Our Greatest Asset is Trust

Among the assets of Michigan’s nonprofits, the greatest is trust. There is no legal requirement for people and organizations to give to nonprofits. There is no mandate by government for every citizen to serve their community by volunteering at a nonprofit. The only way we can compel anyone to support our organizations is through our ability to demonstrate impact, show effective use of resources, and tell the story of the people we serve. In other words, people give because they trust the organization they give to will be good stewards of their gifts. Urgent File Image

During this “giving season” nonprofits across Michigan are reaching out for financial support of their work. This is also a ripe time for less altruistic actors to prey on the good intentions of Michigan’s citizens who want to give. Fraudulent solicitations, misuse of charitable contributions, and ineffective utilization of resources are all threats to trust in nonprofits—threats to our most valuable and hardest to earn asset. As a sector, we have to ensure that we protect the public trust.

MNA is working on several fronts to ensure a high level of trust in the sector. SB 1528 amends the Charitable Organization Solicitation Act (COSA) to increase penalties on bad actors including fraudulent fundraisers. This important piece of legislation is a cornerstone priority of the Michigan Nonprofit Caucus and is currently scheduled to be considered during the Lame Duck Session of the Michigan Legislature.

Nonprofits can help encourage donors to give to their organizations by using the Giving Wisely: Helping Michigan Citizens Be Savvy Donors guide. This guide, available on MNA’s website, helps donors understand the important questions they need to consider when giving their time, talent and treasure to nonprofits. MNA developed Giving Wisely in partnership with the Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan Association of United Ways, and the Office of Attorney General. Giving Wisely has links to important web resources, provides issues to consider when giving money as well as time to nonprofits, and offers nonprofits the opportunity to demonstrate that they are a good investment.

In a time when seven in ten Americans trust nonprofits more than they trust government or industry to address our community challenges, it is imperative that we live up to those expectations and build our assets–build trust.

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

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Resource Friday: Michigan Nonprofit Management Manual

New MNA Nonprofit Management Manual Now Available

The 5th edition of the Michigan Nonprofit Management Manual builds on the informative chapters found in previous editions, with many new features and updates, including: a new chapter on Risk Management, alignment with MNA’s Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Michigan, updates on laws, regulations and filing requirements, expanded chapters on the use of technology, connections to other resources with many website references and a revised format to help locate information quickly. MNA members can take advantage of the reduced member price of $75.00. The non-member price is $95.00. Order your copy today at MNA’s online bookstore: www.mnaonline.org/bookstore.asp.

Submitted by Kelley Kuhn, Director of Management Support and Capacity Building Services for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Making Sure Your Donations Reach You: How to Update Your GuideStar Information

Just a few weeks ago we shared the Giving Wisely This Holiday Season guide to help donors make giving decisions. In this guide, we discuss resources like GuideStar when making a donation online. BUT, is your organization’s information up to date if an individual chooses to give through GuideStar?

Our friends at Network for Good recently shared an article on how to update your GuideStar information and we felt it was important to post here.

In order to ensure that any donations you receive via Network for Good (whether you’re using Network for Good to process your donations, donors visit networkforgood.org or supporters visit another partner’s web site like Causes on Facebook), you need to make sure your nonprofit’s address information is accurate in GuideStar’s system.

Who/What is GuideStar? GuideStar is a nonprofit that connects people and organizations with information on the programs and finances of more than 1.7 million IRS-recognized nonprofits. Founded in 1994, GuideStar’s mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving. Network for Good relies on GuideStar’s database of public charities to provide individuals with comprehensive information about charities that match their interests.

To update your physical address for listing on NetworkForGood.org and their partners’ websites:
• If you have never registered with GuideStar, use the link below to register your information: https://commerce.guidestar.org/GuideStar/newaccount.aspx
• If you are registered, you can log in here: http://www.guidestar.org/login.jsp

Another resource Network for Good shared was a video CharityHowTo.com created: The GuideStar Exchange: A Step-By-Step Guide. This free training video provides a walk-through of the GuideStar Exchange (a free service offered by nonprofit industry leader GuideStar which allows nonprofit organizations to add and update information about their organizations to a master database used by 22,000 visitors every day) to help nonprofit organizations understand the process of adding and editing their information to this unique database.

The video looks at each section of the database and provides a brief overview of the value of the information, how it is used by visitors and how nonprofits can add new content to the database in order to have a more accurate and complete representation of their organization’s mission, causes and progress.

For additional help related to updating your GuideStar page information, you may refer to the following:
• “How to Update My Report” instructions
GuideStar’s FAQ page
• To reach GuideStar customer support, you can use one of the following contact methods:
o Toll free phone number: 1-800-784-9378
o Email: nposervices@guidestar.org

Article provided by Network For Good and the Learning Center.

Submitted by Lisa Sommer, public relations manager for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Giving Wisely This Holiday Season

This time of year, mailboxes and inboxes are filled with requests for charitable donations all saying the same thing – that financial support is needed now more than ever. But in these tough economic times, how can Michigan families ensure that their dollars will do the most good?

To assist donors in making these critical decisions, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), Michigan Association of United Ways (MAUW) and the Michigan Attorney General have developed a guide for Giving Wisely This Holiday Season.

The guide includes tips for choosing a charity, warning signs to watch for fraudulent groups, and tips for safely making a donation including online giving.

Read the Giving Wisely This Holiday Season guide, then let us know what you think. Is it helpful? How do you plan to give this holiday season? For our nonprofit leaders – how will you work with donors to help make the giving process a rewarding experience?

Submitted by Lisa Sommer, public relations manager for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Party Surprise

Do you remember those birthday parties where you would celebrate someone else’s birth but you would get a present just for being a good friend? That’s sort of how I felt when one of my colleagues from work called me and said that MNA was recognized by the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan in celebration of their 25th anniversary.

A month ago I was approached by staff of the Community Foundation who invited me and my board chair to a luncheon celebration for their 25th Anniversary Celebration. “Oh no,” I said. “I am booked that day, speaking in Traverse City at my Board Chair’s annual meeting.” Then they asked if we could send a substitute and I worked to be sure that we were represented.

Flickr user: procsilas

Flickr user: procsilas

Thirty days later as I am driving back from Traverse City, I received call from Kelley on my staff whom I sent to the luncheon in my place. She had one question. “Should we always expect to receive a check at events we attend for you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. Then Kelley told me the whole story of how the seating was assigned so that the organizations sat together with one of the Community Foundation Trustees and after an exemplary video presentation and overview of the Foundation’s history, Miriam Noland announced that the Foundation wanted to celebrate its 25th with 25 organizations it was proud to support. Then, after a brief pause, she said that the Foundation was awarding $25,000 to each organization and then the Foundation Trustee at the table handed each organization their check. Amazing!

In a time of tremendous challenges it’s humbling to have your organization recognized in such a heartfelt and innovative way. Thank you to the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan and to all who helped to make MNA a great organization.

Submitted by Kyle Caldwell



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Charities “Stockpiling Your Money?”

A MNA staff member recently brought to my attention the “Top Ten Lists” that are on the Charity Navigator website (a well-known charity watchdog group). The lists range from “10 Charities Drowning in Administrative Expenses” to “10 of the Best Charities Everyone’s Heard of” and 10 Charities Stockpiling Your Money,” which included the name of a Michigan charity. In fact, there are 11 Top Ten Lists.

As I reviewed the lists of charities, I wondered if Charity Navigator staff actually called the charities and looked at the programs and activities of those charities they listed, or whether they simply took at face value what the charities had said on the Form 990s or other financial statements. While the Top Ten Lists may be interesting, and in some cases enlightening, I think there may be much more, or less, to the story than meets the eye.

Flickr user: borman818

Flickr user: borman818

For example, some of the charities “stockpiling your money” may have some good reasons for the stockpile. I wonder if the Charity Navigator staff called the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation to ask whether the “stockpile” is to build the memorial, which, I believe, is still in the planning phases. I wonder if some of these charities have capital campaign funds to build new facilities or if they might be in the first year or two of a five-year grant period in which most of funds have been distributed but not expended.

Did Charity Navigator staff visit World Wildlife Fund, and did they talk to the telemarketers who do their fundraising to see if the telemarketers provide accurate information to donors? What does Charity Navigator mean by “best?” Is it just that World Wildlife Fund had good numbers and percentages on their 990? I think donors should have the benefit of more complete information before deciding which charities to support.

My point is that donors are wise to use available tools like Guidestar, Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and information from the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust database to help understand what charities are doing with their donated funds. But, donors need to go further and also ask the charity and maybe others who know about the charity’s work, especially if the apparent facts raise questions. I know from more than a few years of reading figures on 990s that some charities really do try to disguise the fact that they are doing little or no charitable work while operating aggressive fundraising campaigns. BUT, I also know there are other charities that fail to tell their good stories on IRS forms. For example, some of the most productive community charities put most of their expenses in the “administrative” category when those funds were actually used to pay the expenses of their charitable programs.

Donors and charity watchdogs must not deny themselves the opportunity of learning both sides of the story; and charities must be ready and willing to explain their programs and their stewardship of funds.

Note: This post is authored by guest blogger Marion Gorton. Marion previously worked as a charitable trust administrator for the Michigan Department of the Attorney General, administering the office that oversees charities. Since retirement from the AG’s office in December 2005, she has worked at the Michigan Nonprofit Association as a program specialist and public policy specialist.

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The Giving Spirit in Michigan

As unemployment numbers across the nation are on the rise, nonprofit organizations are seeing an increase in their volunteer base. Volunteers are critical to the success of nonprofits to address and serve community needs. This week the nation celebrates volunteers. On Wednesday, Michigan Nonprofit Association led a celebration of giving and volunteering in Michigan, where we heard from volunteers in our great state and awarded some elected officials for supporting volunteerism and the nonprofit sector. (Watch the video to hear what volunteering means to LaTasha Jeter, a junior at Michigan State University) Tomorrow, Michigan Nonprofit Association will join Comcast employees and their family and friends as part of Comcast Cares Day, the company’s annual day of service. But as we conclude this special week around volunteering and service, how will we keep the momentum alive?

The Volunteer Centers of Michigan has recently taken the lead in convening volunteer organizations throughout the Midwest to collaborate and share ideas about connecting these resources to nonprofit organization and the future of volunteer management in Michigan. VCM’s Midwest Retreat was grown out of conversations that had begun during the 2008 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Atlanta. Volunteer Centers in the Midwest felt a need to come together to support each other in professional development opportunities and this retreat filled that need. This first Midwest retreat brought together over 60 individuals to explore the changes in the field of volunteer engagement and what steps each of them could take to harness volunteering in new ways. It was an opportunity to hear from staff from the national Hands on Network on the state of the federal legislation affecting volunteerism and the potential for new resources to come into the field for “volunteer connector organizations.”

This event allowed participants to dialogue about key partners and trainers, as well as about how volunteer centers can continue to grow and thrive in the current economic climate. It was an opportunity for best practice sharing among professionals from neighboring states, who offered each other new ideas to engage greater numbers of community volunteers to address local needs. VCM maintains that volunteers are the nonprofit sector’s biggest resource, and through these collaborative efforts we will be able to maximize their impact and support for nonprofit organizations. Visit http://www.mivolunteers.org and join the conversation by connecting with your local Volunteer Center today!

Representative Proos

Representative Proos

Check out photos from the 2009 Giving & Volunteering Celebration!

Read the Giving & Volunteering in Michigan 2008 report. Highlights include:
• 50% of adults report that volunteering continues to be a vital part of their lives
• More than 25% of respondents indicate they intend to volunteer more in 2009
• Almost 9 out of 10 people made a contribution to a charity in the previous year.
• Nearly 75% of respondents feel charities are more effective today than five years ago
• 95% report the need for charities is greater today

Diana AlgraNote: This post is authored by guest blogger Diana Algra Diana Algra currently serves as the Executive Director of the Volunteer Centers of Michigan, an association that represents the 27 Volunteer Centers in Michigan. Her community involvement includes serving on the boards of the Capital Region Community Foundation, Sparrow Health System Community Council, and the Capital Area United Way Community Impact Committee. She also serves as a “Lunch Buddy” for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lansing program.

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