier for others to start social service and charity organizations. Federated Charities, of which Ross is executive director, recently opened the Lloyd and Charlotte Hoover Charity Incubator in the basement of its downtown building.

The collaborative workspace has been available for use since Jan. 1, but will celebrate its grand opening on Feb. 9. It is aimed at helping fledgling social service groups and entrepreneurs, although it's also open to the for-profit sector.

The basement had served as a conference room for Federated Charities and its tenants. Plumbing issues in early 2015 forced the organization to gut part of the space and relocate the conference room, Ross said.

Ross wanted to find a new use for the now-empty space. With some brainstorming, the incubator was born.

During a tour Wednesday, Ross pointed out desks, tables, whiteboards and a full-service copy machine that filled the 800-square-foot space. A corridor led to a coffee machine and small kitchenette, next to a couch for participants to make phone calls without disturbing other users.

Art that reflects Federated Charities' 100-plus-year history adorns the wood-paneled walls. Individual lockers house up to two file boxes' worth of paperwork each -- a more professional alternative to a home dining room table.

"We tried to cater to a variety of different work styles," Ross said. "We want people to use it."

The program is aimed at a wide range of users -- a single person like Ross working to start a charity, a group in need of a home for a monthly meeting or an out-of-towner in the area for a single week. Participants can pay to use the incubator for a single day or a week, or with a monthly membership.

The prices range from $25 for a single day to the equivalent of $7.50 per day for the $225 per month full-time membership. The rates are about 60 percent of market rate, and include utilities and internet access, according to Ross.

There's no lease commitment, although the full-time option requires a three-month minimum.

"It's incredibly reasonably priced," said Chris Voell, who used the space for a day in January.

Voell didn't pay; participants could test out the incubator free of charge in January. Voell, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency who works from home two days per week, said he would be interested in using the incubator again.

Ashley Waters, who also tested the incubator in January, agreed.

Waters, who works for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and as a grant writing consultant for area nonprofits, said the downtown location was ideal for meeting some charities that use her services.

The peace and quiet helped her focus on her work more easily than if she were in her New Market home with her 2-year-old son, she added.

Both Waters and Voell were alone in the space when they used it. As the program grows in popularity, the intent is to house more than a single person at a time, which will foster collaboration.

Voell highlighted the benefit of collaboration to those accustomed to the otherwise solitary nature of telework.

"One of the things you lose when you work at home is that interaction with other people, to collaborate, get new ideas," he said.

Voell, who has 13 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, added that the collaboration among budding social service organizations was "priceless."

Even organizations that serve vastly different people or purposes share startup needs such as website development, fundraising or outreach, he said.

Federated Charities will bring in different consultants with expertise in nonprofit management to help navigate these areas, Ross said. Incubator users, as well as outside groups and individuals, can meet one-on-one during monthly office hours on the first Thursday of each month.

Incubator users can attend quarterly training programs that Federated Charities offers to its regular tenants.

The program got off to a slow start, but Ross hoped its popularity would grow as word spread. Federated Charities initially paid the $5,000 cost, but with enough users, the rent will make the program self-sustaining, she said.

Thinking back to when she started Cakes for Cause, Ross said she wished the incubator option was available.

"It would have been much more affordable, much more ideal," she said.

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