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Montana Nonprofit Association Blog

Musings, stories, and resources for the nonprofit sector in Montana.

Do More Good: How to Embrace Technology and Expand Your Organization’s Capacity

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do more good firespring by Jay Wilkinson, Firespring 

 Like most people who work for a nonprofit, you want to do more good and ensure every dollar spent helps accomplish your mission—I get that. But as counterintuitive as this seems, sometimes the best way to create a bigger impact and further your mission is to invest money right back into your organization. The key to investing wisely is to spend money on the things that make your organization more efficient and effective, thus more impactful.  


Here’s where we talk about “the T word.” 


Before you say it, let me acknowledge this: Technology can be aggravating. Once you think you have a handle on it, it changes. There are always new tools and better apps and more software cropping up, and sometimes you just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head. It can be overwhelming. 

But the truth is, once you embrace it, technology can be liberating. And you don’t have to be tech-savvy to benefit from technology. Nonprofits like yours just need to focus on three areas: simple online apps, your website CMS and donor/member management tools. You don’t have to fear technology or its costs—it can become your best friend when you realize how much it can expand your organization’s capacity to do good. In fact, spending money on technology is not a cost in most cases; it’s an investment with a significant ROI.

Let me give you some quick “for examples.”

  • Online event registration lets you cut way down on manual data entry hours.
  • A donor management tool gets you off Excel spreadsheets and onto a platform where you can track donor activity with just a few clicks.
  • A good email marketing program allows you to segment your audience and target the right message to the right person at the right time, increasing engagement and conversion.
  • Online donation processing makes it easier for donors to give and for you to track your fundraising efforts.

The list could go on, but you get my point, right? Technology both expands your capacity to get things done and to store and track important information about your constituent base—two things that will make your organization more efficient.

Where do you start? If you’ve hesitated to really embrace technology and adopt the software and tools that nonprofits need in 2018, this might be the burning question in your mind.


Here’s what I would recommend.

Embrace online fundraising. For real. Why? Four clear-cut reasons:

  1.  It’s more cost effective. One print campaign can cost you thousands of dollars to implement. If you can email 20,000 constituents—and effectively connect with that many—it will cost you pennies on the dollar compared to sending out that many direct mail pieces.
  2. It’s fast to implement. If I implement an online campaign today, I’ll know within 24 hours whether it’s going to work. Within 48 hours, I’ll know if it’s a success. With direct mail, it could take a few weeks to a couple of months. Plus, I can launch an online campaign quickly.
  3. It’s more personalized and targeted. With email, I can easily target different groups. How I message Millennial parents would be much different than how I appeal to Baby Boomer grandparents. It’s possible that these two groups have similar values, but the way they make decisions and what they respond to is quite different.
  4. It’s where people are. You want to extend your reach and expand your audience of potential donors? Go where the masses are: online. People increasingly rely on mobile devices and tablets to access the internet, so it’s important to not only reach them online, but to reach them via a website that looks great on any device.

Marry your offline world with your online presence. For example, you can gather email addresses both online and off. This is the beginning of your online dialogue with someone—access to their inbox. You probably have a way to capture people’s email addresses on your website, but don’t forget to capture them offline too. One of the best times to grow your email list is at events. You automatically have an audience that you know cares about your cause and organization. 

Also, use your offline marketing efforts to drive people to your website. Do you include your URL on your direct mail pieces, conference materials and swag, brochures, fliers, even branded T-shirts and other apparel? Always look for ways to get people to your site—that’s where you can tell your story and engage with your audience. And that brings me to my next point.

Make it easier for people to engage with you. Do you know one of the biggest things constituents want from a nonprofit’s website? Easy online event registration. If I want to participate in your organization’s end-of-year silent auction and banquet, don't make me print out a PDF file and mail it or scan it back to you. I just want to fill out the registration form online, pay and be done. If I want to make a donation, please let me give you my money with a seamless process that keeps me on your website and makes me feel secure. See where I’m going with this? The easier you make it for people to do what you’d like them to do, the more likely they’ll do it.

Keep track of your donors with tools that take away the headache. A Rolodex is not a professional donor database tool. A file cabinet is not a donor database tool. Even an Excel spreadsheet can be clunky and cumbersome. Bloomerang, however, does offer a wonderful donor database tool (that integrates seamlessly with the Firespring website platform). Why does this matter to you? Because it can make your life infinitely easier by storing all your important donor data securely and right at your fingertips. If you think, “But that’s just one more tool I have to learn how to use,” I would say, yes. It is. But you don’t have to be tech-savvy to learn it, and once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

Prioritize your website design. Once a prospective donor hits your website, it takes a split second for them to form an opinion. According to research from Missouri University of Science and Technology, people get a first impression of a website in less than two-tenths of a second. Clean, intuitive design can help draw people in immediately. On the other hand, poor design can make them bounce. One study found that 94% of the reasons visitors reject or mistrust a site is related to design. Plus, if you develop an attractive website that’s easy to navigate, you’ll connect instantly with young supporters who (let’s face it) have grown to expect that legit organizations will have a fresh, engaging online presence. That’s just the world we live in now.

Embrace mobile, if you haven’t already. You know it, I know it: Smartphones aren’t going anywhere, and users are now accessing the internet more on mobile devices than they are on computers. The Millennial Impact Report found that 76% of users get frustrated when trying to navigate nonprofit websites that don’t show up well on mobile devices. Your takeaway: Don’t settle for anything less than a responsive website that adapts to any screen so supporters can engage with you wherever they are. If you’re not there yet, I would suggest making this a high priority for 2018.

Work with a software and technology provider that gets you. You’re going to sleep much better at night knowing the dollars you invest in technology are with a company that understands nonprofits. I’ve been serving in the nonprofit world for decades now—long enough to know that the challenges and issues you face are not the same as for-profits. So choose a technology provider who gets you and the specific needs you have.

For example, keeping your website updated with current information and events is crucial—it tells people that someone’s home, things are happening, your organization is alive and active. You need more than a brochure site that looks pretty. But it can be a pain (and expensive) to always go through a developer or that one volunteer who updates your site now and then but isn’t always available when you need him . . . does this sound familiar? That’s why it’s important to have a user-friendly CMS that allows you to go in and make updates yourself, with point-and-click simplicity. Work with a technology provider who understands your needs. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and angst.

This old adage remains true: The only thing constant is change—and when it comes to technology, it’s never been truer. But please don’t let that keep you from embracing it.

We understand that technology can be overwhelming, which is why we’ve teamed up with Montana Nonprofit Association. We want to make it easier and more affordable to leverage the kind of technology that can help you increase efficiency, raise more money and connect with your community without confusion and high costs. See how Firespring’s partnership with MNA can expand your organization’s capacity while offering you significant savings.


About Jay Wilkinson: Jay Wilkinson is an entrepreneur who has started and sold 5 companies, invested in 25 startups and founded, co-founded or helped start 7 nonprofits. As a philanthropist, Jay has raised millions of dollars and spends half his time empowering nonprofits. Today, he focuses on his role as founder and CEO of Firespring—a B Corporation in Lincoln, Nebraska and one of Inc. Magazine's Top 50 Places to Work in America.


Jay has been a sought-after speaker for two decades, educating thousands of nonprofit professionals and inspiring business leaders to adopt a purpose-driven business model. Jay’s TEDx talk on company culture has more than 1 million views. A graduate of MIT, Jay has appeared on national news outlets discussing the impact of nonprofits on the economy.

June 14, 2018 Update from the Executive Director

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RankinToday MNA is in Miles City hosting our fourth annual Kaleidoscope, a one-day conference for nonprofits in this beautiful part of Montana. I grew up outside of Miles City and cherish the opportunity to be here, especially this year with so much moisture. The landscape is lush. And what a contrast to last week, which I spent in Washington D.C.

I had the chance to meet with all three members of our congressional delegation. I will fill you in on those meetings briefly, but first a word about the issue of Unrelated Business Income Tax. Thank you for your comments and questions on this. Many of you asked about mileage reimbursement or other kinds of travel reimbursement such as airfare, and whether reimbursement would be subject to income tax. Reimbursement of mileage or other similar travel expense is not subject to income tax because it’s not considered a benefit.  Other more complex questions are still up in the air – which is why we want the IRS to delay implementation.

UBIT was one of five issues we brought to our congressional delegation. The potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment is another. We’re all tired of this issue. We’ve successfully kept the repeal at bay – only to see it arise once again. And today is no exception. Just yesterday the House Appropriations Committee voted down an amendment to strip an extraneous rider from the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations bill for fiscal year 2018 that would enable politicians, their operatives, and donors to pressure hundreds of thousands of nonprofits into endorsing and diverting charitable assets to candidates for public office.  Looking ahead, the FSGG bill is likely to be combined with two other appropriations bills and taken to the House floor later this month or in early July. It will be imperative we reach out to Congressman Gianforte and urge him to protect nonprofit nonpartisanship by keeping the Johnson Amendment intact. In my experience he understands the issue and wants to hear your perspective, especially if you are a faith-based organization.

Two other issues we brought to our delegation are: 1) a request to keep the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program intact. In their zeal to create efficiency, Congress is considering eliminating this program which is important to rural states like Montana as we scramble for ways to recruit staff to our organizations. 2)  We support a universal, above the line deduction for charitable giving. There are two bills in play right now, and while we doubt either of them will gain traction this year, we want to keep the issue in front of our elected officials.

Finally – we discussed how important the 2020 Census is to Montana and requested their support for full funding for the Census. Data matters, and we at MNA will be working hard to support a full and fair count.

One other note: I appreciate that the Montana delegation still holds their Wednesday morning Montana coffee. All three of our members were at coffee along with their staff teams. It’s a social event – not a political one. At a time when partisanship is operating at a fevered pitch, it’s just refreshing to see Montana’s delegation working together to create a warm Montana welcome for any of us who happen to be in the area.

DC 2018For me, it’s always very moving to spend time in DC, and this trip was no exception. I took a few minutes to wander through the Library of Congress. To see volumes our early leaders included in their libraries, pages worn from use, was touching. Even when politics are at their divisive worst, there is something unifying about being in our nation’s Capitol where – regardless of our individual beliefs – we have the opportunity to petition our government, to have our say on behalf of the people, to participate in democracy. Our political climate may be frustrating on every level, but our democracy continues to hold and I for one am grateful.

Liz Moore
MNA Executive Director

PS: It was absolutely fantastic to be in Washington DC when their team won the Stanley Cup!

 stanley cup 

Meet MNA's New Affiliate Member: Phil

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phil logo It’s been said everyone should sleep with a notebook by the side of their bed because this happens to all of us. “This” being when you wake up with a keen awareness of life or a flash of creativity. I had one such morning last year. 

I woke with the realization of how little I knew about our community’s needs. I could not describe the school’s budget shortfalls. I did not realize child homelessness was increasing. I lacked knowledge in what resources were necessary for families struggling with addictions or other disabilities. What’s more, I could not remember a time when I had donated to a nonprofit or cause where I heard back as to the success of the fundraising efforts. Had I helped? Did we accomplish something? Did our efforts fall short? 

I began to think, “I’m sure there’s an app for that.” I was confident with a few words in Google, I would find a site or platform where local nonprofits would be sharing their stories and asking for help. I was surprised when thirty minutes later, my searches were still coming up short. How could this be? With smartphone technology and the internet penetrating almost every element of our life, how was it possible we were not leveraging a platform to increase citizen engagement and awareness while making financial donations and volunteer commitments as easy as an Amazon purchase? 

I continued my search and found my feelings were not unique. Comments from caring and thoughtful citizens taught me we tend to have the same concerns, which are: 

  1. People want transparency from nonprofits. 
  2. We want to know the narratives behind the fundraising efforts. 
  3. We crave knowing the effect our contributions had on the community - the successes and the great outcomes. 
  4. We want information to come as easily as possible. We all lead busy lives and our smartphone are either in our hands or are just inches away. 

Then came months of discussions with family, friends, and trusted colleagues. From it, we created PHIL. PHIL is short for PHILanthropy and it is a platform created to foster citizen awareness and engagement through regular, transparent ASKs from local nonprofits fulfilling local needs. 

At PHIL, we believe: 

  1. Philanthropy is for everyone. No matter your income or how busy your life is or appears to be. 
  2. Informed people are more committed and engaged citizens of their community. 
  3. Transparency leads to trust and trust leads to solutions. 
  4. Generosity should be a habit and a lifestyle. Not an event or season. 
  5. Giving benefits all parties. 
  6. Finally, community issues are best addressed by local organizations and citizens. 

To learn more about us and to join our community, visit us as

AmeriCorps VISTA positions in Montana

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vista june 8 Last chance to apply for Prevention Resource Center (PRC) AmeriCorps VISTA positions in Montana! 

AmeriCorps VISTA Members dedicate one year of service alleviating food insecurity, increasing access to healthcare, and developing youth programming within school districts, state agencies, and non-profits across the Big Sky State.  The PRC VISTA Program is currently placing talented, self-motivated, and hardworking AmeriCorps VISTAs for a year of service beginning on July 23, 2018.   

No Kid Hungry in Montana: 

We are currently recruiting for No Kid Hungry projects in Montana, where VISTAs will have the opportunity to feed more children by expanding breakfast, summer and afterschool meal programs in Montana school districts.

  • No Kid Hungry – Kalispell: The VISTA serving in Kalispell can enjoy miles of publicly-accessible trail systems and the beautiful Glacier National Park. 
  • No Kid Hungry – Helena: The VISTA will serve in Helena, where they will be able to enjoy the state capital along with its great hiking and quaint downtown.    
  • No Kid Hungry – Poplar: Located in the seat for the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the VISTA can find adventure in the heart of Missouri River Country!
  • No Kid Hungry – Miles City: Miles City is a historic frontier town with access to the best plains and badlands of Eastern Montana.

Please Apply through the links above by June 12, 2018.  For more information on the PRC VISTA Program, check out our website and Facebook. To learn more about Montana No Kid Hungry, visit the organization’s website. If you have any additional questions about AmeriCorps VISTA or Montana, please contact Ted Irvin – PRC VISTA Leader at [email protected] or (406) 444-0966, or Taylor Crowl—PRC VISTA Leader - at [email protected] or (406) 444-9655.

Directors Corner April 26: Policy Boutique

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 Liz _Headshot_AprilPolicy Boutique
Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

Did you know the new federal tax bill repealed a deduction for charitable contributions paid to colleges or college athletic departments in exchange for event tickets or seating rights at a stadium? Neither did I! Fortunately, the National Council of Nonprofits (Council of Nonprofits) has developed a great checklist of boutique issues like this one – policy changes related to tax reform which might impact only a few of us but nonetheless matter. The Council of Nonprofits 2018 Tax Law Checklist covers several Human Resource changes employers will want to take note of, some changes employees might be interested in, confusing changes regarding unrelated business activity, and some issues related to fundraising, including the one noted above related to stadium tickets.

Unrelated Business Income 

Even if you don’t engage in what you think of as “unrelated business activity”, you might want to notice a new provision that imposes a tax on employers for a particular type of employee expense related to transportation. If you have employees who receive a transportation benefit such as a monthly gas card or parking pass, you are now apparently subject to tax on that expense.  AND, even if an employee voluntarily deducts money from their paycheck to be placed into a pre-tax qualified plan for commuting expenses, that money will now be taxed to the employer as well. Does this confuse you as much as it confuses me?  The recent Council of Nonprofits Knowledge Matters newsletter overviews the issue. The Council of Nonprofits is actively engaged with the IRS on our behalf with this message: the new guidance is confusing and places a significant burden on tax exempt organizations. Please delay implementation until you know the real impact and provide clarity. What are your questions/concerns related to the new provision? Let us know.

Johnson Amendment 

With the National Day of Prayer just around the corner, we’re monitoring whether the potential repeal of the Johnson Amendment will re-emerge as an issue of concern. Last year’s Day of Prayer was a campaign launch of some sort, and while we’re not looking for trouble, we are paying attention.

Census 2020 

A fair and full census count is directly related not only to our congressional seats, but also to the amount of federal funding Montana will receive over the course of the next decade. With this much at stake for communities and the nonprofits who serve them, MNA will be involved. We don’t have any action steps yet, but I want you to know this is on our radar and we’re ramping up our efforts.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) is another area we are watching. It’s important to nonprofits particularly as we look at recruiting and retaining talent into the sector. And especially important in a rural state like Montana where other benefits can be few and far between. Do you have a story related to how PSFL has been used by one of your staff members? Please get in touch. We are collecting anecdotes which can be used by a national coalition working on preservation of this important program. And by the way, if you’re not using PSFL in your recruitment efforts, it might be worth consideration.

At the state level, just a quick note that work has begun on the renewal of the Montana Endowment Tax Credit. We will send more information as we move closer to the 2019 Legislative Session. For now – if you have a great story of how the Tax Credit helped make something remarkable happen in your neck of the woods, please share it with us.

That’s it for now. The UBIT issue is more significant than it seems on the surface, so we’ll let you know how that progresses. In the meantime, happy “Spring has finally sprung”, and be well. 

Compensation Survey Announcement

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Now Open for Participation: 2018 Montana Nonprofit Compensation Survey 

MNA is once again partnering with Columbia Books to provide current wage and benefit data to Montana's nonprofit employers. The Nonprofit Compensation Report is one of MNA's most requested products. Your participation is the key to an excellent publication.

MNA invites every charitable nonprofit in Montana to participate before June 1, 2018.The final report is free to MNA members that participate and available at a discount to nonmembers. The results will be available in September, 2018.

Respond Now 

Instructions: To participate choose “2018 Survey Participation FREE” in the right-hand column on the page, click “Add to Cart”, and checkout. After creating your account, you will be led through the registration process, and upon completion will be given the survey link.

MNA members who participate in the survey are eligible to receive a FREE copy of the Montana report in September, 2018. Register to begin the survey now. Members: if you do not participate in the survey and want to purchase the data later, the report will cost $75 (a 50% savings) – so save that money now and complete the survey before June 1!

Nonprofits who are not members of MNA are also encouraged to participate in the survey. Non-members can participate and receive a 50% discount on the purchase of the final report. Register to begin the survey now. Non-members: if you do not participate in the survey and want to purchase the data later, the report will cost $150 – so save $75 and complete the survey before June 1! Better yet – become a member of MNA now, take the survey, and save $150!

Why Participate? 

The survey is specific to nonprofits like yours. You can compare your organization’s staff salary levels to those of similar organizations.

More than a reference, this working tool is structured according to actual tasks to help you:


  • Determine the most competitive salary level for each position to support recruitment and retention
  • Understand how your organization’s pay levels compare with others in your state/region
  • Track changes in association/nonprofit pay levels and track trends from one year to the next
  • Provide hard data to support your salary structure recommendations


What does the full report include? 


  • Specific market salary information for over 100 positions including median salaries, average salaries and more within Montana
  • Compensation analysis by title, organization type, budget and staff size
  • Easy-to-interpret charts and graphs
  • Detailed Executive Benefits section


Who fills out the survey? 

Primarily HR or finance executives at associations and nonprofits, but if you don’t have a dedicated HR or finance staff person, your executive director would be the most appropriate person to complete the survey.


The more participants we have, the better the data will be. High participation produces robust results, benefiting both nonprofits and those seeking to work in the nonprofit sector in our state. Add your organization's voice now. Respond Now  


Instructions: To participate choose “2018 Survey Participation FREE” in the right-hand column on the page, click “Add to Cart”, and checkout. After creating your account, you will be led through the registration process,

and upon completion will be given the survey link.

Experience or Education: Which will take you further?

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 Eflemmingby Emily Flemming, MNA Director of Operations

Recently, MNA had the opportunity to visit with AmeriCorps and VISTA members at the annual ServeMontana Symposium. MNA’s team was there to present during a breakout session, and knowing the quality of the AmeriCorps and VISTA programs in Montana, I was not at all surprised by the terrific questions asked and insights offered.

One question came up several times: Which is more beneficial to my nonprofit career—an advanced degree or credential, or work and volunteer experience?

I reached out to MNA board member and Executive Director of Montana Campus Compact and Director of Civic Engagement at the University of Montana, Dr. Andrea Vernon. Andrea has been the driving force behind the Nonprofit Administration programs at UM, and has worked with students at undergraduate and graduate levels for 15 years

“The professionalization of nonprofit sector leadership positions has evolved rather quickly over the past 20 years, due in part to more and more colleges and universities offering not only bachelor’s level degrees but more recently graduate degrees as well. As a result, it is becoming much more common place for EDs, especially as younger ones are being hired as the older generation (who did not have access to college-level nonprofit coursework) retires, to have graduate-level degrees in nonprofit administration, public administration, or business administration/management,” Andrea said.

But does a degree mean more than on-the-job experience?

“Experience will always be a factor in hire-ability as well,’ “Andrea said. “I always tell students, it will not hurt them to have an advanced degree or professional certificate in nonprofit administration – it will only help them, and it is likely to open more doors for them and faster than if they didn’t have the educational background.”

Andrea also shared research that indicated that those who obtain professional certificates specific to the nonprofit sector were more likely to advance to senior positions in the sector, and were more likely to remain employed in the nonprofit sector.

She also told me that coursework in nonprofit is also very valuable to those who are switching careers from other job fields. “It’s a great way to quickly elevate their professional skills.”

Sarah Sadowski, Grants Manager at the Governor’s Office of Community Service, gave additional perspective to the AmeriCorps experience, saying, “The experience gained by Service members varies with the kind of service they do. If they’re in direct service, working directly with people or on landscapes, for example, they’re ready for a job in human services or with the forest service. If they’ve been doing indirect service, such as with AmeriCorps VISTA, then they’ve already gotten experience working in the operations of nonprofit orgs.”

“Some people join National Service because they don’t know what they want to do, and they leave with purpose. They also leave with experience, references, and an Education Award,” Sarah pointed out, “The Education Award can offset loans and be applied toward tuition for an advanced degree. Many institutions match the Education Award, further increasing the benefit.”

“Each of us has to figure out our gifts and passions and how we can best use those in the world, and National Service programs help with that. The level of experience that a service member achieves by being a part of the National Service is important and often connects to education and profession.”

Julia Walsh, Operations Administrator for the Helena Business Improvement District, and VISTA Program Specialist at the Montana State Prevention Resource Center, echoed similar thoughts.  “In AmeriCorps you advance to really important roles early. I got experience managing others much earlier than I would have in a traditional work environment. The skills you learn are unique and special.”  Julia has worked in the nonprofit sector for several years and was introduced to nonprofit work serving in AmeriCorps. I asked Julia, How has your experience played a role in advancing your career in nonprofit work?

“For me it was a gradual transition. I started as an unpaid volunteer, then maxed out on AmeriCorps opportunities, and then found staffing positions that were similar, or a step up from what I did before. Now, working with the VISTA program, I tell members that the most important thing is learning how to sell your service experience.  They need to recognize how valuable service experience is, and how to sell themselves as professionals.

So what will take you further, experience or education? The answer – it depends. There is no right answer for everyone, and this is both a challenge and a blessing.

As the future of nonprofits, it’s important for young leaders to make the most of each volunteer, education, work, and service experience they have. Whether you are in school or volunteering for a nonprofit, document your experience and seek challenges and learning opportunities.

As nonprofit employers, it’s our job to see experience and education as value unique to each individual. The blessing here is that nonprofit work is driven by passion and connection. For many nonprofit employees, you find yourself in the nonprofit sector not entirely sure how you got there, but so glad you did. If the answer to this question was cut and dry, the mystery, experience and journey of discovering nonprofit work would be lessened.

I think it is also important to look at the intention behind the question. Exposure to the nonprofit sector through AmeriCorps service has inspired these young men and women to continue their careers in the nonprofit sector—and they want to know how to do it well. These are the future employees you will want to hire.


Want to know how to make employees like this welcome in your organization? Attend MNA’s Building Tomorrow’s Nonprofits presentation by registering here.

For information about the AmeriCorps Progam, click here.

Find more information about the Nonprofit Administration Program here.

Guest Post: The Right Way to Crowdfund

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Crowdfunding The Right Way to Crowdfund 
Answers to Your Questions About How to Raise More Money and Awareness 

By Dana Ostomel  

With the rise of crowdfunding in the nonprofit world over the past several years, it’s important to understand exactly what it is and where it could fit within your organization’s overall fundraising strategy.

It’s not a “build it and they will come” phenomenon—wouldn’t that be nice? Neither is it a magic elixir that’ll solve all your fundraising woes. But done right, crowdfunding could significantly boost your online fundraising efforts, especially for specific initiatives.

Crowdfunding, or online social fundraising, is personable and easy for both people who want to donate and share your campaign. Crowdfunding platforms are also easy to set up—you typically use a template and simply pop in your text and imagery to tell your story, and you’re ready to go. This doesn’t mean crowdfunding campaigns don’t require advanced planning and strategy (they do), but the setup of your campaign is fairly simple, with low costs. This makes it an effective fundraising tool for most organizations looking to expand their fundraising capabilities and capacity.

Let’s take a quick look at the basics of crowdfunding and answers to some of the most commonly asked questions I hear.

What is crowdfunding? 

Crowdfunding is exactly as it sounds: It’s the process of raising small amounts of money from a large number of people—a crowd—for a specific purpose or project, particularly online. It’s quickly becoming an essential tool for online fundraising. The innovative part of crowdfunding is not necessarily in accepting donations online; it’s in doing it in such a way that allows you to leverage your community, not just for the purpose of giving but for sharing. It’s about leveraging and accessing social capital.

Is crowdfunding only about raising money? 

That’s its main purpose—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other advantages to running a crowdfunding campaign. Some organizations use it to grow their new donor list or their email subscribers. Some might try to target lapsed donors and re-engage them. Because of the shareable nature of crowdfunding campaigns, your organization’s reach and awareness are apt to grow, and you may be able to foster more social media engagement with your followers. Also, look at it this way: We know that most donors check out an organization’s website before they donate—they do a little homework before they part with their cash. Running a crowdfunding campaign could be just the impetus you need to get your website up to snuff and make sure it has the bells and whistles (and tools and features) you need to put your best face forward. Ultimately, you crowdfund to raise money, but there are several significant bonuses that come along with it.

What part does crowdfunding play in my overall fundraising strategy? 

It’s a tool that’s best used for funding specific projects or campaigns, not for general fundraising. Giving Tuesday is a great example of a time when a nonprofit could benefit from crowdfunding: It has an obvious beginning and end, it lends itself to a campaign that’s easily shareable and consumers are becoming familiar with that initiative as it rolls around each year.

Think of crowdfunding as a great tool for a mission-specific project, campaign or venture that shows a tangible, urgent need and would appeal to a wide audience. It gives you an opportunity to showcase a specific need and the difference someone’s donation could make—there’s a story to it. It engages people to be part of a unique journey. And we all know that when people feel like they are a part of the story and they understand exactly what’s going on and how they can help, they are more invested.

Are there disadvantages to crowdfunding? 

Crowdfunding campaigns can provide a nice boost to your revenue, but they won’t be a cure-all, which is something to keep in mind when you launch a campaign. Some people think they can launch a crowdfunding campaign, go away for a month, then come back to find that they’ve met their goal. But it doesn’t work that way.

In fact, one of the things that hinders success for many organizations is believing the myth that because a crowdfunding campaign is online and it's built to be social and shareable, it’ll just drive itself. That’s not the case. Crowdfunding campaigns are not a “set it and forget it” mechanism. There are not benevolent donors just trolling the internet, wanting to give away their money—at least, not many. In order for a crowdfunding campaign to be effective, you have to first get some traction from your own supporters, and then you may get some unexpected help from others outside your base as your campaign gains strength and awareness. But like any form of fundraising, it requires work and preparation.

What’s key to a successful crowdfunding campaign? 

One of the most difficult parts of crowdfunding is getting off zero. Donors tend to follow the masses, and many donors may feel uncomfortable supporting a campaign with a lofty goal if it looks like next to nothing has been raised. Remember the ALS water bucket challenge? That gained so much traction that people were lining up (figuratively) to get involved. People just naturally tend to go where the crowd is.

One thing you can do to avoid the “getting off zero” challenge is to not start at zero. Get some traction and prepare before you actually launch your campaign. Reach out to your online street team—your closest friends and family, biggest advocates, longtime supporters and board members that you know will both support and share your fundraiser with their social networks. It’s important to get some momentum even before Day One.

Another important key to success: Set up your crowdfunding page the right way. It should be personable with a sense of urgency. Include engaging images of people, maybe a captivating video that tells your story. These things will tug at heartstrings, which is exactly what you need. Also, cut right to the heart of the campaign in your messaging: Why do you need money? This isn’t the place to launch a full-blown description of your nonprofit’s mission. This page is all about the campaign’s mission. Just include a few specific sentences about why you’re raising money and what it will be used for—that’s all people want or need to know. You have about three to five seconds to get their attention, so it’s important to keep your messaging focused and engaging.

This gives you some basics about how to begin crowdfunding—but what you really need are the right online tools to pull off a successful campaign, including an affordable user-friendly website with a content management system you can use with point-and-click simplicity. The great news is, Firespring can hook you up with all that at a significant savings thanks to your membership in the Montana Nonprofit Association.


Learn about Firespring’s partnership with the MNA and how you can save big bucks on the technology and software you need to boost your fundraising.


About the Author: 

Dana Ostomel is vice president of nonprofit industry development at Firespring, a company that provides essential software and beautiful websites to nonprofits. Prior to her role at Firespring, Dana was the founder and CEO of Deposit a Gift, a crowdfunding platform that allows nonprofits to easily create online fundraising campaigns for any organizational need. Firespring joined forces with Deposit a Gift in August 2016 with Dana residing as the company’s lead crowdfunding expert. Before launching her own business, Dana spent over a decade as a marketing and branding adviser, developing integrated marketing solutions for nationally known brands such as Snapple, CENTURY 21, MasterCard and DIRECTV. Dana holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from UCLA.

Welcome Paychex: New Affiliate Member

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Paychex, Inc. is a recognized leader in the payroll, human resource, and benefits outsourcing industry, with a steadfast commitment to success and a record of achievement that continues a tradition of delivering excellence.

The company was founded in 1971 by B. Thomas Golisano with just $3,000 and a good idea – to make payroll outsourcing easy and affordable for small businesses. From those early days with just one employee, Paychex now has more than 12,000 employees serving approximately 605,000 small- to medium-sized businesses nationwide.

Paychex offers an ever-growing variety of payroll and human resource products and services that help clients do what they do best — run their business. With a wide range of services – including payroll processing, retirement services, insurance, and a fully outsourced human resource solution – Paychex customizes its offering to the client's business, whether it is small or large, simple or complex.

This is why I became an Account Manager for Paychex. Because of the shared goals of helping businesses succeed. As a new affiliate member of the Montana Nonprofit Association, I’m excited to help you with any payroll needs you may have. 

PRC Now Accepting AmeriCorps VISTA Applications

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VISTA LogoThe Prevention Resource Center (PRC) is working to expand our pool of interested AmeriCorps VISTA Host Sites to address issues our Montana communities are facing. AmeriCorps VISTAs are “behind the scenes” members that build systems, services, and/or programs necessary for nonprofit organizations to effectively reach their target demographics. 

PRC VISTA Project focus areas include:
• Opioid Programming
• Access to Health Care
• School Drop-out Prevention
• Teen Pregnancy Prevention
• Youth Drug & Alcohol Use Prevention
• Food Security
• Programs for Veteran’s and Their Families

The Prevention Resource Center (PRC) is accepting applications until March 16th, 2018 from non-profit organizations interested in hosting an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) member from August 2018—August 2019. If you would like to learn more, please contact John Schlepp, VISTA Program Manager at [email protected], or at (406) 444-9654. Applications can also be found on their website,

Director's Corner: February 7, 2018

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by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director.
After the rush of pre-tax reform activity in December, January felt like a policy hiatus. We had a real victory at the end of 2017. We held the line on the Johnson Amendment thanks in part to so many Montana nonprofit leaders who reached out to our congressional delegation. Then we all took a collective breath. And in the pause, questions began to come out of hiding. 

Questions like:

  • How are we supposed to handle payroll withholding?
  • What do the federal tax changes mean for the state budgets? 
  • What kinds of rules will be written to implement massive policy changes? And when will they be written? 
  • What is hidden in the new tax reform bill that impacts us? 
  • How will the doubling of the standard deduction impact charitable giving, or will it have any effect at all? 

In response, the National Council of Nonprofits has created a special webpage,  “Resources on How the New Federal Tax Law Impacts Charitable Nonprofits.” The site is continuously updated, and is a terrific resource for all of us. Your membership dues to MNA help fund the work of the National Council of Nonprofits, and I encourage you to take full advantage of their expertise. Especially this: a new checklist on the site, New Federal Tax Law – Now What for Nonprofit Board and Staff Members, answers questions about how the federal tax law affects the operations of charitable nonprofits (with the caveat that everyone is waiting for final guidance from the IRS). The page also provides a link to the national webinar the Council of Nonprofits hosted last month.  

In terms of payroll and withholding, this guidance from the IRS will be useful if you speak this language. For the rest of us mere mortals, your accounting firm or local HR firm may be able to offer assistance. As soon as possible we will connect you to a webinar resource on the payroll issues. The firms we’ve reached out to are up to their elbows in tax season, but as the dust settles on tax reform we are certain we’ll be able to bring helpful information to you.  

Looking ahead, we’re thinking about dark money and the impact on the charitable sector’s brand and integrity. And the impact on a healthy democracy, which is both the platform for a strong nonprofit sector, and an indicator of a vibrant nonprofit community.  We’re also tuning to the 2020 census and our role in ensuring as robust an effort as possible in Montana.  

At the state level, MNA’s Public Policy Council is beginning our work on the 2019 Legislative Session. We are working now on framing up our campaign for the renewal of the Montana Endowment Tax Credit, and we’ll keep you informed as we move forward. 

I’m deeply aware that many of you have grave concerns about budgets, human rights, and the needs of men, women and children who face the challenges of poverty, disability, and illness - including mental illness. MNA is working every day to promote and uphold the strongest possible policy environment for you to operate in. We want your mission to be bolstered by the benefits of tax exemption, non-partisanship, a healthy culture of philanthropy and an appropriate regulatory climate.  

I close with this statement from my friend Daniel Kemmis, who said “The nonprofit sector is the musculature of democracy.” We are what democracy looks like when it works. As a leader in the nonprofit sector and a fellow citizen, I’m so appreciative of the unique role we play collectively in strengthening our democracy and civil society in Montana. Thank you and be well 

Guest Post: Montana Campus Compact

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 The Montana Campus Compact (MTCC) VISTA Program places full-time VISTA members with colleges, universities, schools and nonprofits throughout Montana to build capacity within the education and veterans services sectors. VISTAs help assess community needs, amplify local initiatives, and support long-term solutions to poverty. 

Twenty-six MTCC VISTAs currently serve in 11 communities across the state from Troy to Poplar, MT. MTCC VISTAs help build afterschool programs, develop educational museum exhibits, recruit volunteers to help run literacy centers, and sometimes support the expansion of a committed group of individuals to a staffed nonprofit. Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana started just this way. In 2014 a small community group formed to help several students living independently out of the Outlaw Inn in Kalispell. Montana Campus Compact placed a VISTA with this group and her service resulted in the inception of their 501c(3) status.




MTCC VISTA Jamie Pollard, front left in yellow, helped organize an awareness fundraiser "When the Night Comes," engaging 40 volunteers and advocates to sleep out in support of unaccompanied homeless high school students. 



In the summer of 2017 MTCC placed its fourth VISTA with the Sparrow’s Nest  - each member played a pivotal role in defining the organization’s capacity to address the issue of unaccompanied homeless youth in northwest Montana. Cat Lehnis, Claire Anderson, Molly Neu and, currently, Jamie Pollard built systems and procedures for the administrative staff to establish partnerships in the community, manage volunteers, and develop the organization’s financial capacity. Sparrow’s Nest hired its first executive director, Jerramy Dear-Ruel, during the second VISTA term in March of 2016. According to Jerramy, “Because of VISTAs, Sparrow’s Nest of NW MT has achieved many of its goals. Without their work, the incredible students, who need a steady place to live, would not be thriving at such a high level.”  

In 2016, the Sparrow’s Nest met its first goal by opening up a home in Whitefish for four students. Within the facility’s first year of operation, the organization achieved a huge milestone when Estevon Torres became the organization’s first student to graduate from high school through the program and then enroll in a four-year degree program at Montana State. Thanks to current MTCC VISTA Jamie Pollard, the Sparrow’s Nest is now breaking ground on a second home in Kalispell to provide safe and stable housing and support for residents to graduate high school and develop professional skills to help break the cycle of poverty.

Montana Campus Compact would love to help your organization grow! The priority deadline to host a MTCC VISTA is February 1. Apply now! Follow the directions to submit an online application on our website here. Contact Erin Barstow 406-243-5458 [email protected] with questions and to determine if MTCC VISTA is a good fit for your organization. 

December 6 Op-ed

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 Should democracy withstand another infusion of dark money into politics? We think not. That’s why we are asking Congress to make sure charitable nonprofits remain protected from becoming a vehicle for partisan politics and campaign spending. 

A bedrock tenet of effective civic engagement in our country is the right and responsibility to petition government at every level.  Individual citizens, for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations participate in this fundamental American activity when they advocate for or against issues that impact them. Unlike individuals and some businesses, however, charitable nonprofits must stop short of endorsing political candidates or spending their money on election activities. This legal restriction is integral to the identity, reputation, and mission of charitable nonprofits and is supported by almost all nonprofits.

The Johnson Amendment is the statute which keeps political spending and campaign activity out of charitable nonprofit activity.  It was placed into law in 1954 under President Eisenhower and, since then, has effectively protected nonprofits, including religious congregations and foundations, from being used inappropriately by politicians, political parties and political operatives who seek contributions, endorsements and favoritism.

As Congress works on passing a tax bill this year, the protections of the Johnson Amendment are imperiled. Both the House and Senate passed their versions of tax reform legislation, and one of the significant differences between the two centered around this provision.

The House tax reform bill, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”, includes Section 5201 which creates a giant loophole in the existing, highly-favored prohibition. The loophole is significant enough that, according to Thomas Barthold, Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff, the alteration will cost an estimated $2.1 billion over the next ten years. The Senate bill contains no such provision to undermine the existing statute. However, the process has begun for the two chambers to reconcile their differences, which creates an opportunity for House changes to the Johnson Amendment to make their way into tax reform at the last minute. Should that happen, nonprofit organizations will become another avenue for partisan electioneering and dark money. 

Organizations that want to engage in partisan political activity are free to do so, but they can’t and shouldn’t receive tax-exempt status from the federal government at the same time. Furthermore, donors who want to contribute to political campaigns can and should do so. But they should not receive a tax deduction in return. Politicizing nonprofit organizations, including foundations and houses of worship, is antithetical to how we expect nonprofits and democracy to work. It should alarm every American.  

Many of us freely admit we’re tired of the political cacophony. The weakening of the Johnson Amendment will make it worse, allowing politicking to enter our nonprofit board rooms, houses of worship, constituent and donor relations, and institutional identities. Legalizing the use of tax deductible donations for political activities will erode the confidence Americans have in nonprofit organizations which do so much to make our communities great places to live, work and raise a family.

158 Montana nonprofit organizations have taken a stand against changes to the Johnson Amendment by signing a nation-wide Community Letter in Support of Nonprofit Nonpartisanship (  Please stand with us for integrity of charitable nonprofits, the good name of the nonprofit sector, and transparency in politics by resisting change to the current law. Today, ask Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester and Representative Greg Gianforte to insist on “no changes to the Johnson Amendment” in order to keep the lines clean between political and charitable activity. Nonprofits are here to serve communities, not candidates. Let’s keep it that way.


Linda Engh-Grady, Whitefish Community Foundation Foundation, (Whitefish); Leslie Modrow, Billings Public Library Foundation,(Billings); Richard Turbiak, Citizens for a Better Flathead, (Kalispell); Mary Rutherford, Montana Community Foundation; Susan Hay Patrick, United Way of Missoula County, (Missoula); Tracy Timmons, Red Lodge Community Foundation, (Red Lodge); Matt Lundgren, Friendship House of Christian Service, (Billings); Kathy Hadley, National Center for Appropriate Technology, (Butte); Susan Denson Guy, The Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture, (Bozeman); Geoff Birnbaum Youth Homes, (Missoula); Michelle Belknap, Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain, (Great Falls); Jason Rittal, (Broadus); Sherm Weimer, Eastern Montana Industries; (Miles City); Paul Tuss, Bear Paw Development Corporation (Havre); Sheila Rice, NeighborWorks (Great Falls); Chany Ockert, Chany Reon Ockert Consulting, LLC, (Kalispell); CB Pearson, M+R Strategic Services; Liz Moore, Montana Nonprofit Association


How to Take Action, National Council of Nonprofits

 Comparison of House and Senate Tax Bills and Impacts on Nonprofits, National Council of Nonprofits

December 4 Tax Reform Update, Nonprofit Quarterly

It’s Budget Season. Are You Accounting for the Right Things?

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It’s Budget Season. Are You Accounting for the Right Things? 


By Jay Wilkinson, Firespring CEO 


The Overhead Myth: The idea that you can reasonably evaluate a nonprofit’s performance and trustworthiness by only looking at how much they spend (or don't spend) on overhead, including operating costs, administrative expenses and technology costs.  

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No doubt you’ve heard about this, and like many good nonprofit leaders, have done your best to refute it. It’s dubbed a myth for good reason. 


Yet most nonprofits feel pressured to do as much as possible with as little as possible when it comes to running their organization. The Overhead Myth still exists, and donors still scrutinize nonprofits, wondering what percentage of their gift actually goes toward the “cause.” As if dollars that support infrastructure don’t also support the mission. 


Today, with continually evolving technology and marketing channels, it's crucial to invest in your brand, digital presence, community engagement efforts and fundraising tools. Not just once, but regularly. We may not always want to spend money on overhead costs, but if we didn’t, we’d end up with archaic communication tools and a website that looks like 2005 (which is not okay if you want to appear current and relevant today). 


Why do nonprofits struggle with this? Because of the stigma of operating costs. Donors want to believe every dollar they give goes directly to the people who need it—straight to your mission. They forget that helping the cause doesn’t happen if you don’t have a healthy enough organization to deliver. 


How can you help your donors and dispel the overhead myth? Be transparent about questions like these: 

1. What are typical administrative costs for most nonprofits? Anything necessary to keep the organization running. Without them, we’d have more money to give to our cause, yes. But we wouldn’t have an effective organization to support the cause. Administrative costs include staff salaries, IT setup and maintenance, training, leadership development, strategic planning, marketing, PR and the like. 

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 2.Why has overhead been viewed so negatively in the nonprofit sector? Organizations are required to show on their Form 990 how they allocate administrative, fundraising and program expenses. Donors see that and ask, “How do my dollars actually help save shelter animals or feed the hungry?” They judge an organization by the percentage of administrative costs out of the total expenses the nonprofit has for the year, or the overhead ratio. “Overhead” has become a dirty word. 


 3. How should donors and nonprofits more appropriately view overhead costs? An example in a popular 2013 TED Talk about the Overhead Myth was this: You can run a bake sale and earn $75 with no overhead. Or you can spend $200 on a radio campaign, reach more people and bring in $500 while increasing your exposure and donor base. Why is it wrong to spend more if you end up better off?  


If you don’t pay for a good accountant, you won’t have adequate controls and the possibility of fraud is higher. If your IT system isn’t current, you’ll be limited by outdated technology and waste time doing things you could automate. If you don’t budget for new ways to raise awareness (SEO or SEM, anyone?), you’ll gain fewer new supporters.  


The truth is, the attitude of “do more with less” often doesn’t allow you to do much. Of course you want to make wise financial decisions and get the most value for your money. But many administrative costs are not expenses, per se—they’re investments. By allocating money toward the right things, you invest in your brand’s reach, influence, donor base and long-term planning.  


So, the “overhead truth” is this: Investing wisely in the right areas allows you to reach more people and create more impact, not waste more money.  


This is so important to consider as you plan your budget for the coming year and decide how to best allocate your funds. What will provide you with the best ROI and most effectively move the needle on fundraising? I would suggest starting with these five areas: 


 1. Your digital presence. Your website is your prime piece of online real estate. You probably have one, but how old is it? Does it look current? Are you able to update content? Is it mobile responsive, which is crucial now that people access the web more on their phones than their PCs? Does it cater to your community and allow them to do things like register for events and make online donations? This is important if you want to remain relevant in 2018 and beyond. Your website is not a “one and done” deal. It should be an evolving marketing tool—your most important one, in fact. 


2. Community cultivation marketing efforts. Think email marketing, donor management, social media marketing, direct mail—anything that keeps you in touch with your constituents and fosters better communication and relationships. You can automate and personalize much of these efforts if you have the right tools, saving you precious time, and you’ll reap benefits for years by investing wisely in donor relationships. 


 3. Fundraising tools. The ability to take online donations is a must-have, but even beyond that, consider your donors’ giving experience: Do you take them to a third-party site in order to make a donation, or can they donate seamlessly right on your site where you have the opportunity to engage with them and draw them further into your organization’s story? Crowdfunding is another valuable fundraising tool your nonprofit may benefit from—have you researched platforms and how this form of fundraising could effectively move the needle? Investing in the right tools can both bring in more dollars and make giving easier for your supporters.  

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 4. SEM/SEO efforts. SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are often confused, but they’re slightly different. SEO is about driving traffic to your website organically through higher search rankings. SEM increases your website’s visibility through organic search engines results and advertising. SEM includes SEO as well as paid search. They both have this in common: They get your website noticed. You can have a brilliant website, but if you don’t invest in visibility and drive traffic to it, it’ll be brilliant alone. 


 5. Brand updates. This includes your logo, brand colors, website design, marketing materials—anything that conveys your nonprofit’s look and messaging. In order to stay relevant, it’s important to stay current, and that includes the way your brand looks and feels. Investing in your brand is a non-negotiable if you want potential donors to see you as an organization that’s worth supporting.  


This is not easy, and I want you to know that I feel your pain. Allocating your funds in a way that provides the best ROI can be a challenge, especially when you’re doing so under the watchful eye of your constituent base. At Firespring, we get you and we’re up for the challenge. We’ve been serving nonprofits for nearly 20 years, and we’ve learned how to help nonprofits make a bigger impact without blowing their budgets. 


The best news: As a member of MNA, you can benefit from Firespring’s services for even less through our preferred partner program. Investing in your organization’s capacity to raise money and engage supporters could be the wisest decision you make this year.  


About Jay Wilkinson 


Jay Wilkinson has been actively involved in the nonprofit community his entire life. He sits on the board of several nonprofits and is an avid supporter of programs that provide leadership and enrichment programs for America’s youth. As a philanthropist, Jay has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations. As an educator, he has trained thousands of fundraisers, marketers and nonprofit executives and has appeared on CNN and other national news outlets discussing the important role nonprofits play in the U.S. economy. 


Jay is the founder and CEO of Firespring—a company that provides beautiful websites and essential tools to nonprofit organizations. Firespring helps nonprofits raise money, manage donors, organize volunteers and conduct events while presenting a powerful and professional online presence. Firespring is proud to be the first B-Corporation in Nebraska and is on a quest to transform the business landscape by encouraging all companies to leverage their people and profit as a force for good. 

October 26, 2017 Director's Corner

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Liz 2017

by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director 

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with Senators Daines and Tester in Washington DC. I had a list of things to talk about - some of them sent forward by various MNA members. In the end - two issues prevailed: the budget and tax reform.

On October 19 the Senate passed a budget that cuts revenue while increasing spending, particularly in the area of defense. The rationale is that economic growth will be generated and will fill the gap, allowing domestic programs to be sufficiently funded. We in the nonprofit world should be concerned on a couple of fronts. First, will it work? It might (or might not) in the ten year context. History suggests this gamble could go either way. But even so, there is still the short run to consider. If defense spending is increased and revenue is decreased, the only place the money can come from is domestic, and that’s a hit to the work nonprofits do every day in communities across the nation. There is some agreement the budget is primarily a gateway to tax reform, given some of the language in the budget resolution.

Regarding tax reform, there are two significant issues nonprofits need to weigh in on. And there is some immediacy to this, because tax reform is on a fast track.

First, the weakening of the Johnson Amendment. There may be a certain amount of fatigue on this issue, but I heard loud and clear from both our Senators: make noise. Now is the time to reach out to our delegation and let them know we want to protect the nonpartisan nature of nonprofits and we reject any attempt to weaken the Johnson Amendment. If the Johnson Amendment is weakened or eliminated, it will be a game changer for charitable nonprofits. This is in committee right now, so it is important to reach out to all three of our congressional delegation. Here is the contact information for our delegation. If this issue is important to you, please reach out. Here is more background.

DC CapitalSecond, the charitable deduction. Changes to the charitable deduction are a significant component of tax reform. The proposal currently in play doubles the non-itemizer deduction, which the experts say would effectively eliminate the incentive for giving from all but the top 5%. There is another proposal, H.R. 3988, which offers an alternative in the form of a universal, non-itemizer deduction. This proposal has its drawbacks as well, but will not almost completely decimate the charitable giving incentive. The message? Extend the charitable giving incentive to all Americans through a universal non-itemizer deduction.

This is not a particularly optimistic report I bring to you, except for this: both senators and their staff expressed in no uncertain terms the need to be vocal, visible advocates. Use email, phone, social media and the press to make your point. Grassroots pushback is effective but requires your engagement. If you need assistance or more information in order to craft or send your message, please reach out to us at MNA. Thank you - and go make some noise!

2017 State of the Sector

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 Liz 2017by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director
Originally presented at the 2017 MNA Annual Conference 

It’s our tradition at the Annual Conference to spend some time on public policy…and very often we bring someone in to help with that. Occasionally someone from the National Council of Nonprofits - sometimes another policy expert of some sort. The last time we were in Missoula - 2013 - we had the privilege of having Rick Cohen here; Rick was a writer for Nonprofit Quarterly, and in many ways, was the voice of the sector. I had just met him and he had this kind of … pessimistic optimism that probably made him a great writer. He did a lunchtime address from a policy perspective and I remember one of the reviews of his session was something like this: “I didn’t love it. But I know we need our vegetables.” And it’s true - in the midst of all we’re doing, paying attention to public policy is kind of like vegetable consumption. Maybe not our first choice but necessary. So…we’re going to have some vegetables for just a few minutes. And I’m very aware I’m the last person standing between you and Vu Le… which means this isn’t just vegetables. It’s like…. Brussel sprouts or rutabaga or something.


I’m going to talk through some policy issues, offer some actionable steps, and a call to action. But I want to start with this premise: We were made for these times. As nonprofits – this is our time.


I talked briefly yesterday morning about the changes that have taken place in the last year. No matter who you are, or what your stripes… for all of us… the world has changed in the last year… year and a half.  There is the sea change in the oval office. Whether you feel good about the change or bad - you can’t deny that tectonic plates have shifted. And then in Montana - we had a surprise election for our lone representative, and that was another change. Our international relationships have changed. The state’s financial picture has changed. So, what is the state of the sector in this context?


In May of this year, MNA sent out a three-minute survey; we wanted to take the temperature of nonprofits in light of conversations about the federal budget and health care reform. We had 88 responses - not a huge amount. But it gave us a picture. And what we heard was “uncertainty.” “Wait and see”, “Instability”. There were rumors of the budget, but nothing set. Rumors about health care reform, but nothing concrete. And this was in the early days of a new administration that was generally much less predictable.  This wasn’t a scientific poll, and the response number was small But the prevailing feeling for the nonprofits who took the survey was a sense of uncertainty.


Since then - there was a proposed budget from the white house - and there were winners and losers. Winners included defense, social security and Medicare, homeland security and others. Losers: environmental protection, anti-poverty programs, Medicaid, national service, the arts, community development and others.


In July 112 of you responded to a one question survey asking about the impact of federal and state budgets on their work. In addition to significant concerns about money, more than half of you included concern about Medicaid cuts not only for your constituents but also for your staff. Not just Medicaid, but access to health care.


Now add to the mix mandated budget cuts at the state level and the probability of major tax reform at the federal level. And complex, divisive conversations about immigration and travel. And of course, there is still the uncertainty around health care reform. We are in tough times.


Obviously, there is also good news…. the rise of the stock market is very positive for employees with retirement plans. And may also increase charitable contributions. There have been increases in giving to certain types of nonprofits such as the ACLU; depending on your mission - you may see the loosening of particular regulations as beneficial. But overall - what we are seeing as “the state of the sector” is nonprofit leaders beginning to officially edge toward panic – “What are we going to do?” It’s not universal: some nonprofits are going forward as usual without a blip. But in most cases - the uncertainty we saw in May has been replaced by deep, urgent, significant concerns that appear to be grounded in reality.


So what does this mean for us? It means we need to each find our course – our path. We need to understand and act on things we can control, rather than agitate and react to things we can’t control.


Here are some suggestions I invite you to consider.

Get grounded.  

From my perspective, the most critical activity nonprofit leaders can engage in right now is a process of re-grounding the organization in its mission. That’s basic. You need your feet to be solidly under you if you expect to move forward. Who are you in the world? What is the unique contribution you’re making. Articulate that as keenly and meaningfully as possible, and then hold onto it. I’m not talking about your formal mission statement; I’m talking about something spicier … livelier.


An example: at MNA, our tagline is to promote a strong nonprofit sector in Montana. But here’s how I see it . We are on the front line of civil society; we are up for the task; it’s our role and our calling. And I wouldn’t miss it. Do you hear the change? Being grounded in the mission in a sharper, more vibrant, more current way can be nurturing all by itself. It can be life-giving and add tremendous resilience and soul to your organization.


(Next) - practice asking a different kind of question. There is a leadership concept called generative thinking - and we include this in our board governance training. Generative thinking is all about asking the questions that help you make sense of a situation, rather than generating strategies.  And we love to jump to strategy…because we’re problem solvers. But it can be helpful to stop and make sense of a situation first. We still need strategy – but let’s start with questions. An example:


The state budget cuts: rather than starting with “what are we going to do?” Ask questions that help you really understand exactly what you’re dealing with before generating solutions.


Here are some examples:

How does this impact our short and long-term operations? Our strategic plan?

What partners should we be talking with about this?

What does this mean specifically for our constituents?

What are we most afraid of and what is the likelihood it will happen?

What other information do we need?


These are “sense-making” questions.  And before we jump to strategy - it’s important we first really understand what we’re strategizing about. It saves time and helps us avoid spaghetti on the wall. And here’s the thing…. When we really understand what we’re dealing with - and what it means - we can respond more calmly. And we’ve all seen the difference between a chaotic, crisis driven reaction, and an informed response. Especially as leaders —- staff leaders and boards —- it’s important to understand this concept of making sense of the situation before deciding what to do about it.


Next - hone your message until it is compelling. This is related to being grounded in the mission - but its the external version of that. A few weeks back nine or ten nonprofits, and three foundations met with Senator Tester. This was a roundtable listening session of one hour. And we had a dozen people in the room, all who wanted to talk about their work. Two things about that meeting. One - each participant was allotted two minutes. 260 words. No more. Each had to figure out what was really worth spending their two minutes on. And they held each other accountable …and it worked. With twelve people… times two minutes… that’s 24 minutes. So we had 36 minutes for the Senator to ask questions, have a dialogue. It was a rich, informative experience because the participants were so disciplined about their message that it made it compelling and memorable.


Second thing about that meeting. Senator Tester commented that almost every person around the table had mentioned Medicaid. And he said this, “You need to get better at your message regarding Medicaid. I had heard it before, but until a few weeks ago I did not understand the significance of Medicaid to working families.” In essence, he had the numbers, the statistics, and had probably even heard the stories. But somehow, the message wasn’t getting through. When he heard up to 70% of Medicaid recipients are part of working families, that got his attention. Knowing what you do and how important it is…is completely different from telling it in a way that hits home with someone. Find the story that sings… and go with it.


Next: Seek ways to increase your organization’s influence in the policy environment. And there are many ways to do that. Meet with legislators once a quarter - or more - not to ask for anything, but to build a relationship and be a resource. Become top of mind to your policy-makers. Increase the influence of your board. It’s important to have different perspectives, different political leanings on a board so that you are associated with a mission, not a party. Understand the rules of lobbying, and participate. Ask board members to participate. It’s hard to gain credibility if you aren’t present…or if you’re only present in the crisis. If you are the one who shows up, and you consistently provide good quality information, and you do your follow up - you will be trusted by both sides. I think about the lobbyists I most respect… they aren’t identified with their party, or their personal pet issues. They are identified as being credible “go-to”s regardless of party or affiliation and that makes them more influential.


Finally - we need to understand who we are as nonprofits in the bigger scheme of things. I was in a meeting earlier this week where one of the participants said twice, “If we want nonprofits to survive, we need to…” and I very gently…I think… made a slight but critical correction. I said, “At MNA, we’re not thinking as much about a nonprofit surviving.” (Hope that doesn’t offend.) We’re thinking about civil society, and the Montana we want to live in and have for our children. It’s not about the nonprofit, it’s about what we want our lives to look like, and the lives of our neighbors, and those who have less.”  I made this point 1) because it’s true. And 2) I was sitting with a group of Montana funders, and I wanted them to hear me say “Nonprofits aren’t asking for money so they survive…they are asking so their communities survive, and thrive.” This is an important difference. Now, at the end of the day are we fighting to keep nonprofits alive? You bet we are. But that’s the means… not the end. And we need to be very clear on the distinction.


You heard me say earlier that MNA is on the frontline of civil society. Actually - every nonprofit in this room is on the front line. It’s why we exist. Every nonprofit is a reflection of the will of the people… we are the ultimate democratic form. I wish someone else would speak as profoundly as Alexis de Tocqueville did…but until then, we have his words describing what we call the nonprofit sector, or the civil sector. In “Democracy in America,” he noted


“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only have they commercial and industrial associations in which they take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give celebrations, to found seminaries, to build inns, raise churches, distribute books, send missionaries; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate.”


Look at the Constitution. I carry a copy with me, and have taken to reading it and the Declaration of Independence occasionally. The Constitution starts with “We the People.” And that concept is contained throughout. We represent the very people the Constitution is grounded in. The early versions of nonprofits… voluntary organizations…were catalytic in terms of our country’s fight for independence. The civil rights movement. Women voting. The front line of civil society is our space. We were made for these times.


The right to assemble and petition is a first amendment right. Nonprofits are born of this right…. And we need to remember that. It’s our role. We must occupy it. Be present, clarify issues, advocate. Who else is going to?


Yes - it’s hard. And it’s scary. … I was once working with a leadership coach and was telling her how hard my job was. She said, “You know Liz, you use that phrase a lot. ’It’s hard.’” I was taken back… but she was right. And then she said “So you sing, right? What do you do when a note is high… almost too high.” And without even thinking I said, “I lean in.” This was several years ago, before the phrase was being commonly used. I don’t know how I even knew it…but it was true. And it changed my thinking about things that are challenging. We have some hard times. And the realities of the budget, healthcare, these are difficult and hard realities. And in the face of them…we can only do what we can do. But certainly we shouldn’t do less than that, right? Lean in.


This is our time. We were made for just such a time. So take hope. Take hope in one another. Be strengthened in your resolve. Lock arms with those around you and hold the line. As Pat Hughes said yesterday… run toward the roar.


I need you, my children and grandchildren need you. Our far-flung communities need you; this beautiful and glorious Montana needs us. Our country needs us. Our world needs us. There is so much we can do – especially together. Let’s do it. Thank you, and thank you for being a blessing.

August 31 Director's Corner

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 by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to lead a Roundtable discussion between Senator Jon Tester and twelve nonprofit and philanthropic leaders from around the state. Gathered were individuals representing the arts, environment, disability services, youth, homelessness, hunger, Indian country, economic development, health and mental health. We could easily have added another dozen people and still fallen short of fully covering the range of issues Montana nonprofits address.  

Because we had just an hour, each person was under a strict time constraint. He or she had just two minutes, or 260 words, to describe the concern that was utmost in light of the proposed federal budget or policy changes. The result was dramatic and moving. In just 24 minutes, nonprofit leaders articulated what their corner of the world is experiencing. Because MNA’s public policy work is directed more generally toward the wellbeing of the nonprofit sector itself, it was particularly meaningful to me to hear each person describe specifically what really matters in his or her work: 

  • It matters that Indian country have economic development opportunities through tourism. Their murdered and missing people matter as well.   
  • It matters that a rural school have an arts program, and that a woman leaving domestic violence have safe shelter and then affordable housing.   
  • It matters that people with disabilities are waiting for services, and that rural Montana is disproportionately impacted by federal budget cuts.   
  • It matters that Montana’s most vulnerable youth have someone looking out for them, and that the astronomical prevalence of substance abuse be met with all we’ve got.  
  • It matters that our streams are cherished for the resource they are, that our infrastructure is strong for the future, and that Main Street is vibrant.   

As Senator Tester listened to each leader in the room, he asked questions, made notes, and/or commented on what he was tracking on a given issue. Here are three highlights I took away from his comments:  

  1. Create a more powerful message about what matters. Senator Tester talked about a shift that took place in his understanding of how potential cuts to Medicaid will impact everyday Montanans. He very honestly said, in spite of all the information available, the reports, research, etc., he had held a perception that Medicaid was mostly used by people who just didn’t want to work. And then he was at a meeting where someone talked about the fact that 70% of medicaid recipients are from working households. His understanding of Medicaid underwent a tectonic shift. I understood him to say this: information only goes so far; you have to get better about the message of how this really matters.   
  2. If we want a functional moderate middle in Washington, D.C., strong enough to withstand extremes on either side, we need to tackle campaign finance reform. To put an explanation point on that in a different way, an attendee said in a note to me afterwards, “Nonprofit leaders generally represent populations whose voices are drowned out by the big money in politics or by those in important positions - so their voices rarely get heard.” Money can’t be the voice of democracy. We need to be that voice. It matters.  
  3. This fall, tax reform will be on the table. We’ll be watching to ensure philanthropy is strongly incentivized. This is especially important in a rural state whose foundation funding ranks 47th in the nation. We need all the help we can get. It is incumbent on all of us in the nonprofit sector to watch and weigh in on the significance of charitable giving incentives. MNA will keep you current on what’s happening, but only you can speak to how it matters.   

Before Senator Tester left, he and I had a brief exchange about medicaid and mental illness. I told him a story of a family member who lives in a group home and would have no home at all were it not for medicaid; his mental illness makes it such that living with family is impossible. Senator Tester related a similar story about a family who sent their son out of state because living at home wasn’t feasible. And he said, “What if they hadn’t been able to do that? Where would that young man have gone? We’re talking about a human being here.” And I knew it mattered. Thank you Senator Tester.  


Let’s each of us double down on finding ways to send our message more powerfully in the weeks and months ahead. Perhaps the exercise of honing it down to 260 words will be as effective for you as it was for those in the room on Tuesday. Here's what I'm taking with me from the exchange around the table: As nonprofit leaders, we have our hands with which we serve. We have our feet with which we set direction and focus and shift as needed. And we have our voice, which is the instrument we are compelled to use as effectively and persuasively as possible to say, “This matters.” Let's do it!


Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

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by Emily Flemming, MNA Director of Operations


I’ve experienced the MNA Conference as both a participant, and a staff member. I have come to love the energy and networking opportunities that the event provides, but leading up to my first conference I remember being nervous, unsure of what to expect. I have compiled a list of tips and tricks for first time attendees, things I wish I had known going into my first conference. I hope they will help you to have a meaningful and engaging conference experience. If you have any questions about attending the conference, from what to wear to which sessions to attend, contact an MNA staff member at 406-449-3717. 


  • Preconference sessions are WORTH IT. You’re already traveling, you’re already taking time away from the office, and the speakers are world class. It’s worth the additional cost, it’s worth the additional time, and frankly, you already had to change your email away message and voicemail.   
  • Bring your buds! Your coworkers, your board members, your staff. Going to conferences gets people fired up, excited and reinvigorated, and might get you all on the same page with the same priorities.   
  • Plan to be away. If you’re from Missoula, don’t try to go back to the office. Don’t try to finish a grant, or respond to every email you receive. Let everything except emergencies slide. Otherwise, you’ll miss good stuff. Come to the conference to invest in yourself and your org, and give yourself permission to focus.   
  • Network on breaks. The people at the conference can be the best friends, resources, and venting partners you’ve ever met. By supporting the same sector, you are part of the same tribe. Hang with your tribespeople.   
  • Bring your business cards. Makes it easier for your tribespeople to find you again.   
  • Think comfort. We’ve all been there. It’s 3 p.m., the room is FREEZING, and your feet are aching.  While we do what we can to ensure the room remains comfortable for all, sometimes it’s impossible. Dress in layers, wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Besides, you’ll look snazzier if you’re not shivering.   
  • Bring SOME stuff. Your laptop, your water bottle, a snack. Not EVERYTHING. It gets old toting around your giant bag of supplies from breakout session to breakout session. Remember, this year efforts are being made to be Green, so the handouts are all going to be online anyway!  
  • Don’t miss the ending. MNA intentionally has scheduled the conference on Thursday so no one needs to travel on the weekend—don’t miss the closing acts. We have incredible keynotes this year, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be crying for days when you realize you skipped out on Vu Le just to get home an hour earlier.   
  • Most importantly, COME!  Of all the conferences I’ve attended, this year's is the one that I’m the most excited for.   


Learn more and register for the conference. 



July 27 Director's Corner

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 liz2017Innovate Montana: Nonprofits at the Table
by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

Two weeks ago I attended the Innovate Montana Symposium in Billings. Most of the attendees were from the for-profit sector. The public sector was well represented with Department of Commerce, Labor, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and others. I was there to immerse myself in the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship from a nonprofit perspective, especially as it pertains to next generation leadership in the nonprofit sector. 


Toward the close of the event, I asked one of the presenters about the extent to which he found nonprofits to be innovative. Although not his exact words, I heard him say something to the effect that innovation is primarily within the purview of the private sector, with nonprofits being too driven by fundraising and the issues immediately in front of them to be innovative. I was taken aback and thought his response was short-sighted and misinformed, but I also wondered what I could learn from it. Today, here are my thoughts. 


The comment I heard at the symposium was not a one-off. There is a perception expressed by many in the for-profit arena that nonprofits are not innovative, current or relevant. This is especially true for younger people entering the workforce. Last summer a college intern told me he thought nonprofits wouldn’t be around in ten years because they are outdated and being replaced by for-profit businesses who are doing the same things, only better. I’ve heard young people frustrated with the slow pace and resistance to change they experience in the sector.


At the same time, nonprofit leaders, including myself, have a very different perspective. Many in the nonprofit sector firmly believe nonprofits are the most innovative, adaptable, and responsive organizations out there. We are flexible in response to community needs, nimble in the face of change, and creative with resources. 


To understand why there are such differences of opinion, it’s important to start with what innovation actually is. It can be defined in about a hundred different ways, but the definitions I read focused on generating and implementing new and creative ideas that increase value to customers, the relevance of the business, and generate revenue. 


This definition uses different language than nonprofits typically use. For example, 


  • Rather than increasing value to customers, nonprofits talk about achieving outcomes; 
  • Nonprofits are more familiar with increasing impact than increasing relevance;  
  • Both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors must generate revenue, but for nonprofits, this is a component of sustainability, not a bottom line indicator of success. 


And there are other differences that bear on innovation. Nonprofits and for-profits alike continuously respond to changes in the operating environment. However, many nonprofits are more likely to be most directly impacted by public policy changes, federal and state budgets, and the well-being of their constituents than they are by market trends, rapidly changing technology, and consumer interests. Obviously this is not true across the board, but you get the point. 


Another difference is risk tolerance. Innovation is risky. This is a tough one for nonprofits, who find ourselves somewhat risk averse due to funding mechanisms. With little discretionary income or expendable capital - it is difficult to take significant creative risks, and that is reflected in the degree to which we can innovate.  We are tremendously creative, adaptive and flexible; but developing new products and services often takes capital we simply don't have, requiring us to make more incremental change.


Bottom line:  innovation is as central to and as prevalent in successful nonprofit organizations as it is for-profit businesses. But it looks and sounds different in our sector than in the private sector. And here’s the challenge for nonprofits: we are fighting a stereotype. The incoming workforce is most at home in an environment characterized by inquiry, rapid changes in strategy and technology, and continual pivoting and adaptability in the face of consumer demand. The more that nonprofits can cultivate these qualities as part of the organizational culture, the better positioned we will be as employers of choice. A focus on innovation does not supplant focus on mission; instead, it should accelerate advancements toward the mission. Imbedding imaginative problem solving into our organizational culture, increasing rapid response to change, evaluating relevance in addition to impact, and positioning the organization to take calculated risk are ways to amp up an innovative workplace. 


There was a sense of vitality and imaginative spark at the Innovate Montana Symposium that I appreciated. The generations now entering the nonprofit workforce bring tremendous gifts; they want to do meaningful work, and they are energized by a work environment that is adaptive, creative, and nimble.  As we invite next generation leaders into our organizations as staff and board members, nonprofits that embody a dynamic and  innovative culture will not only be positioned best to meet community and societal needs, but will also have the advantage of attracting the best talent. Someone recently said to me, "It's not enough to be current. You want to be on the forefront." Innovation not only helps nonprofits adapt today, it puts us on the forefront, positioned to advance our mission into the future.


A final thought: nonprofits need to be at the table at a statewide level as we talk about innovation in Montana. Let’s make it unthinkable that an entire sector would be dismissed with a casual comment by a speaker at a forum on innovation. Montana’s economic strength depends on a strong nonprofit sector – not just because of the 53,000 employees working in the sector or the fact that we are more than 11% of the wage base. We are a major driver in why businesses and people locate in the state. A thriving arts scene, a wild and beautiful environment, strong sense of community and local toughness . . . these are reasons people fall in love with Montana, and nonprofits are major contributors. Innovation by its very nature is remarkably individualized to a given company, organization or sector. We’ll get further as a state if we understand, invite and appreciate differences in innovation rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.  

Raise More Money and Awareness with a Firespring Website

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Raise More Money and Awareness with a Firespring Website 
by Dana Ostomel 


firespring2Your website is the center of your online universe, where people engage with you—from donors and constituents to volunteers and board members. It’s where you tell your story and provide information and tools for online visitors to register for an event or make a donation. Did you know that 82% of donors check out an organization’s website before giving? This means a poor quality website could translate into lost revenue for your organization. 


Unfortunately, the average nonprofit rebuilds their website every 2–2.5 years—in part because of organizational turnover, but also to keep their site up-to-date. However, studies show that nearly 75% of nonprofits build their website in-house or use a site built by a volunteer who’s not necessarily familiar the organizational needs. So think about that: Organizations put a lot of time and energy into creating and recreating their website only to end up with something that never satisfies all the needs they have for a fully functioning online presence. It’s a frustrating process.


How does your current website work for you in that regard?


Let’s look at three must-haves for a website that can meet your needs and the people who come to visit (and give you their hard-earned dollars).



A robust website platform with integrated tools. 


Basically, this means you have a website with the right functionality built into it and everything people need, right there, just a click or two away. Too many nonprofits spend a lot of marketing dollars to get people to their website, then send them away to a third-party site like PayPal or Eventbrite to take action. With today’s technology, that should never happen.  


Don’t send people away once you get them where you want them. With a Firespring website, you can provide the tools they need to donate, view and register for events, sign up to volunteer or maybe even access a private area available only to key people—all without leaving your website. Tools like these work together to create a comprehensive site that meets the needs of everyone who wants to connect with you. If your website’s functionality is limited, you’ll watch enrollments, donations and prospects walk away.

An easy-to-use content management system. 

It’s 2017; updating your website’s content should never take a programmer or developer. In fact, three people in your organization should know how to change, update, refresh or modify content with point-and-click simplicity without having to call some IT guy who may or may not get back to you that day. At Firespring, we create websites that allow you to remove the gatekeepers like an expensive developer, volunteer or that one employee who’s the only one in the building capable of updating your site. This is not an efficient way to run your website—it just shouldn’t be that hard.



Built-in communication tools. 


Do you do email marketing? It’s an extremely cost-effective and efficient way to get the word out and connect with constituents. Firespring offers an email marketing system integrated right into your website toolset, so you wouldn’t need to use MailChimp or Constant Contact anymore to create and send dedicated emails, newsletters, a welcome series, drip campaigns and more. And the great thing is, all the email templates you get with Firespring are mobile-friendly, so they look perfect on any device. Plus, you can easily track analytics to see how any email or campaign performs, right from your website’s dashboard. 


Now for the best news: As a Montana Nonprofit Association member, you have a special opportunity to receive member benefits from Firespring that could save you a significant amount of money. Our website and marketing experts have worked with nonprofits for over a decade, helping them grow their organizations and engage with their constituents in a meaningful way. We want to help you do the same for even less than our standard affordable prices. 


Give Firespring a try with a free demo site and learn about the exciting new member benefits you can receive today. 

June 29: Director's Corner

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LIZ_WEBby Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

Yesterday morning in Miles City Jeri and I hosted the final stop on the Nonprofit Rockstar Road Tour! Over the last eight weeks almost 200 staff and board members (i.e., Rockstars) collectively celebrated Montana’s nonprofit Rockstar-ness during MNA’s 12 city tour. You helped us roll out the Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Montana (PPNE) in high style.

Our team was so uplifted as we gathered for warm conversation, laughter, amazing food (in most cases), and the chance to enjoy colleagues we respect and admire. Most times when we see you we are on a mission: advocacy, training, the Conference. This time we just got to be with you, and we left each community with such a sense of hope, buoyed by your energy and heart for the work.

As we went through the highlights of the Principles and Practices in each community, time and again you told us, “This is exactly what I need.” We at MNA came away with deep regard for you as leaders. In the midst of extensive external demands – funding, needs of constituents, partnerships, uncertainty and change – there remains such interest in a tool that is internally focused.

lizjeriMore than anything the PPNE publications offer us the gift of organizational introspection, a moment to pause and take stock of the health of the organization. With summer upon us, we hope you'll put time aside to plan for the wellbeing of your organization. Do some thinking about what might transpire in the year ahead, and use the PPNE to help prepare. And look for the half full cup, not the half empty one.

Thank you for the warm welcome and friendship we experienced in our travels. We enjoyed seeing you and hope it isn't too long til next time. In the meantime, rock on you amazing nonprofit rockstars! 

Policy Update from D.C. June 23, 2017

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Montana & Idaho Community Development Corporation, a non-profit financing company serving Montana for 30 years, offers Community Facilities lending to non-profits, public bodies and Federally-recognized tribes in communities of less than 20,000 people.

Community Facilities loans are low-interest, fixed-rate loans for the useful life of the facility and equipment (up to 40 years), and there are no penalties for early repayment. They can be used to construct or improve essential community facilities, purchase equipment, and pay project-related expenses. Examples include community centers, libraries, museums, homeless shelters, community kitchens, food banks, schools, police stations, fire trucks, and assisted living facilities.

If your non-profit is looking for affordable financing for a development project or equipment purchase, please contact Frederick Smith, Business Development Manager, to see if your project is eligible: 406-532-5717 / [email protected]


Buy a House with No Down Payment

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A down payment is one of the biggest hurdles to homeownership. Montana Community Development Corporation, a non-profit financing company serving Montanans for 30 years, has a new program that helps people buy homes with zero down payment. Called HomeNow, the program helps individuals who have steady jobs and qualify for a mortgage, but are unable to save up for a down payment. Unlike other down payment assistance programs, it is not a second mortgage. HomeNow covers up to 100% of a down payment at the time of closing, and is not limited to first-time homebuyers.


Borrowers can access this down payment assistance by working with HomeNow-affiliated mortgage lenders. Learn more about HomeNow here.

Saving Squirrels

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TinaB_2016 by Tina Bateman-Schlepp, MNA Communications Manager

Saving Squirrels 

It changed my entire life. We hear this phrase in books and movies, but in the non-fiction world, life altering experiences don’t often find us.

When I tell you that AmeriCorps changed my life — I don’t mean the way that avocado toast or heated seats changed my life — I’m talking about Act III, cue the inspirational ballad, every day is going to be different, kind of life changing. It was the type of experience, that even now, is hard to put into words because nothing can exactly capture the gravity of my feelings and appreciation.

At the age of 26, I decided to leave my job, family, and home in New York to serve in AmeriCorps with the Montana Conservation Corps. I committed to 900 hours of digging trail, working with others, finding myself and giving back to the community. Or, as a colleague put it ‘so, you’re going to save the squirrels, huh?’

Only a few weeks later, I woke up in a tent, in the remote wilderness of Montana, bear spray clutched to my chest thinking, ’what have I done?’

I grew to love my tent, even after it took an enthusiastic dive into Swiftcurrent Creek. The two seasons, totaling 2,600 hours, I spent with the Montana Conservation Corps were some of the best and hardest days of my life. Time has raced on since my last cheesy trail dinner, but the remarkable thing, the thing I want you to know, is that those hours of service changed my life deeply and concretely.

AmeriCorps gave me the gift of service. I left the program with new belief in the resilience of people and the power of community.

Today, I’ve traded the trail for a desk but I think fondly of hikes and dirt, I appreciate the place I live and the people in my life, and consider the ways that I can contribute to my community and the causes I love, including the squirrels.

sunsetEvery person has a right to life’s basic needs and AmeriCorps helps to reach that goal, not only in Montana but across the U.S. This incredible program provides jobs, job training, student debt relief, and continued civic engagement all while being affordable to organizations and communities who need it.

Right now, there are more than 250 AmeriCorps volunteers convened in Helena for the ServeMontana Symposium. The event coincides with AmeriCorps week and includes a citywide food drive, breakout sessions and a disaster simulation. Volunteers spend 4 days together in Montana’s capitol before spreading out across the state to benefit our schools, community development, environmental stewardship, and countless other causes.

The next time you see someone in a grey AmeriCorps T-shirt, thank them for their service and ask them about their experience. I think you will find they are excited to share their stories and laughs, and tell you about how AmeriCorps changed their life.

There is a question in congress of whether to continue funding AmeriCorps. Please show your support for this vital program by sharing your story and contacting your legislators.


Document Retention: More than just the papers piling up on your desk

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by Emily Flemming, MNA Director of Operations

 Document Retention: More than just the papers piling up on your desk

You probably know that there are legal statutes and requirements identifying important documents and how long an organization has to keep them. You probably also have filing cabinets and boxes in storage where accumulated documents are collected. 

But does your policy address the documents stored electronically? The volume of electronically stored information is increasing by an average of 23% per year, and these documents are also subject to record retention requirements. 

These electronic records are important for the same reason paper records are important—legal requirements, sure, but also for efficiency and business continuity. If your default retention system is to store documents online, you may want to revisit your policy and ensure that you’re not going to struggle to locate essential items on your shared drives or individual computers. It’s also recommended to pay particular attention to what parts of your business are conducted via email, and to determine if those records need to be saved in a central location that would be accessible by all parties who would need the information (not just in the sender’s inbox). This also provides a good opportunity to verify that nothing is said over email that could harm the organization as well—we’ve certainly seen emails get pulled in to court proceedings!

Nonprofits, like other businesses, need to keep records of services provided, employees, financial affairs, corporate operations, and previous claims and lawsuits. Nonprofits in particular also need to retain and make available their IRS Form 1023 (permanently) and the organization’s Form 990 or 900 EZ (for a seven year minimum). 

The Better Business Bureau has made a records retention schedule available here. Don’t forget that destroying documents after the appropriate amount of time is also part of a good record retention policy—maybe it’s time to clean out some cabinets!

Additional Resources: 

Top 5 Email Retention Best Practices 

A Beginner's Guide to Record Retention 

If you are an MNA member with a specific question about nonprofit leadership and management, contact MNA for research and assistance as part of your membership benefits.


If there’s an issue or concern impacting your organization, email us at [email protected] for help!

Desktop as a Service

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by Anderson ZurMuehlen Technology Services
Imagine you are at the airport, your bags are checked, and you hear the announcement to board the plane over the loudspeakers. You reach down to grab your briefcase and it’s not there. You jump up, look around frantically, - it’s nowhere in sight. The reality and magnitude of the situation starts to sink in. All your work papers you downloaded at the office were on your laptop and there were documents saved on your laptop in various stages of completion. Then it really hits you - there was donor information on your laptop! Sadly, more than 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen each week in airports in the U.S. How can you protect yourself and your organization?

Desktop as a Service (DaaS), from Anderson ZurMuehlen changes this situation from an emergency to a mere inconvenience. When you subscribe to our all-inclusive DaaS solution, all you need to do is access any device that is connected to the internet. All of your applications and documents are safely available and your donor’s sensitive data is still protected. In our DaaS environment, all of the workstations, servers, applications, and storage that you need reside in our secure data centers, not on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. DaaS is supported by our team of experienced engineers allowing you and your staff to focus on what they do best with top notch support and training at their fingertips. 

DaaS provides portability, scalability, and security regarding your IT needs for a monthly per user charge so that you can focus on the mission of your organization.

If your organization has a fully functioning and robust IT department and you prefer to keep your solutions “in-house”, Anderson ZurMuehlen has a full service Cyber Security division that can align your organization with Cyber Security best practices. We perform penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, network architecture review, disaster recover/business continuity planning, IT policy and procedure review or development, IT security employee training programs, and remediation to align your organization’s security level with the appropriate standards. 

Anderson ZurMuehlen has been serving the Montana nonprofit industry for nearly 60 years providing traditional accounting, audit, tax and payroll services and is now thrilled to be offering technology services and consulting that is changing the way Montana nonprofits work. As a Montana firm with offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Havre, Helena and Missoula, we know Montana nonprofit organizations, and we’re ready to share our expertise with you so you can focus on what you do best. 

We invite you to respond to a brief survey of how technology is currently being used in Montana Nonprofits. The results of the survey will be provided to the MNA membership base. Click here to complete the survey and be entered for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy Tablet!
In addition, click here to sign up to join us for a technology webinar on March 29th to learn how technology can elevate your organization.

March 7: Director's Corner

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LIZ_WEBby Liz Moore 

Director's Corner
The past few months have brought great change and growth to MNA. As we brought on new staff members last fall, we were in a perfect position to evaluate what MNA has accomplished over the past fifteen years, and question what’s next. Our staff meetings and retreats have been rich with generative questions and discussion about member needs, the evolving nonprofit sector, MNA’s relevance and value, and engaging with the next generation, from whom Montana’s future nonprofit leadership will emerge. A topic that has consistently made its way to the forefront is the broad and overwhelming matter of technology. 

Years ago, “online” was the next big thing. For nonprofits, there was a tremendous impetus to engage constituents online, and we all did our best to figure out what that meant and put at least something in place: Facebook, Twitter, etc. And we did this while continuing all our traditional efforts: direct mail, phone fundraising, print ads, and more. To a large extent, these varied efforts still have a place in our workflows. 

Like many of you, I have adapted over time, learned new skills and done my best to understand as many new technology tools as possible. Technology brings a promise of doing more with less, but it has been as challenging for me to learn the world of technology as it would be to learn a new language. I get grumpy. 

Fast forward to today, an era defined by a constant supply of information about new developments in technology and the monumental amount of new software and devices that are available, with new ideas appearing daily. As an association leader I have found developments in technology to be interesting and useful, but with every new advancement that pops up in my inbox, I experience some level of anxiety. If we don’t use this will we fall behind, or are we already behind? If we start using this, what else will have to change? Will I be able to actually learn this? How do I know what I don’t know? As a person who is passionate about the future of the nonprofit sector, this has been challenging. I don’t want technology to be my ceiling, MNA’s ceiling, or a ceiling for the larger nonprofit community in the state. 
Fortunately – there is good news. I lead an amazing staff team – your MNA team – and they are excited about technology and its transformative potential for Montana’s nonprofits. Their can-do attitudes, comfort levels with new technologies, and spirit of adventure are propelling me and MNA toward our technological future. As your association, we are amping up our focus on the opportunities technology brings and ways to address challenges. Our team shares a collective desire and mission to offer resources that increase nonprofit efficiency and effectiveness, including technological resources. 

As we position MNA for the future we are keenly aware that we are simultaneously supporting current nonprofit leaders, some of whom share my trepidation with technology, while engaging with new leaders – the next generation – many of whom live in the deep end of the tech pool. It’s an exciting time for us. I’m smiling as I end this little piece of writing, thinking that absolutely anything could happen. All I need to do is walk to the edge of the pool, plug my nose, squeeze my eyes shut . . . and jump!

Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member S.G.Long & Company

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Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member S.G.Long & CompanyM Stark
Michael Stark, Investment Advisor 

 SG Long & Company was founded over 30 years ago by two entrepreneurs that decided to leave large corporate America to build a full service financial service brokerage that served the community and treated clients like family. While our company has grown over the past few decades, the values that inspired the concept of S.G. Long remain the driving forces behind day to day operations. Client relationships, top-tier investment management, and community awareness are the pillars of our firm. Based in Missoula, Montana, SG Long & Company is locally owned and operated and strives to make a positive impact in local and statewide communities.

SG Long and Company is a full service broker/dealer financial firm providing a complete suite of financial solutions for both individuals and institutions. These services include, but are not limited to, retirement, estate and business planning, life disability and long term care insurance, and advising of of 401(k), 403(b), TSA’s, pensions and profit sharing plans. A team of 18 full-time employees work diligently to meet each client’s needs.

SG Long’s affiliate company, SGL Investment Advisors, is a boutique investment firm that manages six custom portfolios, varying by risk tolerance. A research team of experienced professional money managers, located in-house, constructs strategies that focus on limiting downside risk and capturing competitive market upside. Their clients depend on them for their knowledge and expertise in providing appropriate, individually structured investment advice. After clarifying a client’s specific needs and goals, each portfolio is tailored to meet the client’s investing objectives and risk tolerance. This type of research and expertise is rare in the money management industry as layers of employees in large corporate firms make access to portfolio managers and analysts difficult if not impossible.

SGLong TeamSGL Investment Advisors has extensive experience working with non-profit endowments throughout Montana. The needs of each organization are unique and diverse, and a personalized approach is required. We are familiar with the nuances inherent in the management of endowment funds, but also with providing counsel on Investment Policy Statement development, spending policy design, and organizational best processes regarding endowed funds.

For SG Long and Company, giving back to the community is critical to their mission and takes many forms; this could mean volunteering their time, monetary donations, product donations, fund-raising efforts or serving on local non-profit boards. The group also makes an effort to support local events and organizations by encouraging all of their employees to attend, participate and connect with the community in ways that are meaningful to each individual. Some of the community events and causes SG Long and Company supports include the University of Montana John Ruffatto Business Plan Competition, Missoula Economic Partnership, Loyola Sacred Heart Foundation, Missoula Symphony in the Park, Montana Foodbank Network, Youth Homes, Partnership for Children, Greater Ravalli Foundation, Montana Meth Project, World Affairs Council, Missoula Community Chorus, Greek Orthodox Church, W.O.R.D., Providence St. Patrick Hospital Foundation, Missoula Children Theater, Habitat for Humanity, and Missoula Art Museum.

As S.G. Long and Company continues to grow, they remain committed to serving the Missoula Community and beyond with sound financial advice and trusted relationships. Through a process based on in-house, open collaborative communication and a team-oriented focus we maintain loyal dedication to our clients. We at S.G. Long & Company have the expertise, investment products and experience necessary to help you achieve your financial goals. 

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Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member A2Z Staffing

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Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member A2Z Staffing   Anna_caption 

During the 13 years of service in the Helena area, A2Z Staffing Solutions has established itself as the only non-franchise employment resource firm in the community, and has been voted by the community as The Best Employment Resource Firm for the past two years! A2Z offers risk free workforce solutions to employers and job seekers on a full-time and part-time basis. Filling permanent, temporary, and temporary to permanent positions, as well as providing bookkeeping and accounting services for nonprofits and business clients throughout Montana. It is also recognized as the only  Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) firm in Montana as certified by the Women Business Enterprise National Council and Small Business Administration. 

The company has grown substantially and now includes a Nonprofit Division, Labor Division, Medical & Healthcare Division, as well as continuing to serve  government agency clients through the Government Staffing Division; and is a leader within the Staffing Industry. “We help people bring their best work into the world every day,” said Anna Kazmierowski, the company's sole owner, and CEO & President.  Riley Caption 

“We are always looking for innovative solutions, and offer resources to serve our community,” said Kazmierowski. “We observed that nonprofit organizations have been underserved for far too long as an industry throughout the state.” Kazmierowski explained that, as a small business there is only so much A2Z can do to support nonprofits monetarily (having donated over $100,000 to various nonprofits over the last several years). Yet, as a company committed to supporting the community, A2Z looked for innovative ways it could help the nonprofit community.  As a result, the Non-Profit Outreach Division was established.

A2Z Staffing Solutions serves as a valuable partner for many nonprofit clients by acting as an extension of their Human Resources Department. The company does this by providing excellent candidates at the lowest possible rate, as well as assisting nonprofits with their bookkeeping and accounting needs. A2Z Staffing Solutions can provide expertise in payroll administration to include: Davis-Bacon certified payroll  and W-2 filings,  accounts payables and receivables, preparation and filing of quarterly and annual reports, bank statement reconciliations, etc.  Thus, allowing nonprofits to easily save $5,000 - $10,000/year, which is money that can then be reinvested into the organization to support programs and reduce employee turnover. 

Recognitions aside, A2Z Staffing Solutions and its staff work diligently each day to match individuals with positions they can not only be successful in, but also enjoy.  "When employers connect with the right employees, it’s a win-win for everyone involved and makes our community thrive," said Kazmierowski. "You can count on our knowledgeable, professional, and friendly staff to assist you with every employment detail, from A2Z!"