Resource Friday: Utilizing Research to Support Your Work

A couple months ago MNA with the Council of Michigan Foundations, and the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University released the 2009 Economic Benefits of Michigan’s Nonprofit Sector report. This report, released every three to four years, helps demonstrate the strength and size of Michigan’s nonprofit sector and should be used by nonprofits when advocating for funding, considering partnerships or mergers, or leading conversations in your community.

As we shared in an earlier blog, new to the report this year is the ability dig into detailed regional tables. Regions are searchable by type of nonprofit (public charities, private foundations and noncharitable nonprofits) and geography of interest (i.e. county, metropolitan, etc.) This allows you to take an up close look of how nonprofit organizations are fairing in your community. Understanding the detailed regional tables can seem overwhelming at first look, MNA hosted a webinar with Jeff Williams of Public Sector Consultants where we discussed the scope of the nonprofit sector in Michigan, the content of the study and how the data was compiled, and how to find and download reports specific to your region.

View the Economic Benefits of Michigan’s Nonprofit Sector webinar here.

Other research to be aware of and use when discussing your nonprofit’s work in the community, are the quarterly reports by the Michigan Nonprofit Research Program. In April. MNRP surveyed over 175 nonprofits in Michigan to assess the trends of government funding in Michigan’s nonprofit sector. The survey found 33% of organizations reported delays at the local level. 26% reported delays at the State level, and 16% reported delays at the Federal level.

MNRP is a program of Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University. The quarterly reports are completed to evaluate how certain trends and economic issues are affecting the nonprofit community. Use the reports to get a pulse of how nonprofits across the state compare to your organization. You can find the latest quarterly report here.

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Strategic Restructuring… What We’re Seeing In Our Town

As part of Nonprofit Alliance’s mission to strengthen and support an effective nonprofit sector in the Battle Creek area, we were fortunate to be able to bring Bob Harrington (LaPiana Associates, Inc) to our community last year to dive into Strategic Restructuring (SR) and what that could mean in our town.

We all know nonprofits are increasingly learning to work together in new and different ways, but what SR has brought to our community is a process that can help folks think about, examine and plan for these new relationships. Taking this time up front can really pay off.

Maybe you have seen this scenario first-hand – two organizations decide to hurry through a merger process without proper guidance or support, perhaps due to some pending emergency. They surface from this “incomplete” process with too many unaddressed questions, or worse yet… a realization that they just spent a lot of time and resources to find out that they were not a good fit from the start.

I think one of the biggest impacts the SR process is having on our community is that it is helping nonprofits come to the table by choice. They are starting to see strategic alliances as just that… part of their strategy to best serve the community and not just a way out of some turmoil they find themselves in.

I’m not saying the SR process is easy – negotiations can be emotional and long. But handled properly organizations can emerge from the process not only stronger and more efficient, but also in a better position to positively impact their community for lasting change.

And… isn’t that what we’re all really working for anyway?

Submitted by Kimberlee Andrews, Program Manager with the Nonprofit Alliance in Battle Creek

More Than Just Mergers

On April 29 and 30, MNA is bringing Bob Harrington (LaPiana Associates, Inc) back to Michigan. His topic? Strategic Restructuring (SR). April 29 is a full day overview for consultants, April 30 is a half-day introduction for nonprofits. You can get more information about the training on our website, and more information on strategic restructuring at http://www.lapiana.org/sr/index.html

It’s funny to talk to most nonprofit folks about “Strategic Restructuring.” Many people think it’s a clever way to hide the word “merger.” I won’t lie – merger may be part of it – but Strategic Restructuring is really about partnership: specifically, identifying the appropriate level of partnership(s) for your nonprofit business model. SR outlines a broad range of options by which nonprofits can increase efficiency and effectiveness. Sometimes merger is the answer, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes back room consolidation is the answer, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes a very specific project collaboration is the answer… You get the picture.

The fact is, nonprofits have options – but often don’t know what those options entail. LaPiana Associates’ Strategic Restructuring model is a direct and concise approach to planning and decision making. In today’s nonprofit environment we have no choice but to think differently – and this is the place to start.

Submitted by Robin Lynn Grinnell

“When one door closes another door opens….”

This quote from Alexander Graham Bell is often quoted to remind us about the possibilities in our lives that come from change. This year has certainly been a “door opening” year for our organization(s). Even prior to 2007, MNA was literally opening new doors with the December, 2006 announcement of our Metro Detroit Office. In January, NPower officially merged with MNA, making the powerful forces of tech more readily available to Michigan’s nonprofits. In July, the ConnectMichigan Alliance officially merged with MNA bringing the resources of social capital together with the state’s support of the nonprofit sector. These are huge openings for all of these organizations and ones for which everyone should be proud to have been a part.

The Bell quote goes on to say, “but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” With these recent mergers, the change in leadership of MNA with Sam’s departure and the flux that occurs with such dramatic change, its would be easy to fall into an examination of what was and not what is possible. NPower began as a cutting-edge national movement with a certain business model. That model is now revised and combined with the broader context of MNA. The ConnectMichigan Alliance was unique and its work like no other. On the other hand, it is part of a larger movement now and has the potential to be something even greater while ensuring the resources, mission integrity and work of Michigan Campus Compact, Volunteer Centers of Michigan and partnership with Michigan Community Service Commission go on.

All involved–partners, staff, boards, funders–have been extremely supportive of our transformations of 2007 and have looked at the doors opening while celebrating the successes of the doors closed. 2008 will no doubt be a different year that 2007 with different doors to consider. I look forward to these opportunities and the journey we all will take together to strengthen Michigan’s nonprofit sector and the communities we serve. We will be back on the blog in 2008. Happy Holidays!

Submitted by Kyle Caldwell

Public/Private Partnerships

I have been calling for the restoration of the partnership—no the covenant—between the public and private sectors to build strong communities. This agreement calls for government, business, and the nonprofits to work in harmony to address our most vexing social challenges.
What are nonprofits to do to restore the covenant with other sectors and improve the way they are able to fulfill their missions?

Here are a couple examples around the country that we might want to examine.

Governor Patrick of Massachusetts recently created the Commonwealth Corps to increase the civic capacity of nonprofits to deliver on their missions. The Commonwealth Corps will include 250 individuals in its first year, with a goal of expanding to 1,000 members over the next five years. Members will dedicate at least one year of service to a nonprofit organization, civic initiative, or public entity, providing direct service to people or communities in need.

Our own national association of state nonprofit associations is spearheading an initiative to bring the federal government in partnership for strengthening the work of local nonprofits. The National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA) is promoting the Nonprofit Capacity Building Initiative (NCBI) to increase the capacity, effectiveness, and accountability of small to mid-sized nonprofits and, ultimately, to improve the quality of life in local communities. NCBI would garner $25 million in federal funds annually to NCNA and state associations to provide training and technical assistance to local small grass-roots nonprofit organizations so that they can more effectively meet community needs.

Submitted by Kyle Caldwell

Patience is a Virtue. I Think.

Well, we have just completed our Breakthrough Retreat, Part II. (our work to integrate four organizations, post-merger) I did a quick check of folks at the end of the retreat and most people feel like we’re moving forward. There is less frustration now than at the end of our first retreat. We’re getting to some brass tack, concrete action stuff. We’ve got work teams and planning timelines and all kinds of people taking leadership and ownership. Cool.

I have to admit I’ve had my moments of skepticism. This has been messy. People have been impatient. But Kyle (the prez) stuck to his guns and said “let my people figure it out.” Sometimes we push him to be more decisive and less democratic, but in this case I think his instincts were mostly right.

In his own words, this is going more slowly than he (or we) expected. But now there is a whole core of staff members who own the action rather than respond to the directive. It’s their decision, their policy, their procedure, their organization.

Or at least we’re getting there. Since our July 1 start, here’s what we’ve come up with:

1. Internal Values (defined)
2. External Values (defined)
3. Committed timelines for completing a couple of daunting systems changes
4. Professional Norms and Standards
5. A commitment to improved communication and collaboration internally and externally

We’ve also identified the areas that still need work, and we know this conversation will need to go on for a while. We have to make time for this work, and this thinking, as it allows us to me more efficient, effective and innovative in our broader initiatives. It’s not easy, but it’s good.

Everything so far is in draft from. We are cleaning it up and presenting to our board in December and then it will be integrated in future work. When it’s ready for public consumption, I’m sure we’ll post it to our website and such. We strive to be a model organization and we will have much to share about the lessons we’ve learned.

Submitted by Robin Lynn Grinnell

Classroom Notes: Power

Power in organizations is an interesting topic. How does one get power, how do they then maintain it? In recent assigned classroom readings I examined the origins of power. As is common practice since grade school, I avoided this assignment until the last possible moment, but in the zero hour, came across an idea I thought worth sharing.

There are several methods for gaining power within organizations. One reading in particular (Rainey, 2003), struck particular interest with me when it presented the notion that one can obtain power by “confidently moving into areas of great uncertainty or contingencies facing the organization.” Being confidant and bold in uncertain times is easier said than done, and it comes as no surprise that this quality influences power.

Through turbulent waters, a leader that is anchored gains the trust of coworkers. It is this trust, I believe, that inspires employees and constituents to give leadership the power they need to drive the organization forward. The idea of subordinates gifting power to leadership raises the question- are leaders powerful because they drive organizational success, or are leaders successful because they solicit power from within the organization? I think this is a great question, and through it see real power come from within the organization, where strength lies with the collective.

As nonprofits, we are certainly facing turbulent and unsure times. As organizational leaders, by remaining steady through heightened anxiety, might we have the opportunity to gain power within our organizations, our sector and our economy? Could we possibly view budget cutbacks and increased public need as an opportunity to leverage powerful positions within our communities by offering bold, creative solutions?

What are your thoughts? Possibility? Or just a late night musing by a student in frantic search of a silver lining?

Submitted by Brandon Seng

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