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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One-Time Special Filing Relief Program for Small Nonprofits at Risk of Losing Tax-Exempt Status

The Internal Revenue Service released this press release and video today, announcing that small nonprofits that have failed to file returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 can preserve their status by filing before October 15, 2010, under a one-time relief program. There are two types of relief available for small exempt organizations:

1. A filing extension for the smallest organizations required to file Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (e-Postcard)
2. A voluntary compliance program (VCP) for small organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax

The IRS has also published a list of organizations that have return due dates between May 17 and October 15, 2010, but the IRS has no record that the organization filed the required returns for any of the past three years. Check out the list at to ensure your organization is in compliance.

Don’t risk losing your tax-exempt status. File today!

Submitted by Kari Sederburg, director of public policy for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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How do you measure your impact?

What do the BP oil spill and the nonprofit sector have in common? They both lack real-time data that would provide a true understanding of their impact. We are all thinking about the devastating effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the impact on the environment and economies of communities along the Delta. From the outset in April, journalists were asking for a clear and consistent answer on how much oil was spewing from the broken well pipe a mile below the Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform. No good answers were given because there was no monitoring apparatus that could measure the flow accurately. Now efforts have been taken to better monitor the well flow and understand the long- and short-term impact of this historic tragedy.

Like the BP incident, the nonprofit sector cannot fully articulate its impact, albeit in more positive terms. Other industries and sectors are able to measure, track and communicate their impact in terms that people can understand and hear about on a monthly or quarterly basis. We track employment, crop yields, manufacturing output, construction, even sports in such detail that our newspapers have dedicated whole sections to reporting on their activities daily. Society has placed a significant emphasis on understanding many parts of our world, but far less on the real impact of the work of the nonprofit sector even though we touch everyone’s life in some way every day.

Flickr user: Pink Sherbet Photography

What do we know about the sector? In Michigan, we know that one in ten who are fortunate to be employed work for a nonprofit. The demand for nonprofit sector services is escalating. We know that while there are significant declines in charitable giving, delays in government payments for services rendered, and overall higher costs to doing business; the overall sector grew 2.7% during this most recent recession, was slow to shed jobs, and provided growing wages to its workforce. All this we know about our sector. However this data is from 12-18 months ago and only touches the surface for what we really need to understand our sector. We cannot tell you today what those numbers might be in real time, nor the full impact of our work—all necessary to make real decisions on how to best deploy our resources for the maximum benefit.

Flickr user: Benketaro

There are important questions we should ask. What is the local impact of nonprofits as a sector? What are the monthly unemployment rates for nonprofit employers? What is costs/benefit ratio of tax exemption to community benefit among nonprofits? As the National Council of Nonprofits CEO, Tim Delaney recently put it, “We have a government that can tell us with precision how many iceberg lettuce heads were pulled out of the ground last year, yet it cannot tell us how many heads of individuals were employed by nonprofits. Why are iceberg lettuce heads more valuable than the people who take care of America’s communities?”

Last week, some stepped up to try to address these questions and give nonprofits a voice in the decisions of government. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) announced Wednesday that she will introduce new legislation that will help mold a stronger partnership between the federal government and nonprofit organizations, especially those who have direct influences in the health care and education sectors ( The Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act (H.R. 5533) would strengthen America’s communities by making the federal government a more productive partner with nonprofit organizations by establishing
1) better communication with the federal government,
2) better coordination within government, and
3) enhanced data collection.

Just as we witnessed in the health care reform legislation, nonprofits were left out of the bill until the last minute despite being a major employer—rivaling other small for-profit businesses. That is because policy makers did not understand nonprofits as major employers and economic engines in communities. This legislation will begin to establish federal mechanisms for nonprofits to be at the policy table and give real data to decision making.

We will provide updates through our blog on this important legislation as it develops. In the meantime, please use the free tools MNA has provided to tell our sector’s stories. We have updated data on the economic impact of the sector through the recession, survey data on the economic pressures nonprofits face as well as the important role volunteers play in our work, and state data on the important role of philanthropy through our Giving and Volunteering report that shows Michigan residents continue to give despite our financial challenges. Please use all of these as you talk to decision makers about our work. I truly believe that once we better understand our sector and can effectively communicate our impact, our sector will be well positioned to help lead Michigan’s economic turnaround.

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

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