Stand for Your Mission: Trusted Voices in Michigan

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Michigan nonprofits are on the front line of service and of need, so it is our obligation to identify issues that affect the people we serve and advocate for changes we would like to see on their behalf.

Michigan nonprofits have lived through the storm of a near-Depression economy. During that time we have served as a support and safety net for those we serve. And because nonprofits are on the front line, we are able to see and interpret what is happening at the grassroots level and at the local and state levels. We should therefore be working to inform policy through advocacy.

Yes, things have gotten better across the state, but there will always be a need for Michigan nonprofits to be a constant voice and advocate for those we serve. We are true change agents who have an unflinching responsibility to educate and advocate on issues. We cannot shy away from being that voice.

Our boards and staffs, as well as our networks and allies, are essential to bringing our voices to the forefront in sparking change and maintaining what is important to us. We also have the exciting opportunity to help give voice to those who have remained voiceless. Often the stories of those we serve can be extremely powerful in painting a picture of what is at stake. As we build advocacy strategies, we must reach out and bring diverse interests into our conversations.

While it is true that there are rules and regulations that define the parameters of lobbying for nonprofits, it doesn’t mean that we should shy away from having our say. What it does mean is that we must educate our board members, executive teams, staffs and volunteers about the rules of engagement. As nonprofits, we can and should lobby!

We should also use other advocacy strategies and tactics to inform policy. Skills such as organizing, nonpartisan voter engagement, briefing sessions with policymakers and legislators, research and public education are all important tools in the nonprofit advocacy toolbox.

In trying to bring about change, it is important to build and foster ongoing relationships with policymakers, legislators and stakeholders. This relationship building cannot be a one-shot effort. If you want to make an impact on policy, it is a lot easier if you and your organization create ongoing dialogues that are an exchange of ideas and positions.

In order to frame issues appropriately, we must listen carefully, not just talk. So often when nonprofits rally the troops, we are so passionate about what is at stake that we take little time to educate ourselves on what it takes to create a win-win situation. The best advocates know that policy change and system change take time and commitment. They understand that true change happens when we move beyond “either/or” to “both/and.”

It is always important to remember that our Michigan nonprofits have earned a seat at the table right along with the other sectors. We have an important opportunity through advocacy to bring about the changes we want to see.

Here are a few tips on building a strong nonprofit advocacy machine:

  • Get training on effective advocacy for staff and board members.
  • Understand the differences between advocacy and lobbying.
  • Get everybody on the same page.
  • Build and maintain ongoing relationships with policymakers, legislators and allies.
  • Read and listen carefully. You can’t fully advocate for change if you don’t understand all aspects of your issue.
  • Organize your allies and think outside of the box about who those allies might be. They aren’t always who you think.
  • Develop fact sheets, position papers and other presentations that clearly tell your story.
  • Empower other voices. Think grass tops and grassroots.

Looking for a guide to nonprofit advocacy? MNA’s Nonprofit Advocacy: A Michigan Primer can help your nonprofit stand for its mission.

Murray-Brown_9 2014 smallDonna Murray-Brown is the President & CEO of Michigan Nonprofit Association

The 2014 Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Compensation and Benefits Report Sheds Light on the Competitive Edge

Michigan nonprofits prove their value time and time again but it goes without saying that any organization whether it is a Fortune 500 corporation, foundation or nonprofit, is only as solid as the talent it is able to attract and retain. The environment for Michigan nonprofits requires that they create appropriate compensation packages if they want to stay competitive in the pool of employers who are looking for quality talent.

Last December MNA released the 2014 Michigan Nonprofit Compensation & Benefits Report that was conducted by the Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy. The report is designed to share data on salaries and benefits packages for 70 job titles and 400 nonprofits. The report also shares demographics and compensation in the executive offices of Michigan nonprofits.

I also want to draw your attention to an exciting new feature within the report – diversity and inclusion. As you know, MNA believes in diversity and inclusion as an integral part of the work we all do.  Included in the current information on salaries and benefits is information on health coverage for domestic partners and compensation relative to gender.  One of the many things that I find significant and noteworthy about the report is that more than 50 percent of respondents to the survey said they have a formal diversity and inclusion policy. Nonprofits have come a long way in terms of reflecting the diversity of the people and demographics we serve.

Our report is a terrific tool for all nonprofits as well as other sectors to help them gauge their own policies and practices. At MNA we work hard to provide timely information on issues that contribute to the running of a strong organization that is primed for the sustainability. I encourage you to purchase and review a copy of the Compensation and Benefits Report by going to:

Murray-Brown_9 2014 smallDonna Murray-Brown is the President & CEO of Michigan Nonprofit Association

How Safe is Your Organization’s Information?

Protect against today’s threats while promoting future growth

The headlines are full of stories of information breaches and other hacks in the corporate sector. These incidents cost companies millions of dollars, and in the case of retailers like Target and Home Depot, they chip away at consumer confidence. Breaches in IT security are also very real for nonprofits. Not having a system for managing your IT security is like not having a plan to secure the financial data of your organization. The truth is that all organizations, both big and small, are at risk. The key is to create and monitor your systems in order to reduce and minimize the risks.

With all the ways that technology can be a tool to help nonprofits manage data, operations, and membership, it can also create challenges if it is not managed properly. If your organization doesn’t have a solid IT security strategy, developing one needs to be a top priority.

Highway T is a program of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and has been providing IT advice, planning, and support to Michigan’s nonprofit sector since 2001.

Join us on Tuesday, April 14th from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM for a free and open session to ask a Highway T consultant any IT question. You will get straightforward advice aimed at making your IT easier to manage. Register for this FREE event here.

In the meantime, here are some basic tips that all nonprofit organizations need to put in place today:

  • Institute a company password policy for your organization. Set up guidelines for changing the passwords every 30, 60, or 90 days. Require strong passwords that use a mix of words, capital letters, numeric, and special characters. And never use the same passwords more than once in a calendar year.
  • Stay away from recording the passwords by any method that is easily accessible. This means sharing passwords, writing them down, or even saving them in personal cloud storage systems like Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • Keep your anti-virus and your anti-malware software up-to-date on all computers and devices in your organization.
  • Don’t leave your laptop or device in your car for an extended period of time. If you must do this, leave it in the trunk of the car. This is important because if your car were stolen or if your computer were stolen from your car, your data and other important information would be vulnerable to theft.
  • Be mindful of who is around you when using your laptop or device in public spaces, such as coffee shops or hotel lobbies.
  • Remove access to the organization network and passwords of ex-employees immediately.
  • Don’t open email attachments from unknown sources. One of the easiest ways to pass on a malicious computer virus is through an email attachment.
  • Keep control of BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices); that is, personal device access within your organization.
  • Use organization-managed cloud storage for your information. Consumer versions of cloud storage systems such as Google Drive or Dropbox can keep your secure organization information out of your reach and easy to access.
  • Encourage employees to create a passcode for any smart devices that sync up with work emails.
  • Avoid using the “remember me” buttons on sites. Entering your password each time may be time consuming, but it is a good way to help protect your information.

Protect your organization against today’s threats while enabling future growth with security solutions from Highway T.

For more information or to schedule a free technology assessment, contact us at

Leon Wilson Leon Wilson is the Senior Director, Technology and Data Engagement at Michigan Nonprofit Association

New Rules Can Help You Increase Your Government Overhead Reimbursement

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Happy New Year!

2015 is already proving to be a significant one for nonprofits. In case you missed the big news that Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) announced earlier this month, governments at all levels are now required to reimburse nonprofits for the reasonable indirect costs (sometimes called “overhead” or “administrative” costs) they incur to deliver services.

As you know, entering into a contract for services with a government agency has often meant that we had to accept low limits on the amount of reimbursement for indirect costs. Essentially, government agencies were asking us to lose money in order to do the work.

A recent study by Charity Navigator says that the average American does not understand the indirect costs of the nonprofit sector. In fact, the study says that 62 percent of the people surveyed believe the typical nonprofit spends more than what is reasonable on overhead expenses such as fundraising and administration.

The new federal Office of Management and Budget Uniform Guidance rules are setting a precedent for the way that foundations and other funding sources view the indirect expenses that nonprofits incur. By instituting these new rules and paying their fair share of the costs that we incur in providing services and supports, the federal government is setting an example.

The Uniform Guidance rules now call for more costs to be directly reimbursable. They also raise the threshold for single audits to $750,000. It is estimated that this change alone will reduce the administrative costs for approximately 5,000 nonprofits across the country. Specifically it will help to ease the administrative costs and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal and state contract awards.

I urge you and your team to do a deep dive into what these new rules mean to your organization and your current and future contracts. You can start by registering for this free webinar presented by MNA and the National Council of Nonprofits:

Stop Losing Money: New Grant Rules You Need to Know
New OMB Uniform Guidance: Find out how new reforms can save you money
3-4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24

If you receive federal funds, either directly or through pass-through funding, this webinar is a must. Are you unsure if your organization receives federal funding? Check your most recent audit.

MNA will continue to educate Michigan nonprofits, foundations, funders and other donors on our indirect costs and what they support.

We will continue to share information on the OMB rules, as well as how nonprofits can prepare for and take full advantage of the changes.

Learning your rights will help support a successful year for the good work you do throughout 2015!

Michigan Nonprofit Association Supports Employers of National Service Initiative

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For nonprofits it is important to recruit talent and create opportunities to help individuals gain valuable skills that will help them today and in the future. That’s why I am so excited about the Employers of National Service Initiative.  For nonprofits it is a way of benefitting from the talent pipeline of AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps Alumni. By recruiting from this valuable pool, nonprofits will have access to dedicated, highly qualified potential employees who already understand the work and value of nonprofits in Michigan and around the country.

Here at MNA we already know the value of the National Service Alumni.  Over the years we have hired a number of alumni including current colleagues Chelsea Martin, Jennifer McArdle, Melissa Steward, and Nellie Tsai.

We also know that many of our member nonprofits have hired employees who are National Service Alumni to become a part of their talented staffs. We have already seen the benefit of National Service Alumni. And in September of 2014, as a part of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, President Barack Obama launched the Employers of National Service Initiative.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps, is leading this effort along with its partners, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps Alums, and the Franklin Project. As announced on Sept. 12, 2014, there are two dozen charter Employers of National Service. Any employer that signs up to participate by Dec. 31, 2014, will be considered a charter Employer of National Service.

As you consider hiring skilled, committed talent for your organization, don’t overlook the National Service Alumni. If you would like more information on how to get in on the ground floor of this opportunity and tap into this pool, go to

Michigan Nonprofits – Do you know your economic impact?

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As the business community and policymakers talk about the road to economic recovery coming up to the election and beyond, our sector must remember that we too are key players and contributors to building a stronger Michigan. So often our work and its significance flies under the radar.

If you have not read the MNA-commissioned, Economic Benefits of Michigan’s Nonprofit Sector Report , produced by Public Sector Consultants and released this year, I urge you to do so. It is a tremendous tool to help us all understand the value that our sector provides to the economy.

The report bears out that nonprofits have held their own under some very tough economic circumstances, and employment in our sector has actually increased. The nonprofit sector now employs about the same number of people as durable goods manufacturing, which includes the auto industry. More than 438,000 individuals, or 11 percent of the state’s workforce, were employed by nonprofits in 2013.As nonprofits come to the table with government, business and communities, it is important that we understand our impact. We have had to be nimble and proactive so that we can contribute in innovative ways. While filling in gaps and providing services to address the needs of residents remains a primary focus for nonprofits, our sector has the resources to effect change on a much broader scale. It is time for Michigan nonprofits to really see our influence and embrace our ability to be change-agents and great partners in this state.

Together, we need to continue to educate ourselves on our collective contributions to the economic wellbeing of the state, and we need to continually reinforce those messages to other sectors. The Michigan nonprofit sector provides innovation and stability to the most vulnerable in uncertain times. We are major employers in the state, as well as major service providers. We see trends, often before other sectors. And we often feel the impacts of times of crisis before others.

Armed with the data, we all have the opportunity to reframe the discussion on the value of Michigan nonprofits. So often we are about doing the work, securing the funding, and looking at our individual organization’s bottom lines, and we forget the successes and strengths that collectively we offer.

Take some time to review the report. In addition, I am excited to announce that MNA is hosting regional trainings on how to use the data.

Jeff Williams, CEO of Public Sector Consultants will present two regional workshops this year. These workshops will highlight interesting data and trends as well as demonstrate the powerful web-based tool that allows users to drill down into this data set.  These interactive, interesting and educational workshops will give you the tools you need to communicate the influence of the sector to your stakeholders.

Events are free but registration is required.

Economic Impact of Nonprofits in West Michigan

Wednesday, November 19, 9:00-10:30 a.m., Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Grand Rapids

Economic Impact of Michigan’s Nonprofit Sector

Tuesday, November 25, 10:00-11:30 a.m., Michigan Nonprofit Association-Armory Building, Lansing

Donna Murray-Brown
President & CEO
Michigan Nonprofit Association

Complete MNA’s 2014 Compensation & Benefits Survey – the Quality of Your Team Depends on It!

We work for the cause and not for the money, but even in the nonprofit sector we want a fair wage.

But how do you figure that out? How do you make sure you aren’t underpaying your employees just because their focus is on making a difference, not making a paycheck?

The Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Compensation and Benefits Survey is our tool. It gives us rich data on wages, broken down by geographic region, budget size, and organization type. It helps us understand the market for talent in the nonprofit sector and provides honest benchmarks for us to measure our wages against. It gives us the confidence that we’re asking for the right personnel support in grant proposals and that we’re treating our employees with the care and dignity they earn every day.

But it doesn’t work unless you and I participate.

There are thousands of nonprofits in Michigan, but only a fraction provide this salary data every other year. To make the survey a truly valuable tool, we need all of us to weigh in. It does take a little bit of time to fill out — I spent about 30 minutes on ours — but you get access to the data in return. And you help ensure that the whole nonprofit community has a valuable tool to use in setting salaries.

Please, take the time to fill out the Compensation and Benefits Survey this week. A fair wage is everyone’s business, and together we can help ensure Michigan nonprofits are giving their employees the right return for an almost immeasurable investment.

Your appropriate HR person may complete the survey at Deadline extended to 9/26/2014.

Conan SmithConan Smith is the Executive Director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and a Washtenaw County Commissioner representing Ann Arbor. He chairs the board of Michigan Saves and is a member of the Michigan Utility Consumer Protection Board and the Michigan Works Association board.


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