Help Kirsten start a nonprofit incubator

An ongoing experiment: Can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Kirsten Doherty can’t say enough good things about Lowell, Massachusetts. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the U.S, home to numerous public institutions and a diverse immigrant population, the city has a rising creative economy with new projects and initiatives springing up all the time. Many are calling it a renaissance.

Kirsten LinkedIn

“We also have very smart people with brilliant ideas to make Lowell a better place to live,” she says. “What we are missing, I believe, is a physical space—like a resource center or incubator—for people who want to be creative and do good.”

Kirsten knows a thing or two about the situation, having spent 15 years working in fundraising and lived in the city of 100,000 for six years. She’s also currently interning with Lowell’s Department of Planning and Development.

“But there are some gaps in my training. I want to see this happen, but need help.”

The intention

Kirsten says she often notices artists and others active in the community having meetings at Starbucks because they don’t have a place to do business. She sees a need: these people should have a space to work.

“A lot of the people starting things here have great ideas,” she says, “but they’re often on these tiny staffs where they’re experts in their program, but need back-office support and help with the other stuff—graphic design, accounting, grantwriting—so they can focus on their missions. I want this place to provide one-stop shopping for those services.”


Kirsten says she’s very well connected in Lowell, but admittedly, she doesn’t know everything. So far she’s planned meetings with Third Sector New England and Space With a Soul, two nonprofit spaces in nearby Boston, to learn more about how they got started and get a sense of how they operate.

She also recently submitted an application to the UMass Lowell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Merrimack Valley Sandbox project, which gives annual seed money awards to local aspiring entrepreneurs. But the more ideas she can collect and connections she can make, the better.

Kirsten is most concerned with getting advice to help shape the following three aspects of her idea:

Lowell MA Front_of_boott_mill

Boott Cotton Mills Museum, Lowell, MA. (Photo via Kirsten Doherty.)

1. Spatial and organizational layout. “I’d like to get different ideas, especially about how organizational membership could work—like, would you need to have a 501(c)(3) to join, or maybe just a fiscal sponsor? How would we handle groups with controversial missions?—and the physical layout of the space. What are some different models for those things?”

2. Funding. “I’m particularly interested in ideas for funding and governing/leadership models,” Kirsten says. “I sort of picture a place with reasonable rental fees that the participating nonprofits would pay for—and maybe they could get some help from government grants or private philanthropy?”

3. Staffing and maintenance. “I want to see this happen, and am up for helping to launch it—maybe be on the advisory board?” says Kirsten. “But ultimately, I don’t think I would be the best ED or manager, so would need options for that. And for staffing, I’m not sure if full-time people or consultants would be the way to go… Or what!”

How you can help

  • Do you know any nonprofit spaces like the one Kirsten envisions?

  • Do you have advice to share about organizational structure, membership, fundraising, governing, or staffing options for a center like this?

  • If you’re part of an organization that belongs to this type of nonprofit space, or would like to, share notes on your experience or needs with Kirsten.

  • Do you live in the Lowell or Boston area and want to help turn this intention from ideal to real, or know anyone else who might?

  • Can you think of another way to address the community issues Kirsten’s identified, besides opening this type of nonprofit space?

If you have any bright ideas for Kirsten, leave them in the comments below, or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be part of this series, or know someone who would be a good fit, email

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