To incubate or not – that is the question

Decision: Is incubating CPA-Denver the right next move for the Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB)?

Yessica and I decided that we would both address this decision in response to this prompt, as we want to be deliberate, realistic, and strategic as to how we spend our energy and resources over the next year. We are working towards building a fertile ecosystem to advance community wealth building in Denver. There isn’t one right sequencing for our work, but we want this decision to reflect our priorities and beliefs about what will lead us to the promised land most effectively and in a fashion that honors a sustainable workload.

Possible choices/decisions open to us:

  1. It is the next best move for CCWB. We go after it.
  2. Prioritize other efforts right now and put CPA off into the future, and re-evaluate this decision in six months and again in twelve months.
  3. Abandon the dream of a CPA-Denver for the time being.
  4. Recruit a new partner that is ready to serve as the entrepreneur and organizing backbone for CPA-Denver.
  5. Implement the minimal viable product that puts us on a path to creating a full-blown CPA-Denver, but doesn’t require as much resources.

Choices 1-3 can be boiled down to Yes – we’re going for it; we’re putting off making a decision; or No – we’re abandoning this dream. Each requires that we closely examine our theory of change to determine whether the path we are on is the optimal path for building community wealth with communities of color and decreasing the threat of involuntary displacement that residents and small businesses are facing.

CCWB’s major priorities for 2020:
Democratize ownership
Engage anchor institutions
Strengthen local POC entrepreneurship
Within each of these areas, lies a robust body of work that is underway — truly enough for 1-3 FTEs in each area. It is also true that on the face of it, each of these areas is embodied in CPA.

In addition to these three focus areas, we are also creating infrastructure to become an independent 501(c)(3), which includes orienting a founding board of directors, completing the IRS application, and putting procedures in place that our fiscal sponsor has been performing. We are also advertising for a new program director level position and recruiting interns and a VISTA volunteer. We need to build a new website, an individual donor program, and a communications strategy. We also must maintain our grant writing to be able to finance our current and growing body of work. In addition, we must continue our policy efforts and collaborating on the local scene to foster an atmosphere of support and progress.

If we were closer to attaining our goals with our 3 major priorities, it would be a no-brainer to jump into raising funds to support launching CPA-Denver or to reassign staff who are able to back-off of their original work because things are in motion and require less intense attention. However, that’s not our reality — yet.

In light of my current level of fatigue, I’m going to take some short-cuts with this exercise. I can definitely see the value of having gone even this far with this exercise and my apologies to my team for not going all out with this prompt … but here’s the recommendation I have for CCWB:

Spend some time with Option 4: Attempt to recruit an individual or organization to take on developing CPA-Denver. The synergy between CPA and CCWB goals are very clear. It would be fantastic to build and grow together. In the event we don’t find someone to take this on, I think CCWB needs to stay on its current course and re-evaluate whether we are in a better position in six-months to take this on ourselves. If we are successful in filling our current positions with incredibly talented people, and have a good flow going (I am optimistic that this will be our culture), in a year we may feel ready to birth CPA-Denver.

Another alternative is that if CPA-D.C. is able to fund a PT position to focus on launching CPA-Denver, it would fit well within our current framework for building community wealth and give CCWB the capacity to serve as the backbone.

Option 5 doesn’t feel realistic at the moment. I’m a proponent of MVP and still think that is the approach I would recommend anyone use in building a CPA. However, that level of effort is still too much for the organization to take on without additional resources.

Again, I kind of feel like I flunked this assignment, because I haven’t been able to devote the time it deserves. But, it has been a great learning lesson anyway.

4 thoughts on “To incubate or not – that is the question”

  1. Michelle, thank you for your frank and thoughtful post! I am curious about the fatigue – is it temporary (e.g. once you get to Thanksgiving, for example, you will get to rest and reset?) or is it a function of the overwhelming current workload, or something else? Given the nature of the fatigue, how is that impacting your decision-making?

    I’m also curious about whether there is another sub-option for #4 with regard to workload distribution and who is doing what? I have no idea, but what comes to me is to ask how to optimize the incredible talent in your current team for an optimal outcome?


  2. Ha I do not think you flunked! Thanks for sharing some detailed thoughts on this. I almost wrote my post about the same thing. It’s a tough one.

    What about some combination of options 4 and 5. CCWB does MVP-effort, and you bring in someone else part-time to supplement that work?

    What specific dependencies does option 5 on its own rely on?

    Also, now that you’ve dabbled in this process, what do you think? How does it compare with how you usually make decisions?

    One of the shortcomings of this process that Carrie mentioned on our call is that it attempts to strip away emotion from the decision. How would you reflect differently on this decision if you put emotion front and center? What feels right for you?

    In light of the fullness of your work (and limited capacity to do more), what drew you to CPA in the first place? When did you know you were going to join the Incubator, despite your full schedule? Where does that motivation come from? How does it connect with the decision ahead of you?


  3. Michelle, thanks for this post.
    1. What was the “great lesson learning” from this exercise for you?
    2. Why did you feel like you flunked? what about how you responded made you feel that way? Was there something else you were hoping to do if you had had more time? could you do that / work on that in the RS?

    3. What are the range of potential outcomes you could imagine for CCWB in 2020, 2021, 2022?
    i.e. CCWB has wild success in the next 3 years:
    10 firms Democratizing ownership; 12 anchor institutions shifting millions a year in spending to women & POC-owned businesses; 10 local POC owners grow 5X over the next 3 years.
    i.e. CCWB doesn’t make it, financial support dries up, challenging staff dynamics emerge, partner relationships go south unexpectedly (all not related to anything you do or didn’t do — just the world around you changes).

    How do these potential outcomes help re-frame the question?

    4. What new information about CCWB / CPA might be available in 6 months?

    5. What’s the absolute minimal MVP you could imagine for CPA Denver? ,

    6. What are the most daring ways you could imagine giant leaps of progress being accomplished towards
    CCWB’s major priorities for 2020?

    7. How could you frame this question differently?
    (see my comment on Yessica’s post)
    For example
    What if all the work you wrote about in the paragraph associated with IRS form 1023, fiscal sponsor / financial operating procedures, advertising, recruiting, new website, communications plan, individual donor campaign, grant writing — all got taken off your plate for the next 6 months? What if I agreed I’d take it all on and would lead it myself along with Boris, CPA’s CFO and our pro-bono legal team and Lauren our communications director, and Sus our grant writer?

    If all that work was taken care of and up to your specifications — then how would you reflect on the decision?

    8. What if my family decided to move to Denver in several months because my wife started a PhD program out there? What other scenarios seem unlikely but could happen and how do they give you new insight on the decision, your constraints, and your possible leverage points?

    9. Are you really okay with the fact that you might make the best decision — but that your outcome might be totally not connected to your decision? did that point from the prompt sink in? It’s a hard one for me.

    thanks for the good work here. I appreciate it.


  4. Michelle! I so enjoy reading your posts! I hardly think you flunked at all. When I think about it, you and I are in a similar bind: resource constraint but understanding that there is a real path for growth and furthering all aspects of our organizational/personal missions.

    The way we’re addressing that is by actually planning to make a formal pitch/proposal to CPA D.C. or another community-related organization to help us fund the feasibility study (the 30-50 meetings etc.) during a 3-6 month period and then take it from there.

    The option that you described getting CPA D.C. to help you fund a PT is exactly what we’re evaluating (but probably will not cause hiring on our end for it). We’ll do it ourselves with our current team and we’ll be looking to add capacity on other projects we’re pulling away from).

    I’d ask for a reflection that you consider, for now, or later, evaluating that as its own decision. Do you want to take the final outputs of this incubator and go forward with the process of enrolling CPA D.C. or someone else to fund this work in Denver? Maybe the new hire could be a part of the next CPA cohort?



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