Friends and Partners of Michigan Nonprofit Association,
I am certain many of you, like me, were listening intently to the Governor’s State of the State. Governor Snyder described Michigan as the “Comeback State” as he provided the many accomplishments over his term. He provided a solid list of priorities for the state that no doubt will require partnership with the nonprofit sector, such as services to seniors, K-12 education (early education), workforce development (attracting immigrants) and overall quality of life for those living with mental illness, and for working families finding it difficult to make ends meet.
No matter your political persuasion, and whether you agree or disagree with the progress Michigan has made over the last few years, one thing is certain: all sectors must all work together to realize the hopes and dreams we have for the residents of Michigan. There are many areas across the state that are doing well or at least better than before; and there are those that still are in dire need of investment, innovation, and intentional commitment to becoming thriving.
I think this is a defining moment in the history of Michigan for the nonprofit sector. It is a time where the contributions of the sector will be recognized and lifted up for the great impact those contributions have had on the overall quality of life of residents in our state. We’ve seen this play out in recent headlines regarding the $330 million investment by the philanthropic community to preserve the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts while creating a path for the City of Detroit to honor its pension obligations. It is becoming clearer and clearer that real progress is inextricably connected with the work nonprofits do every day to meet the needs of the community.
The State of the Nonprofit Sector is also quite a great story to tell. The nonprofit sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. It provides $805 billion to the country’s economy, representing 5.5% of the country’s GDP. Here in the great State of Michigan, more than 1 out of every 11 Michiganders are employed by a nonprofit. The sector’s contribution to Michigan’s economy is nearly $140 billion. These statistics underscore the contributions of the sector, yet are not often the narrative you hear from those serving in the sector. It is high time we embrace the collective impact we are making to make our state the “Comeback State.” We must enhance our narrative of our work beyond “it’s the right thing to do,” to “our work is imperative to creating a thriving state, and we too have proven results!”
While we have a great story to tell regarding our collective work, there are also some opportunities we should consider to amplify our work and increase our impact:
- Continue to collaborate. The pressing concerns and the innovation required to meet the needs of communities across the state require collaboration. While many of us have honed our skills by working with one another, responding to the 21st century’s challenges requires cross-sector collaboration.
- Subscribe to High Performance as an imperative. Now is the time to move beyond passion being the only factor that fuels our work. The continued scarcity of resources is calling for investment in organizations with evidence of achievement. Our current environment demands great leadership within the organizations and the boards that govern them. Continue to spend time and resources to provide professional development for your staff and board development for your nonprofit’s board.
- Leverage Technology as a strategy for mission attainment. Consider leveraging the tools available to provide more mobility for your teams and to connect with your stakeholders in real time. Nonprofits that prioritize leveraging tools like the cloud, social media, and creating enticing and user-friendly engagement through technology will be ahead. Research suggests nearly 50% of emails are read on a smart phone or other smart handheld device. How nonprofits embrace the environment of technology to meet mission should continue to be top of mind.Additionally, the ability to move from collection of data through various electronic formats and platforms to analyzing data will also lead to improved outcomes.
- Positioning volunteerism as a strategy for mission attainment. It is clear the challenges we face may require expertise and experience not necessarily housed within our organization, nor are there necessarily resources to hire the expertise needed. Using volunteers to meet mission is not only a way to make additional expertise available, it is also a way to introduce a diverse group of individuals to the work that you do. When you deliberately choose volunteerism as a strategy to meet mission, it requires a thoughtful approach and commitment to a sound volunteer program. The results, if done correctly, can yield improved outcomes, a broader awareness of your work in the community via volunteers, and a way to cultivate new donors.Board members of nonprofits are also volunteers. They come with varied expertise, experience and passion for the work you do. Creating a generative environment for board members creates an opportunity to gain even more than the traditional governance and oversight required.
- Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity are key principles to meeting mission. DI&E is a strategy that recognizes that improved outcomes can be attained by intentionally having diverse colleagues to meet the needs of their diverse communities (Diversity). Nonprofits should incorporate program delivery methods that include those they serve, as well as other stakeholders that provide greater insight beyond that, within the organization (Inclusion). Lastly, it is important for nonprofits to understand there are systems that create barriers for their clients, thus adversely impacting success in mission attainment (Equity). Finding smart ways to break down or find ways around existing systems to create new systems of service will be key to meeting the needs of those we serve.
- Hone our public policy and advocacy skills to block threats to our work. If there is one thing that can cause real change to the work we do, it is a policy that threatens our ability to serve, or creates barriers to services for those we serve. It is imperative for nonprofits to dispel the myths that surround active lobbying and advocating for our work and those we serve.If you are wondering where to start and if you can make a difference, research done by Nonprofit VOTE in partnership with Michigan Nonprofit Association revealed nonprofits have great influence on the voting engagement of those they serve. Nonprofits that engaged in very basic voter engagement activities like voter education, and Get Out the Vote, saw favorable response from their clients. What if there were a policy impacting your ability to serve your community? Would you have the ability to leverage your community to advocate? There are many tools to get you started. MNA, in partnership with Council of Michigan Foundations, has a Nonprofit Advocacy primer providing easy to understand concepts to get you on your way.
These are exciting times in the state of Michigan. It will require much to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves, yet we can and will succeed. We are truly the change we have been looking for! Now, let’s get to work!
Submitted by Donna Murray-Brown, President & CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association
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