A Few Thoughts on Election History on Primary Election Day

This week marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.  This act prohibits discriminatory voting practices that have been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of millions of people over the course of U.S. history.

While our nation has made multiple strides in the area of voting rights, in recent months we have seen an increase in the number of laws that add barriers to voting.  These laws require specific forms of photo identification to be present to vote, reduce early voting in certain states, and make voter registration done by nonprofits and civic organizations more challenging.   In Michigan, Governor Snyder vetoed bills that would have made voting in our state more complicated and disenfranchised thousands. In an effort to eliminate voter fraud, we have haphazardly created more barriers to voting. This ultimately reinforces what Voting Rights Act was attempting to prevent.

Voting is a right.  Removing barriers to voting and to make it more accessible is important. Nonprofits in Michigan are aiding in this process by participating in MNA’s 2012 Track the Vote. Not only do nonprofits see accessibly as an important part of electoral engagement, but government agencies do as well.

Recently, the National Association of Secretaries of States declared September 25th as National Voter Registration Day .  This announcement falls in line with months of coordination by nonprofits and civic organizations across the country who are already mobilizing people to register to vote on this day.

It is important to remember the history of voting in our country and acknowledge  the struggle that it took to get here.  It is equally important for all organizations, including nonprofits, to encourage legislation and policies that erase barriers to voting and encourage 100% voter turnout.

Finally it is important to vote, and you can start today!

Vote in today’s Primary Election.

Not sure where your polling location is for today’s primary visit the Secretary of State website .

Have questions about who is running, view the candidates here.

Remember all of the people who fought long and hard to guarantee us these rights. And don’t forget to vote!

Submitted by Meredith Reynolds Assistant for Public Policy and Membership, Michigan Nonprofit Association 

Capacity Building: Detroit Sub-Grant Award Program for Culturally Diverse and Inclusive Arts and Culture Organizations

In September 2010, the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center in Boston began delivering a local program called Capacity Building: Detroit. The program will run for 2 years and supports arts and culture organizations located in Southeast Michigan by providing seminars, web-chat discussions and one-on-one coaching for the 52 participating organizations. The goal of the Capacity Building: Detroit program is to equip arts and culture organizations with the tools necessary to become more efficient and effective in the day-to-day organizational management of their organizations, helping them to better meet their missions.

Thanks to support from the Ford Foundation, Michigan Nonprofit Association in partnership with Cultural Alliance for Southeastern Michigan has been able to offer a special sub-grant program to augment the work of the Capacity Building: Detroit program and extend further resources to participating arts and culture organizations that are culturally diverse and inclusive or are serving culturally diverse communities in Southeast Michigan.  The goal of the sub-grant program is to provide these culturally diverse and inclusive organizations with the additional resources needed to increase their capacity to deliver services to culturally diverse and inclusive audiences by implementing the skills learned through the Capacity Building: Detroit program.

MNA is committed to infusing the principles of diversity in all facets of its work and recognizes that gaps in access to capacity building opportunities exist more frequently for culturally diverse organizations: this sub-grant program seeks to address that gap. For the purposes of this awards program, participating organizations deemed to be eligible as culturally diverse and inclusive were asked to meet the following two criteria: 1) The board or leadership staff of the organization is more than 50% culturally diverse; and 2) The audience/participants of the organization are 80% or more culturally diverse, and the organization has a proven track record of serving the needs of one or more of the targeted cultural groups.*

In February, facilitated by the Metro Detroit Partnership and MNA’s Capacity Building team, the sub-granting scheme awarded 15 participating organizations with grants of up to $15,000. Successful applications were awarded funding to develop projects that focus on implementing organizational capacity building initiatives, including: institutional and programmatic marketing strategies, fundraising, strategic planning, season planning, and board development and training opportunities.

Congratulations to the successful organizations!

Heritage Works

Living Arts

MSU Community Music School Detroit

Matrix Theatre Company

Sphinx Organization

Arts League of Michigan

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit

Music Hall

Michigan Youth Arts

Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation

PuppetART Theater

Stagecrafters

Heidelberg Project

Arab American National Museum

*Targeted Cultural Groups: African American, Asian American, Latin/Hispanic, and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) groups.

Submitted by Annie McGuigan Fenton, Capacity Building Manager, Michigan Nonprofit Association

New Year, New Language

Going through my Twitter timeline after Christmas and before New Year’s Day, I found every single list imaginable for “year-in-review” or “what-to-expect in the coming year.” One that I actually read was #nonprofitresolutions that the Chronicles of Philanthropy was running, here is the link ow.ly/8e3O4.

Two things struck me about this list: 1) the nonprofit resolution from the executive director of the The Evergreen Group, Howard Kucher. He believes that nonprofits should call themselves “social benefit organizations,” instead of by their tax status. 2) That out of the 20 nonprofit leaders that were quoted, only three called for more advocacy and organizing! I kind of feel like these two things are somehow related.

My professional background (nonprofit lobbying and advocacy, and electoral campaigns) really identified with what Mr. Kucher was getting at! A change of language can change perception, both by those who adopt the label and by those hearing it. Maybe if organizations start calling themselves “social benefit” orgs, then it will force us to think of the things we CAN and SHOULD do, i.e advocacy and lobbying, instead of the things we can’t do based on the regulations we have to follow.

By changing the labels, it also allows organizations to think beyond their charitable missions, to ones that include the economic value and contribution of the organization beyond the direct benefit to their constituents and clients. Nonprofts Social benefit organizations need to show more than how many people go through their programs; they need to also show their greater value to society. Yes, I know you fed 200K families last year, but what does that mean? How does that impact the community that I live in?

Maybe by changing the language we use, the sector will finally start advocating and lobbying. It is a new year, so a girl can dream…

Submitted by Christina Kuo, Senior Director of Public Policy and Public Affairs for Michigan Nonprofit Association

What is in a mission?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

What’s in a mission? That which we describe the work of a nonprofit by any other would “do good” just the same, right? Shakespeare might agree, but those in the sector know that a nonprofit’s mission is unique to the organization and the cause that it is designed to serve.

This is why strategic planning should always include a hard look at an organization’s mission and how that mission fits with the long-term outcome the work should accomplish.

The Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) invested more than 18 months exploring our mission, our vision, and our unique role in the nonprofit sector so that we might better understand ourselves, our community, and our future. Our journey included taking on a new way of thinking built around David LaPiana’s model of “Real-Time Strategic Planning” that forces an organization to continually understand and examine its identity, strategy, and advantages.

At MNA, we are proud of the work that we have accomplished in understanding ourselves and our work and invite others to explore our new vision, mission, and values and ask that you help us understand how we can better serve nonprofits to achieve their missions.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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MNA Job Center

Back in 2008 I graduated from college and took a position as an AmeriCorps*VISTA in Lansing, Michigan. In my grand five-year plan (which somehow never turns out the way I expect…), I would stay in my VISTA position for a year and then find a job working with a nonprofit. I was so tired of using websites like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com to find work – the results were never the types of jobs for which I was searching! No matter how many times I refined my search, I couldn’t seem to get the listings I wanted.

A friend happened to pass along a fax she had gotten at her office – a nonprofit job center. WHAT?!?! This was exactly what I wanted! I quickly followed the link on the page to Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Job Center, and proceeded to check the listings every few days.

As luck would have it, I ended up working with the U.S. Census for six months and then spending some time abroad. However, I returned in November of 2010 to begin the job search yet again, and headed straight for the MNA Job Center. While many of the positions were for executive directors (something that I aspire to, but for which I am not quite ready), I also found quite a few that were right up my alley and with nonprofits in my dear ol’ hand state.

Now to the part where my story takes a crazy turn – hold onto your hats! After checking everyday for new posts and applying for everything that I felt half-qualified for, I received a call…from MNA. I had applied for a job with them, went through two rounds of interviews and now…I’m the one updating the Job Center! I’ve since learned that you can actually receive Job Center updates to your email so you don’t have to check every day. I myself am no longer looking for positions, as I am now happily employed at updating the job page I once so regularly checked. If you are out there searching for work, or if you are an employer looking to hire individuals passionate about the nonprofit sector, check out MNA’s Job Center. You won’t be disappointed.

Submitted by Jessica Swisher, Administrative Assistant, Membership and Advocacy for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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The Path of Least Resistance?

What do voters think about the current budget debates at the state and federal levels? If we go by the major headlines, we want cuts to the public budgets and no new taxes. Or do we?

Now that the realities of the proposed cuts are coming into focus, it is unclear if the budgets proposed so far actually meet the expectations of the public that will be impacted by the changes. Such is the nature of major change—it all looks good from afar, but when it comes to our own sacrifices, we see ours as too large and others as too small.

The gridlock at the federal level with the near-federal government shutdown will be amplified as Congress and the White House debate the 2012 budget. But we are now realizing the cuts of the current budget compromises. Included in those, hidden away in the obscure portion of the Labor Health and Human Services budget, is a small dollar amount cut with large implications—the elimination of funding for Learn and Serve America funds. These are important dollars that help young people not only learn experientially (especially important for those “hard to reach” students), but also promote the school climates we all agree are important to quality learning.

At the state level, a small cut of $675,000 in the massive Department of Human Services budget will not only eliminate all support for the Michigan Community Service Commission, but also turn away more than $13 million in federal funding for national service programs all across Michigan.

To balance our state budget, lawmakers are proposing the elimination of tax credits that have leveraged millions to help local communities through community foundations, food pantries, homeless shelters, arts organizations, and colleges and universities.

Do voters really believe that eliminating support for sound, proven, affordable (bordering on cheap) programs that solve problems that government cannot afford to address directly makes any sense? We may never know, because there is little talk about what the voters actually want.

The Center for Michigan has been working hard to identify what Michiganders want to see in a Michigan budget, but few if any of their suggested reforms have received enough support. They have even developed a tool for citizens to identify how they would balance the budget.

A flood of recent polling indicates that voters are not supporting many of the proposed cuts to programs. Slate Magazine reports all political ideologies oppose the cutting of Medicare – 92% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, and 70% of Tea Party Members. Regarding revenues, the recent Gallop poll shows that Americans do not want lawmakers to remove charitable incentives.

Clearly there is a strong sense that people know that changes are necessary, but the proposals on the table are largely looking to impose change on those least likely to present strong opposition as opposed to changes the voters are telling pollsters they would like to see.

At no other time is the voice of the nonprofit sector more necessary than now.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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There is Danger in Not Raising Our Voice

As nonprofit leaders we live by the old farmer’s adage of, “Fix it up, use it up, wear it out, or do without.” Our adoption of this philosophy is what empowers nonprofits to gain trust and develop partnerships that further our mission. It works well, except in one area—expressing our voice.

Nonprofit voice is shorthand for our sector’s role in sharing what it knows, speaking for those unable to express their needs, and informing and influencing decision makers so that they do the right thing. In short, our voice is our right and responsibility to exercise our political capital for the common good. Yet it is often too hard to express our voice with so many pressures bearing down on our organizations, our work and our constituents.

Given all these pressures, we have to examine how we use our voice. Some might argue that like elected officials, we need to look at our voice as political capital—a resource we spend thriftily and only when absolutely necessary. In this case we might look at the Governor’s proposal to eliminate charitable giving incentives as $50 million that we could offer up as sacrifice to gain government goodwill. In other words, we shouldn’t expend our capital on this matter when so many other larger issues could come up later. Several sector leaders have come to me with this very concern. They worry that if they shout now, they won’t be heard later. Or they worry that they could jeopardize their friendly relationship with their elected officials.

These concerns are certainly understandable, but extremely dangerous. Here’s why.

First, nonprofit voice, unlike our own vocal chords, is a muscle that only works if exercised. Granted you want to be sure that you pick your battles. However, in my 15 plus years of experience in government/nonprofit interactions, I have never witnessed an elected or unelected government official respect and support an organization that stayed quiet during a hard political decision. Granted, some have been burned when they have handled their advocacy improperly and did not follow the rules, but there are none that I can think of that are respected for their complete silence. I know that some will dispute my conclusion on this, so I’ll explain why in my next point.

Second, the depth and length of the memory of goodwill in our political system is directly proportional to our term limits. No elected official today in Michigan has to worry about the long-term (15-20 years) consequences of their actions. Term limits guarantee that they will not be in office when the day of reckoning comes for their decisions. In addition, our state political bodies are largely controlled by the leadership rather than the caucuses. Large decisions are made by roughly six leaders in the House and Senate and the Governor. All the rest are waiting for direction and support.

Third, nonprofits have the privilege and responsibility to advocate for those unable to speak for themselves. This characteristic cuts across all 501(c)(3) nonprofits—we are charted with a charitable purpose to serve the common good. We are also constrained to be nonpartisan in our expression of voice. This makes for a power combination of benevolence and neutrality as we address Michigan’s most challenging issues. We all have to hold up these powerful characteristics whether a community foundation or a college, whether a food pantry or a hospital, whether a museum or a child daycare center, whether a senior living center or a land conservancy, we all have the responsibility and privilege to exercise our voice and advocate for the issues important to our constituents and the sector.

MNA recognizes that this is hard work and that little support exists to underwrite the time, talent and treasure it takes to advocate appropriately and effectively. That is why we give you the tools you need to make it easier and integrate it into your daily activities. Be sure to check out our website for our public policy & advocacy tools as well as our nonprofit resources that help you stay legal and ensure that your organization can effectively and legally share its voice. MNA has a platform you can use for your own organization to give a framework to your advocacy. You can also participate in our events including the Nonprofit SuperConference where we will be joined by Governor Rick Snyder. Finally, be sure to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts. These will give you the most current information on how you can exercise your voice.

Nonprofit leaders must advocate for their missions and the people they serve. Our organizations have to exercise our voice to be heard, understood and respected. I hope you will exercise your voice as a nonprofit leader and help elected officials make the right choices in these challenging and transformative times


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Why You Should Attend Conferences

There are countless professional development opportunities where we can meet people and develop our skills. Some of these are short one-time local events, while others are large state-wide and national conferences. While I believe strongly that each of us should take advantage of every professional opportunity we can fit in our schedules and budgets, I am partial to attending conferences. Why? Here are my three reasons for attending the 2011 MNA SuperConference and other large state-wide and national conferences:

Inspiration – If you arrive at a conference looking to be inspired, I can guarantee that you won’t be let down. Whether it is by a plenary speaker, a breakout session presenter, or someone you will meet during lunch, there are tons of inspirational stories waiting to be shared at every conference. Inspiration is what drives you to have a big vision and give the most to your work. For me, at the 2010 SuperConference it was John Wood, Founder of Room to Read. His story was inspirational and motivated me to think big, dream bigger and GSD. With a great line up of speakers for 2011 I will have to wait and see which one inspires me the most, but I attend SuperConference, each year, with confidence that I will walk away inspired.

Networking – I’m not talking about your everyday networking where you meet a bunch of people you may never meet again. I’m talking about identifying people you want to meet, finding them and talking with them to build your network. Conferences are where you will find the rockstars of your field. The CEOs, founders, and powerbrokers of the nonprofit sector are most easily accessible at conferences. Once you’ve met the people you want to meet, remember that it takes at least two significant interactions with someone for them to remember you. You can either find that person a second time during the same conference (this may involve going out of your way, but it’s worth it!) or email them afterward. On my way home I always make a list of 4-5 people I want to “reconnect” with when I get home. It can be as simple as emailing them saying how great it was nice to meet them, but you need that second interaction to make your networking count.

3 Great New Ideas – You will be exposed to a large number of ideas at a conference, but not all of them will be new or great. I have discovered that if I can find three great new ideas at a conference it is a successful use of my time and resources. Three core changes to my day-to-day work, my organization at large, or my personal philosophy is a significant amount of improvement. If you bring back many more than three (and aren’t able to prioritize them), you run the risk of not implementing any changes due to being overwhelmed. With specific tracks of programming, the 2011 Super Conference has new ideas waiting for every type of nonprofit professional.

I’m not here to advocate any one particular conference over another, but I will encourage every professional to find a way to attend at least one conference a year. You will be inspired, networked and you’ll have 3 great new ideas to improve your professional and personal life. See you at the 2011 MNA Super Conference in May!

For a further look at why you should attend SuperConference, click here!


Submitted by Mike Goorhouse, Private Foundations Coordinator and Grants Manager for the Council of Michigan Foundations

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A Budget Challenge on Three Fronts

Is Michigan a Nonprofit-friendly state and why does it matter? This is our sector’s most important question as we face a three-front fiscal crisis. The three fronts are the budget shortfalls at the federal, state and local levels; challenges in government contracting and granting; and skyrocketing need levels that have not been seen for some time.

Michigan’s current projected budget gap for FY 2012 is $1.8 billion, placing us in the top 20% of the 45 states projecting shortfalls. The Recovery Act Funds are drying up now with the reduction of the $98 billion invested from FY 2009 to FY 2011 to a projected $6 billion for FY 2012. The U.S. Senate is debating on whether to cut $4.7 billion or $57 billion from the current budget for the remaining six plus months of this fiscal year. That debate is largely seen as setting the stage for how the FY 2012 debate will be waged as the Congress and President declare each others’ budget as unrealistic. These budget challenges combined with the stresses placed on nonprofits through the proposed repeals of Michigan tax credits make the public/private partnerships difficult for nonprofits to continue.

An increasing number of nonprofit organizations with federal, state, and local contracts report a strained government partnership. Some report that governments are failing to make payments for services performed under contracts, forcing the organizations to make painful cuts to programs, services and staff. In light of the budget cuts in revenue sharing and other public sources, local government agencies are withholding reimbursements, rescinding agreements altogether, or imposing other financial burdens that harm nonprofits. This challenging relationship is exacerbated by the fact that generally government contracts simply don’t cover the full cost of providing services. This is proven in our own look at the Michigan landscape.

MNA data reveals that 45% of nonprofits experience delays in scheduled government payments. In addition, when organizations were asked to identify specifically where the delay in government funding was occurring: 39% reported delays at the local level, 26% reported delays at the state level, and 16% reported delays at the federal level. We also found that 49% reported raising less financial/in-kind support in 2009 compared to previous years. Beyond budget cuts, nonprofits struggle to provide vitally needed services to a growing population with more constraints and few resources.

The final conspirator is the growing levels of need. Let’s agree to set aside for the moment the effects of the recession including the job loss, record foreclosure rates, and persistently high unemployment rates. There are other huge issues including the unpaid pension and healthcare liabilities on the state’s books. Michigan has a growing need with the aging of the Baby Boomers and the now projected decline—not stagnation, but decline—of population growth and thereby working taxpayers. While Michigan’s 1.9 million who depend on Medicaid are spared the budget axe in Governor’s Snyder’s FY 2012-2013 budget proposal, they are still expected to grow in numbers at an alarming rate that may exceed our ability to provide them healthcare coverage. This will lead to more elderly, children and vulnerable populations looking for help elsewhere, especially local mission-driven nonprofits concerned with the health of our communities.

These are reasons we should care. As a sector, we should begin to call for policy makers to build a fertile landscape for an effective, engaged, relevant and understood nonprofit sector. We need to demand that the state’s policy climate be supportive of the sector that is one of the leading economic engines, employs one in ten workers, and includes the assets our state will need to lead to our economic transformation—education, healthcare, arts & culture, and environmental stewardship. These are the reasons that every Michigander needs to call for Michigan to be a nonprofit-friendly state. It’s what will be at the forefront of our reinvention.


Submitted by Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Panama – End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign

While I was in Panama at the International Association of Voluntary Efforts (IAVE) Conference, I met the director of the End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign. In 2000, 189 world leaders signed the Millennium Declaration and agreed to meet a set of benchmarks called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.)

The overarching goal is to eradicate extreme poverty. It is a call for governments to reexamine their commitment to human development. We are at the half point and now that the focus is off the world leaders, it is essential that the grass roots efforts need to be increased. We need to hold our world leaders accountable to their commitments.

In the US, the campaign is under the banner of the organization ONE-The Campaign to make poverty history. I would ask that you take a look at their website and look at the action steps that we as Americans can take to help us meet the goals of the campaign. For those international readers of the blog you can get more information at End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign.

“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.”

Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Submitted by Sam Singh
Sam Singh is an affiliated consultant with the Lansing-based firm, Public Policy Associates. He currently is on sabbatical traveling the world. You can contact Sam at singhsam94@gmail.com

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