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CHAMPAIGN — Starting a business of any kind is not easy. Starting a nonprofit one has its own unique challenges.

The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, a program of the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, is here to help those nonprofits that are qualified to join a local incubator.

“How you go about incorporating, writing bylaws, forming a board of directors, things of that nature” are available for nonprofits in the Community Solutions Incubator, said Genevieve Kirk, director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

Applications for the incubator are being accepted through the end of December.

This marks the first open call for community members to apply for inclusion in the incubator since it started in 2017, as several of the original 10 members are nearing completion of their time in the program.

The first to graduate will be the DREAAM mentoring program that connects mentees and mentors through village mentoring, academic support sessions, summer enrichment activities and year-round adventures.

Nonprofits generally have two to three years “to have the support and the knowledge they need to go beyond the incubation stage,” Kirk said.

Incubator members receive training, are able to network with other nonprofits and receive mentoring to “have a chance to learn from people that have already started their own nonprofit and understand some of the steps you need to go through to be successful,” Kirk said.

Hands-on mentorship and guidance are provided by some of the area’s most successful community leaders from a variety of fields and disciplines.

The goal of the nonprofits is to provide aid to those in the community and to solve some community need or challenge not currently being met.

Funding is provided through private donations set up through the Community Foundation, a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit created in 1972 to encourage and receive contributions establishing endowments for the long-term benefit of East Central Illinois.

Also available to incubator members are eight educational seminars and three social networking opportunities, plus access to additional events and resources through the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, including the monthly executive director leadership network, a quarterly board boot camp series and ongoing nonprofit management trainings.

They will also have access to a work space at the foundation’s office location, access to the incubator alumni group and limited access to financial support for incubator organizations upon completion of a 12-month program.

To apply for incubator membership, go to the incubator website at

Kirk will be leading a webinar through the Champaign Public Library from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 2 on starting a nonprofit in central Illinois.

It provides an overview of the topic.

“I would encourage people to do a lot of research before starting a nonprofit to find out who else is working in this space in the community already,” Kirk said.

They will be able to find out if there are opportunities for partnerships and whether they have a valued proposition that is unique from what others are doing.

Kirk has 20 years of professional experience in the nonprofit and public sectors. Her goal is to build, nurture and promote a strong community through effective nonprofit management.

Most recently, she was executive director of the Champaign Center Partnership and is currently an adjunct instructor in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois, where she teaches courses in social entrepreneurship and social change, and nonprofit sector and society.

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at

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