Stand for Your Mission: Trusted Voices in Michigan

Direct from Donna with Headshot

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

Despite differences, education is central to both State and Federal Budgets

These past few weeks have demonstrated the challenges of creating sound, effective budgets at the state and national level. The Michigan and federal budgets, however, paint two very different pictures of the health of their constituents.

The recession over the past four years has not been kind, but there seems to be a glimmer of hope in Michigan. After several consecutive years of painful cuts, it appears the financial outlook is more optimistic with 2012’s budget surplus. Education funding increased by 0.2%, public safety funding is also set to increase, and the “Rainy Day” fund will grow by an additional $130 million, according to the State Budget Office. At the Federal level, by contrast, the deficit still weighs heavily on programs most Americans take for granted, but rely on – the President offered a 52% decrease in Education, a 35% decrease in Labor, and slight increases for Health and Human Services (3.7%) and the Corporation of National and Community Service (1.3%).

Still, there are some common commitments between the two budgets, such as improving performance and affordability of education. President Obama promotes a ‘Race to the Top’ and links financial aid to universities that keep their tuition under control. Governor Rick Snyder also wants to link increased spending in education to improved performance, best practices, and college tuition restraint. And they are politicians from two different parties.

Despite the other differing priorities of the two budgets, it is clear that superior education for future generations must be a priority for education beyond high school. Whether it is community college, traditional four-year, or vocational – higher education has become increasingly important to achieve personal financial security.

Submitted by Michelle Eichhorst, Public Policy Fellow for Michigan Nonprofit Association

Save Service, Change Lives

Serving as an AmeriCorps member changed my life. I graduated from college at the beginning of the 2008 recession and AmeriCorps was one of the only jobs available to me. Little did I know that my time serving at a small community art center would impact my career path choices. I found such meaning and gained so many skills from my service that I have chosen to stay in the nonprofit sector, now working with the Michigan Nonprofit Association. This program opened doors for me, and now the federal government is considering cutting the funding. These are valuable programs. They make differences in the lives of your friends, neighbors and community. Please show your support for these programs. Below you will find an email circulated by Save Service, the campaign striving to protect this incredible resource in our country. Follow the steps and do your part to keep national service a part of our country’s legacy.

It’s time to Make the Call! Take five minutes RIGHT NOW and dial 1-855-US-SERVE (1-855-877-3783) to be connected directly to your US Senators and ask them to save funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Your voice is your vote for national service; with just days to go before the next continuing resolution runs out, we need our Senators to know their constituents continue to see this as a vital community resource that must be protected in final negotiations for the FY11 budget.

Tell them that cutting AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve and Senior Corps – cost-effective, highly-leveraged programs – will jeopardize jobs, economic investment and services in your state. Tell them how the opportunity to serve has made a difference in your own life, or how you’ve seen it make a difference in your community. Tell them in these final hours, we need their leadership and support on this issue now more than ever.

As a reminder, visit for talking points, voting records, and more.

Then follow these easy steps:
1. Dial 1-855-US-SERVE (1-855-877-3783) … It’s free and easy and will connect you directly to your Senator’s office.
2. Hang up and Call 1-855-US-SERVE a Second Time … you have two Senators!
3. Recruit a Friend to Call. Promote that you called on your Facebook page!
4. Let us know you Made the Call. Visit our reporting page.
5. Forward this email to your networks!

This week is critical for us to demonstrate yet again the strength and power of the national service community. Thank you for making the call, and for all you are doing to help us Save Service in America.

For more specific information on how these service programs affect Michigan, check out the MNA website:

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

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Support National Service Funding

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives announced they will begin looking at a Continuing Resolution, or a short-term budget that will fund the last 7 months of Fiscal Year 2011. This proposed bill will immediately cut $100 billion from the federal budget, and there have been reports that the bill will eliminate funding for programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service, including AmeriCorps, Learn & Serve, and Senior Corps.

Flickr photo by ginnerobot

On Monday, the President announced his FY12 budget, which includes $1.3 billion for the Corporation, an 11% increase above FY10 enacted levels ($1.149B). This increase will support a small growth in AmeriCorps to 90,000 members and will fund the education award at $5,550/fulltime members. There is also a small amount of demonstration dollars for Senior Corps programs.

What Does this Mean?
The President’s support of National Service Funding most likely means that the majority of Democrats will vote in favor of the President’s request, whereas the majority of Republicans will be a harder sell. Most advocacy efforts will be directed towards Republicans in both the U.S House and Senate to garner bipartisan support of National Service Funding.

Why Does this Matter?
– National Service Funding is one of the largest volunteer mobilizing resources available to nonprofit organizations which is vital to their mission
– National Service Funding provides over $6 million in federal support to Michigan for AmeriCorps and Learn & Serve programs alone; the matching funds of these federal dollars by companies, foundations, and other sources would be lost
– More than 2,000 Michiganders would be forced to seek alternative forms of employment as a result of the elimination
– 320 Michigan organizations, representing all 83 counties, would be affected by the elimination including schools, homeless service agencies, and community health centers

How Can You Help?
Call your member of Congress– we need to reach every single member of the House of Representatives! Urge them to vote NO on a continuing resolution that eliminates funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Click here for more information on why it’s so important to call your member of Congress.

Submitted by Katie VanderVeen, Public Policy Fellow for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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Health Care Reform – Small Nonprofits Can Start Claiming Credit Immediately

With the President’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, all qualified small employers – both nonprofits and for-profits – can immediately claim a tax credit when they pay for at least half of the health insurance premiums for their employees. The full credit will be available to employers with 10 or fewer workers with average annual wages of $25,000, while firms with up to 25 or fewer employees and average annual wages of up to $50,000 will be eligible for part of the credit.

How It Works
The small employer credit will help all small employers (defined as 25 or fewer employees and average wages below $50,000 per year) provide insurance to their employees.

• In Phase I (2010-2013), small nonprofit employers can take a credit (in the form of 25% of the employer contribution for employee insurance premiums) and apply that credit to taxes withheld through payroll (and employees would still get full credit for taxes withheld from their pay).
• In Phase II (2014-onward), the amount of the credit increases to 35%.

The law treats for-profits and nonprofits differently in these respects: for-profits get a higher rate for the credit during both phases (35% in Phase I and 50% in Phase II), but nonprofits can claim the credit each pay period whereas for-profits must wait until year-end to claim an income tax credit, and then, only if they are profitable.

What You Need to Know
The Internal Revenue Service has recently provided tax tips, guides and answers to frequently asked questions on its website. The IRS and U.S. Department of Labor will be issuing official guidance in the future, but, in the spirit of helping people have a better understanding, here are preliminary answers to some initial questions:

What is the maximum health insurance credit amount a nonprofit employer can claim in 2010? If the nonprofit employs 10 or fewer workers with average annual wages of no more than $25,000, the full 25% credit can be applied to the aggregate amount of actual premiums paid by employer (or a lesser average premium amount in the state, as may be determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The nonprofit must pay at least 50% of the employee premium to qualify.
How much is the credit if I employ more than 10 employees and/or if average pay is more than $25,000? The calculation of the phase out is complicated and should be determined with the help of an accountant. Here is a general rule of thumb for estimating the benefit of the credit:

Multiply the amount the employer paid in health premiums by the maximum nonprofit credit amount of 25%. Subtract from that amount either of the following calculations if they apply:
• Number of Employees (greater than 10): Start with the total number of full-time equivalent employees, subtract 10 and divide by 15. Multiply the dollar figure in Step 1 by this percentage.
• Average Wages (greater than $25,000): Subtract $25,000 from the average annual wages paid by the nonprofit, and divide that number by $25,000. Multiply the dollar figure in Step 1 by this new percentage.
• Subtract the totals from Step 2 and Step 3 from the amount in Step 1 to determine your credit.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and what it means for Michigan nonprofits will be a topic discussed in detail at this year’s Nonprofit Day. MNA encourages you to attend this event to stay informed, and take advantage of the credits that have been made available through Health Care Reform.

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Census Count Continues

Many of you and the organizations you serve are continuing to educate your community about the urgency of participating in the 2010 census. Although our efforts are not yet complete, I wanted to share with you the reflections of two individuals who were contracted by APIAVote Michigan and American Citizens for Justice to serve as co-coordinators for their Census 2010 Project.

Barbara Stachowski and Samira Ahmed have been working together on the census project since January and found the census was important for a variety of reasons to their community members. In their blogs, they share about their experience and relationships that were built within the community.

Here is an excerpt from Samira’s blog:

…Along with the Supervisory Committee, Barbara and I strategized plans for outreach as we embarked upon the major undertaking of reaching out to a vast and diverse Asian American populace in the area. We made our focus major community events, worship services, and community meetings and gatherings. This strategy proved highly effective as we reached out to over 9,500 members of the Asian American community of Southeast Michigan. We are also hoping that we helped contribute to Michigan’s impressive 77% participation rate, making it one of the top five states in regards to mail participation rate. Cities like Troy, Canton, and Rochester Hills, areas where we conducted a great deal of outreach, were among the top 50 cities with 50,000 residents with the highest mail participation rates in the country, with rates above 80%.

It is not only numbers that we have to show for our success however, we were also able to form new relationships and collaborations within the Asian American community in Southeast Michigan. In addition, this four month experience was without a doubt one of the most interesting and fascinating ones I have undertaken. I have lived in Southeast Michigan all my life, but I had never understood how diverse the Asian American community in the area truly was. Even among the South Asian community that I belong to, there were so many different cultural, language, and religious groups that I never knew existed…

To read Samira and Barbara’s entire blog, click here.

It’s crunch time. We need you to continue your efforts to make sure Michigan has a complete count.

Submitted by Sam Singh, Census Consultant for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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What is a Census Taker?

April is almost over, but the 2010 Census is not. On May 1, census workers will begin going door to door to collect census forms that have not been mailed back. What is a Census Taker and what should you expect if one visits your home? The U.S. Census Bureau just shared an excellent blog post describing the process and what census takers are required to do.

By being counted you are standing up for what your community’s needs are. That’s why census takers are so important. A census taker is a person from your community who is hired by the Census Bureau to make sure that your neighborhood gets represented as accurately as possible. The census taker’s primary responsibility is to collect census information from residences. Most of these residences have not sent back their 2010 Census form.

* The Census Bureau provides the census taker with a binder containing all of the addresses that didn’t send back a filled out census form.
* The census taker then visits all of those addresses and records the answers to the questions on the form.
* If no one answers at a particular residence, a census taker will visit a home up to three times and attempt to reach the household by phone three times. The census worker will leave a double-sided (English and Spanish) NOTICE of VISIT in the doorway that includes a phone number for the resident to schedule an appointment.

The census taker will ONLY ask the questions that appear on the census form.

You can read the full blog post here.

Submitted by Sam Singh, Census Consultant for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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