Succession and Leadership Planning Are Key to Nonprofits

Succession planning is key to all organizations if they are going to remain sustainable. But so many times nonprofits forget or put off the decisions that go into creating a solid and actionable succession plan. This is a critical time for Michigan’s nonprofit sector to take a long hard look at succession planning. It should be an important part of each organization’s strategic planning, now and in the future.

Admittedly, succession planning is not easy. In fact, it can be uncomfortable and hard for boards and staffs to grapple with over time. The notion of who will take over the ship is not only important within an organization, it is something that funders look at when they consider investments and support of your organization. Having a succession plan in place shows that your board and staff leaders are paying attention to leadership transition.

Carve Out Time to Plan and Execute

Leadership succession is most often not an emergency – it’s not the fire that needs to be put out today, so it gets put off until tomorrow. The current demands that are placed on nonprofits can be overwhelming. This work requires some quiet, thoughtful time that organizations don’t often have, because they are constantly running as fast as they can. But we all have to carve out the time. [Nonprofits are facing increased demands for their services with increasingly fewer resources to accomplish them. See Nonprofit Finance Fund’s findings from 2014 State of the Sector survey: 80% of respondents reported increased demand, the 6th straight year of this finding.]

Where’s Your Back-Up Person?

In any organization, leadership transition is a destabilizing time; especially when an unexpected /emergency transition occurs. At Michigan Nonprofit Association we have seen this create a situation of great vulnerability for nonprofits, especially when there is not a deep bench of CEOs-in-waiting already on staff who are the logical next leaders. Start building a strong staff of future leaders and cultivate that talent.

You May Need a Consultant to Help Navigate the Discussion

Succession and leadership planning discussions can be emotional and often uncomfortable. Your board members may dance around this issue, not wanting to bring it up for fear of damaging their relationship with the current leader. Often using a 3rd party/consultant is the best way to approach transition planning in order to provide more objectivity. Bringing in a consultant requires a financial investment in the process, which could mean culling extra and unplanned expenses. Planning ahead is critical.

It’s Complicated

Choosing the next leader for your organization is a big deal. It requires knowing where the organization is going and what the future needs will be. This is fundamentally the role of the board, yet board members may be new or inexperienced.  The planning process and an executive search process are time-consuming and generally infrequent events that only a few board members have experience with, so it’s not uncommon that everyone ‘puts it off’ until there’s a crisis. It may be common, but it isn’t prudent!

Similarly, CEOs/executive directors find it awkward to initiate the discussion – because they don’t want to unintentionally or prematurely signal to the board that they want to leave – so a strong relationship with the board chair can help. A candid conversation between the board chair and staff helps get many succession planning issues out in the open early.

At MNA, we continue to study the issues and challenges that our member organizations face. As you tackle succession and leadership planning and transitions, know that we are here to help you. You too can help us share this important issue with the field. If you have stories and best practices that you’d like to share, please send your stories me at


Donna Murray-Brown
President & CEO
Michigan Nonprofit Association 

Get Ready, Here It Comes… Increasing the Minimum Wage

On September 1, 2014, Michigan’s Workforce Opportunity Wage Act, Public Act 138 of 2014, will go into effect. The new Act will increase the minimum wage for workers in the state from $7.40 to $8.15 per hour.

In Michigan, one out of 11 workers are employed by nonprofit organizations. Many employees of Michigan Nonprofit Association member organizations are paid at the minimum wage. We also know that nonprofit organizations in Michigan and across the country provide many valuable services and support to Americans who are living in poverty, including the “working poor.”

Nonprofits in the state directly employed 438,000 individuals in 2013. Together the nonprofits in Michigan pay their employees over $4.9 billion per quarter. Our members have weighed in on both sides of the debate around raising the minimum wage.

The minimum wage increase is a policy that will have significant impact for our member agencies and for the state. While our nonprofits provide valuable services, many operate as lean small businesses. And just like small businesses across the country are grappling with the impacts of a minimum wage increase, so will our nonprofits in the coming weeks and months. The key thing to remember is that the debate is over.  Starting in September, nonprofits, along with small businesses and large corporations will be expected to raise the minimum wage payments for their hourly workers.

Wherever you personally weigh in on the issue of an increased minimum wage, as a nonprofit with employees, this increase will initially impact your bottom line. And it will require lots of planning and reviewing as a part of the sustainability for many of your organizations.

Many of you have already begun your strategic planning to address the financial implications that this increase may have on your budgets, staffing and reimbursement levels for direct services. There is no question that the increase in wages will require an increase in revenues and donations, much in the same way that small businesses will have to think strategically about creating more revenue to support the wage increase. We will continue to revisit this subject and share with you some of the strategies that your colleagues are implementing in the field to make this a seamless win-win.

For information and questions on compliance, contact Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) at,4601,7-154-61256_11407_32352-140972–,00.html. Organizations seeking professional assistance can search MNA’s Consultant & Resource Directory for companies that specialize in accounting & auditing or human resources for nonprofits. The Consultant & Resource Directory is available at

 Submitted by Donna Murray-Brown, President & CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Passing the Leadership Baton

Are you interested in creating relationships that will lead to future career opportunities?  Would you like to sit down with an experienced nonprofit or philanthropic executive?  If the answer is yes, register for “Passing the Leadership Baton,” a dynamic, full-day workshop, March 25 in Detroit. Designed to improve your knowledge of the nonprofit sector, this program for “40s and under” will help you build a trajectory that will take you to the C-suite!  The day includes inspiring and expert speakers, sessions on developing mentoring relationships, executive recruiters, speed coaching by area leaders and costs only $20.

MNA President & CEO Donna Murray-Brown is a featured speaker at this event.


“It is rewarding for me to share my story of executive leadership with the Michigan Nonprofit Association with Michigan’s emerging new leaders.  As a native Detroiter, I believe that it is critically important that we provide professional development opportunities for the next generation of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders in our city.” – Donna Murray-Brown, President & CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association 

Complete details and registration at

This event is co-sponsored by the Council of Michigan Foundations and Wayne State University.  Event supporters include Quicken Loans, Michigan Nonprofit Association, YNPN Detroit and EPIP Michigan.

Share this opportunity with your colleagues and join the conversation #NextGenDetroit!

The MNA*VISTA Program and MLK Day Impact

The Michigan Nonprofit Association houses a Civic Engagement AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program through which 30 VISTAs throughout the state of Michigan build the capacity of local organizations in efforts to bring individuals and communities out of poverty.  Our MNA*VISTAs work in conjunction with Michigan Campus Compact, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, and The LEAGUE Michigan to promote and facilitate lifelong civic engagement.

ac MNA logo 295

Civic engagement can look different for everyone. Our VISTAs focus on engaging community members through service-learning, student engagement, college access and success, financial literacy, and employability skills. All of these are goals within the areas of education and economic opportunity, two areas which, if improved within the state of Michigan, can help eliminate poverty.

One way in which MNA*VISTAs engage community members is organizing and facilitating service projects for well-known and important national days of service. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service is one of these widespread service days, and was held in 2014 on January 20, 2014. On MLK Day, our VISTAs were out in their communities in full force facilitating and managing service projects to raise awareness of this day and rally communities together to unite and serve.

Through service projects held on and around MLK Day, our VISTA cohort completed 29 independent projects (including some large multi-site projects), and recruited 1,368 volunteers! These volunteers served a combined 2,460 hours of their time completing projects addressing hunger & homelessness, animals, environment, health & wellness, veterans, literacy & education, food access and more.

MNA*VISTAs Rachelle Rice and Michael Januzzi, who are serving at Delta College in University Center, Michigan, facilitated a service project in which Bridgeport High School and Ruben Daniels Middle School students created a mosaic of Martin Luther King, Jr. The “Dr. King Mosaic” is comprised of 216 tiles, each of which has special meaning to a Bridgeport or Ruben Daniels student.

Dr King Mosaic

MNA*VISTA Matthew Vargo who is serving at Volunteer Kalamazoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan, organized and facilitated a march in remembrance of MLK Jr. which began at Western Michigan University, ran through the city of Kalamazoo, and ended at MLK Memorial Park. Participants then released biodegradable balloons after hearing speeches from community leaders. This was part of a large day of service in which 275 volunteers gave their time at 19 project sites throughout the Kalamazoo area.

MLK Day Kalamazoo

As you can see from these two examples, our MNA*VISTAs are doing fantastic work! Since most of our members began their service terms in August 2013, they will wrap up their terms in August 2014, and we’re looking for new members to continue the great work our current VISTAs have started. If you’re interested in becoming an AmeriCorps*VISTA starting in August 2014, please contact our program staff at!

Chelsea Leser2Submitted by Chelsea Leser, AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Donna Murray-Brown: State of the State & State of the Sector

Friends and Partners of Michigan Nonprofit Association,

I am certain many of you, like me, were listening intently to the Governor’s State of the State.  Governor Snyder described Michigan as the “Comeback State” as he provided the many accomplishments over his term.  He provided a solid list of priorities for the state that no doubt will require partnership with the nonprofit sector, such as services to seniors, K-12 education (early education), workforce development (attracting immigrants) and overall quality of life for those living with mental illness, and for working families finding it difficult to make ends meet.

No matter your political persuasion, and whether you agree or disagree with the progress Michigan has made over the last few years, one thing is certain: all sectors must all work together to realize the hopes and dreams we have for the residents of Michigan.  There are many areas across the state that are doing well or at least better than before; and there are those that still are in dire need of investment, innovation, and intentional commitment to becoming thriving.

I think this is a defining moment in the history of Michigan for the nonprofit sector.  It is a time where the contributions of the sector will be recognized and lifted up for the great impact those contributions have had on the overall quality of life of residents in our state.  We’ve seen this play out in recent headlines regarding the $330 million investment by the philanthropic community to preserve the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts while creating a path for the City of Detroit to honor its pension obligations.  It is becoming clearer and clearer that real progress is inextricably connected with the work nonprofits do every day to meet the needs of the community.

The State of the Nonprofit Sector is also quite a great story to tell.  The nonprofit sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.  It provides $805 billion to the country’s economy, representing 5.5% of the country’s GDP.  Here in the great State of Michigan, more than 1 out of every 11 Michiganders are employed by a nonprofit.  The sector’s contribution to Michigan’s economy is nearly $140 billion.  These statistics underscore the contributions of the sector, yet are not often the narrative you hear from those serving in the sector.  It is high time we embrace the collective impact we are making to make our state the “Comeback State.”  We must enhance our narrative of our work beyond “it’s the right thing to do,” to “our work is imperative to creating a thriving state, and we too have proven results!”

While we have a great story to tell regarding our collective work, there are also some opportunities we should consider to amplify our work and increase our impact:

  1. Continue to collaborate.  The pressing concerns and the innovation required to meet the needs of communities across the state require collaboration.  While many of us have honed our skills by working with one another, responding to the 21st century’s challenges requires cross-sector collaboration.
  2. Subscribe to High Performance as an imperative.  Now is the time to move beyond passion being the only factor that fuels our work.  The continued scarcity of resources is calling for investment in organizations with evidence of achievement.  Our current environment demands great leadership within the organizations and the boards that govern them.  Continue to spend time and resources to provide professional development for your staff and board development for your nonprofit’s board.
  3. Leverage Technology as a strategy for mission attainment.  Consider leveraging the tools available to provide more mobility for your teams and to connect with your stakeholders in real time.  Nonprofits that prioritize leveraging tools like the cloud, social media, and creating enticing and user-friendly engagement through technology will be ahead.  Research suggests nearly 50% of emails are read on a smart phone or other smart handheld device.  How nonprofits embrace the environment of technology to meet mission should continue to be top of mind.Additionally, the ability to move from collection of data through various electronic formats and platforms to analyzing data will also lead to improved outcomes.
  4. Positioning volunteerism as a strategy for mission attainment.  It is clear the challenges we face may require expertise and experience not necessarily housed within our organization, nor are there necessarily resources to hire the expertise needed.  Using volunteers to meet mission is not only a way to make additional expertise available, it is also a way to introduce a diverse group of individuals to the work that you do. When you deliberately choose volunteerism as a strategy to meet mission, it requires a thoughtful approach and commitment to a sound volunteer program.  The results, if done correctly, can yield improved outcomes, a broader awareness of your work in the community via volunteers, and a way to cultivate new donors.Board members of nonprofits are also volunteers. They come with varied expertise, experience and passion for the work you do.  Creating a generative environment for board members creates an opportunity to gain even more than the traditional governance and oversight required.
  5. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity are key principles to meeting mission. DI&E is a strategy that recognizes that improved outcomes can be attained by intentionally having diverse colleagues to meet the needs of their diverse communities (Diversity).  Nonprofits should incorporate program delivery methods that include those they serve, as well as other stakeholders that provide greater insight beyond that, within the organization (Inclusion). Lastly, it is important for nonprofits to understand there are systems that create barriers for their clients, thus adversely impacting success in mission attainment (Equity).  Finding smart ways to break down or find ways around existing systems to create new systems of service will be key to meeting the needs of those we serve.
  6. Hone our public policy and advocacy skills to block threats to our work.  If there is one thing that can cause real change to the work we do, it is a policy that threatens our ability to serve, or creates barriers to services for those we serve. It is imperative for nonprofits to dispel the myths that surround active lobbying and advocating for our work and those we serve.If you are wondering where to start and if you can make a difference, research done by Nonprofit VOTE in partnership with Michigan Nonprofit Association revealed nonprofits have great influence on the voting engagement of those they serve.  Nonprofits that engaged in very basic voter engagement activities like voter education, and Get Out the Vote, saw favorable response from their clients.  What if there were a policy impacting your ability to serve your community?  Would you have the ability to leverage your community to advocate? There are many tools to get you started.  MNA, in partnership with Council of Michigan Foundations, has a Nonprofit Advocacy primer providing easy to understand concepts to get you on your way.

These are exciting times in the state of Michigan.  It will require much to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves, yet we can and will succeed.  We are truly the change we have been looking for!  Now, let’s get to work!

Donna Murray-BrownSubmitted by Donna Murray-Brown, President & CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association


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