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

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 

Tomorrow is Election Day!

Tomorrow is Election Day! The polls open at 7:00 a.m. and will remain open until 8:00 p.m. Make your voice heard tomorrow by participating in this important election!

Need some tips for tomorrow? MNA has a number of helpful election resources available on our Michigan Participation Project website. Check out the Quick Links below or just visit the site.

Quick Links for Election Resources
My Polling Location: Find your polling location by entering a few pieces of information about yourself on this website. From here you can also access your sample ballot.
Do I Need Photo Identification? Yes, but if you do not have a photo ID or forget to bring it with you to the polls, you can still vote by requesting and signing an affidavit. More detailed information is available on the Secretary of State’s website.
Filling Out a Ballot in Michigan: Nervous about filling out your ballot correctly? Check out this easy-to-read description and visual example of how to fill out an optical scan ballot.
Nonpartisan Voter Guides: Statewide and local guides to give you nonpartisan information on candidates for Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, U.S. House of Representatives, State House and Senate Districts, Supreme Court Justices, University of Michigan Board of Regents, Michigan State University Board of Trustees, Wayne State University Board of Governors, and many more.
Statewide Ballot Proposals: Get information on Ballot Proposals 10-01 (Constitutional Convention) and 10-02 (Ban on felons holding some government offices).
Sample Ballots: Provide a few basic pieces of information about yourself and this handy site will provide a reminder on your polling location, contact information for your local clerk, and a copy of your sample ballot.

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

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Make Election Day a Success

The November 2 Election is just around the corner! Here are 5 things your organization can do to make this Election Day a success, provided by our friends from the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network.

5 Things Your Nonprofit Can Do
Not sure what to do? Try out some of our suggestions below to make this Election Day a success!
1. Increase visibility around the election. Turn up the volume by including voting reminders in all of your communications. Put up signage or decorate with streamers to create a celebratory atmosphere and increase excitement.

2. Ensure staff and volunteers are equipped to answer basic questions about the election. They should know when polls open and close, how to help locate a polling site, and have contact information for your local election board and national voter hotlines available.

3. Make personal contact. Reach out to voters by integrating conversations about the election into your services and meetings. Make announcements and ask individuals if they are planning to vote, or if they have already voted. Personal reminders and offering help to a voter are effective get-out-the-vote tactics.

4. Post a sample ballot or nonpartisan voter guide. Many voters–new and experienced–still have questions about voting, and they’re more likely to vote if they know what their choices will look like on the ballot.

5. Know where to turn. Have contact information for your local election board available. Advertise toll-free hotlines such as 866-OUR-VOTE and 888-VE-Y-VOTA.

Remember to check out the Michigan Participation Project website for voter guides, finding your polling place, and more.

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

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Last Day to Register to Vote in November’s Election

Today is the deadline for registering to vote in the November 2 election! You can check on your voter registration status by visiting the Secretary of State’s website and entering in some basic information. If you are not registered to vote, you can download the voter registration form and return it to your local clerk’s office. If you are registered to vote, this site will confirm your voting location, as well as provide you with a sample ballot so you can see exactly what you will be voting on in November.

With huge turnovers across state government and many important local and federal races, it is important that you make your voice heard this election!

Make sure you are registered to vote on November 2!

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

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Nonprofit Advocacy

With the August primary behind us, Michigan is in full November election campaign season. The stakes could not be higher for our state and especially our sector. The next governor, legislature, Attorney General, and Secretary of State will all be very different. These leaders will define our state’s future and the way nonprofits can lead in Michigan’s economic recovery.


1. The massive deficit in our current budget will likely not be resolved by the current legislature during a Lame Duck session. This means that the new Governor and new Legislature will have to craft drastic cuts to fill in the current hole and realign for the next budget that will have a revenue shortage and increasing costs. At the local level, nonprofits are being faced with threats of taxation or fees in lieu of taxation to help local municipalities meet their budget gaps.

2. Nonprofits are under increased scrutiny by our regulator, Attorney General’s Office, to ensure that nonprofits operate with greater transparency, accountability and within the law. The scrutiny is good for the sector, but only if it improves our work based on informed decision making by an Attorney General who understand the value, work and challenges nonprofits face.

3. Nonprofits are continually impacted by the policies that lawmakers enact. That is why they need to be engaged in advocacy and promoting civic engagement. Whether it is promoting volunteering or actively recruiting residents to register to vote, nonprofits need to engage. A Governor or Secretary of State who fail to recognize the need to promote volunteerism and eliminate barriers to voting can significantly hamper the work of nonprofits to meet community needs.

For these reasons and so many more, we all need to find ways to actively participate in public policy efforts. I encourage our blog followers to consider how the organizations you work closest with can advocate on behalf of the nonprofit sector. Michigan’s Nonprofit Day is just around the corner, and I encourage each of you to attend. Nonprofit Day is filled with opportunities for you to strengthen your voice and learn what nonprofits can and should do during this unprecedented time of change. Click here to learn more or to register.

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

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Resource Friday: Nonpartisan Voter Guide for August 3 Primary Election

Now available! The League of Women Voters of Michigan has released their nonpartisan voter guide for the August 3 primary election. This voter guide, which is available online, asked a set of three questions to all candidates for Governor, U.S. Congress, and the State House and Senate. You can search by seat number to view the answers given by candidates in your area.

Visit the Michigan Participation Project website to view the Nonpartisan Voter Guide for the August 3 primary, as well as other election-related resources!

If you don’t know which districts you will be voting for, click here. This helpful State of Michigan resource asks for some basic information to determine where you are registered to vote. After you enter the requested information, you will be provided with your polling location and a sample ballot listing the candidates you will have the option of voting for on August 3.

Remember that Michigan’s primary election is a split-ticket election, meaning that while you may cast your ballot for candidates of either political party, you may only vote for candidates within ONE party. This means that you may not vote for a Democrat in one seat and a Republican in another seat. For the August primary, you must choose one political party and cast all your votes within that party. Voting for candidates in multiple parties will result in a spoiled ballot.

Pass on these resources, including the link to the August 3 Primary Nonpartisan Voter Guide, to your board members, staff, volunteers and clients and urge them to vote in the August Primary!

The Michigan Participation Project is a program of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, dedicated to expanding the role of Michigan’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in voting and elections and providing resources and information for nonprofits to incorporate nonpartisan voter and candidate education efforts into the work they are already doing.

Submitted by Kari Sederburg, Director of Public Policy for Michigan Nonprofit Association.

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