Montana Nonprofit Association

promoting a strong nonprofit sector in MONTANA

Montana Nonprofit Association Blog

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

Reaching Deeper

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 Krys Holmes, Myrna Loy Center Executive Director 

 This is a portrait of some of my best friends. What we see of them is only part of the story, but what lies below the waterline is who they really are. My best friendships go deep because the part of me that lies below the waterline—the heart and soul of me—resonates with my friend on a deep level.

I feel this way about the Myrna Loy Center, and I’ll bet you feel the same about your nonprofit. We devote ourselves to what engages us deeply, beyond what we can see or describe or explain.

The iceberg is a great metaphor for a friendship or an organization. I adopted this metaphor at last year’s MNA conference from Steve Patty. He led two half-day workshops on how to identify and engage with the part of your nonprofit that lies below the waterline. This is the part that is hardest to name, measure, and change, but where the substance of your organization is centered. The visible part above the waterline represents what you do. The shape and character of the entire iceberg determines how you are in the world—how you move and relate and create change and resonate in your community.

And a lot of our impact comes out of this deeper, less visible center.

So how do you measure and communicate your impact, when much of it lies below the waterline? How do we evaluate, communicate, and change what’s going on way down there in the heart of our organizations? How do you collect data that shows the true value of your work?  And how do we tell the story of that impact so it reflects accurate data and engages people deep in their hearts?

If you’re asking those questions about your own nonprofit, Steve Patty is your man. His upcoming sessions in Helena, Great Falls, and Kalispell on Getting to What Matters will be a gift to Montana’s nonprofit community—as his shorter workshops were last fall.

Patty asks, What are you curious about? If you could know one thing that would help you push your organization forward, what would it be? He quotes David Cooperrider’s statement: “Every organization grows in the direction of its most persistent inquiries.” We move in the direction of our gaze. Like my dog (no deep iceberg, that one) we go where curiosity takes us.

Patty’s workshop helps leaders like us articulate a path for the query, formulate what questions to ask, and how to ask them. In short, he teaches how to snorkel below the waterline and move our organizations forward from the heart.

Let’s dive. Let’s lead from the heart. 

Nonprofits in Focus

(Org. Development, Conference) Permanent link

Liz-Moore-Executive-Directorby Liz Moore, Executive Director

In 2013, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote, “Focused leaders can command the full range of their own attention. . . Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of where you, and your organization, focus.” Such a simple statement yet such an extraordinary challenge.

Never before has our ability for deep, sustained focus and attention been under such assault. Technology, information and choices are coming toward us at lightning speed, much faster than our ability to process. Our natural inclinations are to try to pay attention to everything. It used to be our survival was dependent upon it. Today, our survival may be dependent on paying attention to less.

The 2016 MNA Conference, Nonprofits in Focus, addresses the topic of focus as one of the most pressing issues facing nonprofit staff members, boards and other volunteers. From maintaining strategic focus to analyzing data, strengthening collective activity, or merely managing the inbox and calendar, nonprofit leaders must strengthen their ability to focus on what matters. Here is the good news: focus is a skill that can be developed and exercised. None of us can control the pace of information, possibilities and choices coming our way. But we can gain control of our own attention and harness the power of focus to propel us forward in achieving our respective missions.

Imagine what would happen if a colleague greeted you with, “How are you?”. Instead of saying, “Busy. Overwhelmed. Stressed.”, you reply, “Focused. Paying attention to what matters. Achieving great things.” Attend the 2016 MNA Conference, Nonprofits in Focus, and join 400 or more of your colleagues to up your impact by paying more attention to what matters and giving less attention to all the rest.

Turning Statistics into Story

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 Liz-Moore-Executive-Directorby Liz Moore

Today’s eNews includes several standout resources that use data to deepen our understanding of various aspects of the nonprofit sector. In MNA’s 2014 Montana Nonprofit Sector in Brief report, 125 Montana nonprofit leaders gave themselves a tepid score on use of community and program data in the planning process. They also highlighted a need for access to good quality data, especially in the more rural communities.
 

 Sector-data-graph 

Anyone who has recently filled out a grant report for state or federal funding is likely to agree with us that plenty of data is being collected! Nonetheless – compiling, analyzing, drawing conclusions, reporting on, and making good use of data is quite challenging. Many of us have asked questions such as:

  • What data do we really need and how do we find it?
  • How do we turn statistics into a story that really says what we do?
  • How do we focus our attention on the data that really matters?

At MNA we are exploring and accumulating resources that are data rich and have relevance to Montana’s nonprofits. We’ll be sharing those with you in a variety of ways in the coming months. If you haven’t saved the date for Steve Patty’s training in Helena, Great Falls or Kalispell (June 6-8, respectively) – this might be a good time to do just that. Steve was a 2015 Conference favorite with his focus on evaluation, understanding what matters, and creating an organizational culture aimed at maximizing impact. Steve made believers of us: data does not have to be dry or geeky. It can be revolutionary.

If you have particular data sources you’d like to share with other MNA members, let us know. We’ll get the word out. We at MNA tend to look for data sources about the nonprofit sector as a whole, so your information about resources specific to areas such as the arts, health, early childhood, etc., will be very useful for us and others. Please share!

 

Dues Increase and the Value of Membership

(Membership) Permanent link

 Liz-Moore-Executive-DirectorGreetings MNA members

Thank you for being one of more than 600 MNA members. You are the heart of this organization and the catalyst for all we have accomplished since our inception in 2001.

As we embark on our 15th year as your association, we announce a membership dues increase, the first since 2008. The new dues will go into effect July 1, 2016.

Associations use two different approaches to dues increases: incremental annual increases, AKA “creep”, or the occasional “leap”, such as this increase, which was approved by the MNA board in 2014. In 2008, the first MNA dues increase averaged 25%; the 2016 increase will average 10.5%. Building on an excellent foundation laid in our earliest years, the past eight years have been remarkable for our association::

  • Our nonprofit membership base has grown from 481 to 593, a 23% increase.
  • In 2008, MNA offered 9 workshop/webinars and the Annual Conference; in 2015 more than 1200 nonprofit leaders participated in one of MNA’s 35 educational offerings, including an Annual Conference with our highest attendance ever.
  • In 2015 members saved more than $1.3 million through MNA’s cost-saving and group buying programs including affordable health insurance, a low-cost unemployment insurance option, a revenue-generating credit card processing program, custom graphic design & print services, the #1 nonprofit job board in the state, background checks, and more.
  • All MNA members are – by affiliation – members of the National Council of Nonprofits which adds tremendous volume and value to our policy voice at the state and national levels. In 2016, MNA will pay $8/per member to the Council of Nonprofits, a 60% increase since 2013.

In 2016 we celebrate our 15th year. As your association, we are proud to have kept dues flat over the past eight years, during which we weathered a recession and saw a 13.5% increase in the consumer price index. We recognize every dollar you bring in is hard-earned, and our solid commitment is to continue bringing value to you – our members – as we’ve done for a decade and a half. Looking back, we can say with certainty Montana’s nonprofit community is stronger, more cohesive, and more effective than ever before because of this amazing network we call the Montana Nonprofit Association, of which you are the center.

Since MNA’s inception fifteen years ago, much has changed. One constant has remained: together we are Many Missions, One Voice. Thank you for your continued membership. It is our joy to be your partner.

Liz  

New Dues Table 
  Annual Operating Budget   Current Dues   Dues after July 1, 2016 
Less than $25,000 $35 $40
$25,000-$124,999 $75 $85
$125,000-$249,999  $125 $135
$250,000-$499,999 $175 $200
$500,000-$999,999 $225 $250
$1,000,000-$1,999,999 $300 $325
$2,000,000-$2,999,999 $350 $375
$3,000,000-$3,999,999 $475 $525
$4,000,000-$3,999,999 $525 $575
$5,000,000 and higher $600 $650

 

Asking the Right Questions

(Org. Development) Permanent link

 Liz-Mooreby Liz Moore

Last week my colleague Julia Gustafson and I spent time in Dillon and Missoula presenting on the topic of board governance and leadership. During the workshop, we referenced a book entitled Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor. According to the authors, the most effective boards must function in three modes: fiduciary, strategic and generative.

Fiduciary stewardship and strategic leadership, the two modes most familiar to us, are primarily concerned with finding the right answers, e.g., “Are the financials healthy?”, “What is our approach given XYZ events?”, and “Are we headed in the right direction?” Generative leadership, on the other hand, is more concerned with coming up with the right questions than it is the right answers. This mode of governance is less straightforward, and involves intentionally framing up questions that push us to notice and make sense of the larger universe in which we operate. From there, the answers will come, and the depth and quality of those answers will be a direct result of the provocative, catalytic discussion that emerges when the right questions are asked.

Chait’s book includes many examples of catalytic, “what do you make of this” questions, including:

“What is the most important lesson we learned (in the last year)?”
“Why did we fail to fulfill particular strategic priorities?”
“How would we respond if . . . “
“If we could successfully take over another organization, which one and why?”

Generative leadership is certainly more involved than asking the right questions, but the point of Chait’s book is that nonprofit leaders intentionally create structures and a culture that promote generative thought.

I recently experienced two board-level conversations that brought the power of asking “the right question” home to me. Governance-as-LEadership

Example one. After last Wednesday's MNA quarterly board meeting, one of our board members contacted the board chair with concerns which had surfaced for him during the meeting. Our board chair forwarded some of the conversation to me and one of our committee chairs, knowing her note might generate some discomfort. The member's questions were spot on and will change my work strategies over the next several months.

Example two. MNA's health insurance program is run by a separate nonprofit organization called the MNA Group Benefits Trust (GBT). This week we had a GBT Board meeting in which I participated as a GBT trustee. Several hours after we adjourned, one of the other GBT board members called me with questions that came up for him during the meeting. We had a lengthy conversation in which we explored several key questions related to the work of the GBT. In the end, his questions laid the groundwork for a higher level board discussion that will take place at our next meeting.

In both cases, the questions posed by the board members were related to complicated issues central to the functioning of the respective organizations. Their questions were bold, sense-making questions, catapulting off the board discussions that had taken place just hours earlier to take the discussion to another level. Their questions helped me make important shifts in my own thinking - shifts that will benefit and strengthen our work with Montana’s nonprofits. Here's what is important: neither board member came forward with answers; rather, through conversation they shaped and brought forward the right questions.

As I reflect on these two conversations, my wish is that a year from now these type of questions are taking shape within the board room setting for both organizations. Granted, sometimes we don’t know what our questions are in the moment, or we need time to reflect before coming back to sensitive topics. Equally true is a reluctance to make waves or make others uncomfortable in the moment. Questioning the status quo, or asking the catalytic or provocative question at the right time may be one of the most important skills a board member brings to his or her role as a nonprofit leader. When we engage board members and other nonprofit leaders at the generative level, the organization gains the benefit of their best and highest thinking – which is the hallmark of extraordinary nonprofit board leadership.

The Road Ahead for Nonprofits in 2016

(Policy, Networking) Permanent link

 by Liz Moore, Executive Director 

One of MNA’s primary responsibilities is to scan the environment on behalf of Montana’s charitable nonprofits, understanding trends within the sector and recognizing threats and opportunities that impact the sector. In no particular order, here are six areas we’re thinking about as we look down the road in 2016: 

  1. Tax Treatment. We are watching several types of activity in this general category. Across the nation charitable nonprofits are facing threats to property tax exemption, particularly nonprofit hospitals. In December, a bill was put forward in New Jersey that would create a mandatory payment framework for tax-exempt hospitals. Earlier in the year, Maine Governor Paul LePage put forward a proposal that would allow municipalities to collect property tax on nonprofits of a certain size. As government funding shrinks at all levels, the press for revenue from nonprofits will increase. In Montana, the Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee (RTIC) is including the public benefit of nonprofits in their interim studies. Again. Is this a precursor to a discussion on taxing Montana’s nonprofits? We don’t know.

    One of the more insidious aspects of taxing only a certain type of nonprofit is the polarization it generates across the sector and in the public policy environment. First hospitals, then colleges, and then what? Religious organizations? Organizations that take a particular stand on an issue? This is a slippery slope not only in terms of which organizations are “in” or “out” for tax exempt purposes, but also because it opens up the possibility that charitable deductions and credits could be arbitrarily given or withheld based on a particular subcategory of charitable nonprofit.

    We are also seeing an increase nationally in the number of “fee in lieu of taxes” or “payment in lieu of taxes” being assessed against nonprofits in different municipalities. This is understandable given city budgets, but if and until the IRS redefines “charitable nonprofits”, the statute is clear. Charitable nonprofits are tax exempt.
     
  2. Increased Scrutiny. Several factors are pushing this. First, the amount of information available at the click of a mouse is staggering, making nonprofits ever more transparent. As information sources such as GuideStar become more mainstream, we should expect (and encourage) more people to be increasingly literate about nonprofit endeavors. Second, issues like extraordinarily high CEO salaries for certain nonprofits have an overflow effect, prompting general curiosity about compensation and spending for all nonprofits.

    Third, the influence of Citizen’s United is dramatic as we all try to understand and shed light on dark money through increased transparency. Fourth, one of the unintended consequences of the 1023EZ, a much abbreviated application process for tax exempt status, is the ease with which organizations are being approved even when not eligible. A recent study showed 37% of those that received tax exempt status through the 1023EZ should not have. By granting tax exempt status more readily, the burdens of scrutiny and enforcement is increased at the community level, making the nonprofit reputation more vulnerable and accountability more important.
     
  3. Proliferation of Nonprofits. According to the National Center on Charitable Statistics (NCCS), from 2003-2013 the number of Montana charitable nonprofits increased 17.6%. This far outpaced other types of tax exempt entities, including granting foundations, which actually decreased during the same timeframe. In the last two years alone, registered nonprofits in Montana have increased 12.7%. Modest growth is to be expected over time in both for profit and nonprofit businesses. However, we would argue a 12.7% increase in two years is beyond modest, and see several factors playing into this: 1) In 2012, nonprofits decreased in number due to IRS revocation. 2013-15 was a recovery period during which many organizations were reinstated; 2) the 1023EZ application allows applications to be processed more rapidly. Getting through the IRS backlog might account for some increase. In addition, an easier application process might be promoting growth; 3) the entrepreneurial spirit of millennials and post-millennials who are engaged in startups of all kinds, including nonprofit, might be a factor; and, 4) Montana is a great place to live and ranks top of the nation in startups in some areas. Could increases in nonprofits reflect the general movement of relocating to work in Montana?

    At MNA, we advise a thoughtful, eyes-wide-open approach to those considering nonprofit startup. We encourage those interested to explore many alternatives to pursuing their cause, including partnerships, fiscal sponsorships, etc. Conversely, we are also beginning to ponder how MNA can encourage the established nonprofit community to become more open to overtures from those interested in startup.
     
  4. Funding. What’s next after the Ice Bucket Challenge? We don’t know – but it's coming. More traditional, face to face philanthropy is not going away, but neither is the growth in online giving. Alternative forms of capital are also slowly moving toward mainstream. Mission Related Investing is gaining recognition and traction in Montana, thanks in no small part to the Montana Mission Investing Group (click here for more info). Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds are funding models that direct government resources toward proven, results-oriented practices. And the lines between for-profit and nonprofit philanthropy continue to blur. The 2015 Montana Legislature passed the Benefit Corporation Act, which permits for-profit companies to operate with a double bottom line: profit and social good. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative activity – unrelated to tax status. And there is philanthrocapitalism – a word many of us hadn’t heard until Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged most of their wealth to improving the world. While we can all be grateful for such generosity, there is a growing discomfort with the level of influence the very wealthy have on shaping the societal agenda through philanthrocapitalism.

    As options for fund development multiply in front of our eyes, we encourage an approach that includes a steady focus along with informed, intentional choices about both innovative and more established practices is vital.

    One other note on funding: both government and foundations are evolving in their expectations regarding administrative costs. Several years ago Stanford Social Innovation Review rocked the sector with an article, The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle, which addressed the system between nonprofits and funders that encouraged nonprofits to be opaque about the real costs of doing business. Maybe change was already in the air, but with that article, evolution began in earnest. The National Council of Nonprofits has led much of the conversation at the government level – working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on grants and contracts to develop changes in the amount and types of administrative costs nonprofits can recover. This is a continuing and important conversation at the local, state and national levels.
     
  5. Collective Action. Collaboration has always been a good idea, but as resources are stretched, nonprofits are evolving to work more deeply together. We are noticing an increase in intentional, longer term collective activity toward meaningful social change. Coalitions are pooling human and financial resources, partnering across sectors and industries, and narrowing the agenda in a highly structured manner to get the job done. Examples include: Graduation Matters, Medicaid Expansion, and the Early Childhood Coalition. Most nonprofits are collaborative, but acknowledge the time and trust it takes to see significant results. Funders have helped lead Montana’s collective impact efforts, and are often participants at the table alongside other coalition members. As the bar moves higher for demonstrable impact – which is happening – it stands to reason we would come together to achieve consequential impact. On MNA’s 2014 State of the Sector survey, 125 Montana nonprofits ranked themselves relatively low in collaborative activity. We hope this shifts as nonprofits commit more deeply to collective action.

  6. The Networked Sector. Over the last several years, Montana communities have seen a significant increase in the number of local nonprofit networks. By that we mean groups of nonprofit leaders coming together in their local community in some type of structured way for ongoing education and peer exchange/support. Four years ago, we would have been hard-pressed to name six regularly attended, self-managing local nonprofit networks that reach across sub-sectors and job titles. Today we could readily list a dozen existing or emerging nonprofit networks, from Hamilton to Glendive, Red Lodge to Ronan, and points in between. Similar to collective action, it takes time, trust and resources for a network to gain traction. Digital technology helps - bringing more resources to local communities than ever before. And we recognize Local Community Foundations and United Way agencies are moving more fully into their role as conveners in order to work with the community to thoughtfully put financial resources where they are most needed.

We’ve focused on areas that impact the nonprofit sector as a whole, knowing each subsector faces its own trends, challenges and opportunities. Obviously the election and the overall economy will impact each of the areas above to a greater or less degree, and we’ll be curious to see their influence as the year progresses.

In the meanwhile, we’d like to be more informed about what you’re seeing in the year ahead and invite you to take a minute to fill us in on larger challenges and opportunities you are facing. We thank you for your partnership in strengthening Montana through nonprofit endeavors, and wish you the very best in 2016.

The gift of December's shortened days

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Liz-Moore by Liz Moore

In his book, The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, writer Mark Nepo asks us to reflect on the persistent daily movement between our exterior “surface” world, and the deeper more interior world. He describes this as a migration that is both natural and necessary, somewhat like plankton moving from dark up to light and back down again. As humans we inhabit an ecosystem, if you will, that includes both the dark, quiet depths, and the noisier, brighter outside world. For most of us, the next five weeks starkly embody the contradiction of moving into the darkest, stillest time of year, while simultaneously engaging in the outgoingness of parties, gift-giving, stringing of lights, ringing of bells, and all that attends this season.

We send this month’s edition of MTc3 – with its focus on well-being – not as an antidote or a set of ideas on how to “endure” the holidays, but rather as a wish. A wish for days slowed to a pace that allows room for the dark and the light, both of which are as real and necessary to us as air. Many of us in nonprofit work are accustomed to giving from our very souls. What a gift December’s shortened days offer, reminding us that dark, quiet rest is nature’s way, and is essential to our wellness.

In that spirit, I offer you – as a nonprofit leader – these brief thoughts on traversing the inner and outer worlds during this season:

Reflect. Don’t let the unmet needs of your organization trick you into thinking you haven’t made progress. Take stock of what you’ve achieved. In the nonprofit world, it’s so easy to think we haven’t accomplished much because there’s still so much left to do. Bah. You’ve done AMAZING things. And what is completed is enough for right now. Take that in.

Unplug. Confession: I am the worst at this. Nonetheless, how can we order our own thoughts, enjoy the pause before day begins, or be present to the people we love when our thoughts are already/still at work. My goal: don’t check anything electronic before breakfast except the coffee pot.

Unplug some more: Facebook can be quite corrosive, especially when invectives fly. It’s not helpful to us as leaders to constantly dodge negativity and hatred. If someone posts something that flies in the face of civil discourse, like something hateful or a sweeping generalization about a group of people (even when its positive toward your own political tribe) – unplug by deleting or hiding the post.

Notice what is “right now”: I’ve heard that being present to the moment is the most reliable way to alleviate anxiety. For many of us, worry feels like control – yet it changes nothing. When I surrender my worry in favor of what I actually hear, smell, taste, see, or can touch – I am lighter.

Grieve as needed. Allowing ourselves to experience pain is essential to healthy living. Some of us work in settings that expose us to violence, trauma and loss on a regular basis. Sometimes we need to stop and feel just how bad it feels. That’s part and parcel of the darkness we navigate and is an important component of maintaining a healthy work life.

Indulge curiosity. When we ask questions, we are most like children – who are still open to the surprise of discovery. Questions also keep us in the moment – malleable and undefended. When we are too busy, curiosity seems like a luxury we can’t afford. Not true. Indulge. My favorite people are perennially curious.

Be still. When we meditate, write, ponder, or graciously say no to “one more thing” – we open a path that allows us to move more easily and effortlessly toward the next place – be that inward or outward focused. Technology makes this very difficult, as does the constant press of extremely meaningful work. However, we will only be as effective as our ability to think. And in order to think – we must sometimes be still.

This time of year holds so much for all of us: joy, expectation, gratitude, pain, loss, anxiety, and hope. In whatever ways we increase our comfort with what Nebo calls the “persistent drift” between the deeper, quieter world and the lighter, brighter outer world, we become more whole. This list is not exhaustive, and focuses primarily on the interior world. There are many restorative behaviors that are more outward directed, such as time with friends, enjoying beauty and creativity, counting blessings and more. Please add your thoughts if you’re inclined. Thank you for all you do, and above all – be well.

The Power of Networks

(Org. Development, Networking) Permanent link

Liz-Mooreby Liz Moore, Executive Director

Last Saturday afternoon I was sitting in the Helena Civic Center auditorium, one of 95 symphony chorale members in the final rehearsal before Saturday night’s Brahms/Star Wars performance. The chorale had a break in the action and I was able to sit back and simply take in the orchestra as they worked on that amazing, iconic Star Wars sound. As the music filled the hall, I found myself thinking, “This is why I’m at MNA. This is what nonprofits do.” And it’s true. Every day, in communities across Montana, nonprofits are additive, creating beauty, promoting justice, developing opportunity, and so much more. And we at MNA get to be part of the story.

Sitting alone with my thoughts, I experienced a sense of quiet pride as I listened to the orchestra. At the same time, like many of you, I am acutely aware that the line between my day to day work and what ultimately plays out in the community is mostly indirect. In fact, there is not so much a line as there is an ever evolving connection. As MNA’s executive director, I can say with some authority that no “one thing” MNA has done over the last fourteen years has made the singular difference in a specific nonprofit’s failing or succeeding. However, since our inception, we have been a partnering presence to thousands of leaders in ways that have dramatically bettered the landscape for nonprofits in Montana. One of the least tangible yet most fundamentally important of those has been our work supporting networks.

When I came to MNA in 2011, our strategic plan focused on five areas of programming intended to strengthen Montana’s nonprofits; one of those was networks. However, it wasn’t until July, 2013, when we were all sitting in the MNA main office in a planning session that the light really went on for us about the difference between supporting networking and supporting networks.

Montana is home to several local nonprofit networks that bring leaders from all sorts of nonprofits together – regardless of their size or mission focus - for education and peer support. Examples include the Bozeman Nonprofit Café, Red Lodge Nonprofit Café, the Nonprofit Development Partnership (NpDP) in the Flathead, the Missoula Nonprofit Network and the Missoula Executive Round Table. The Glendive Nonprofit Café is emerging in eastern Montana, and the Prayer Lodge in Busby is working toward an emerging network for Native nonprofits. Ronan, Great Falls, Anaconda, Helena, Butte, and Hamilton all have nonprofit networks on their radar. In a networked age, local networks have become a significant and growing component of the nonprofit infrastructure in Montana, directly contributing to organizational resilience in their communities.

I initially learned about resilience through the Search Institute’s Forty Developmental Assets several years back when I was working with Head Start. The premise of the Developmental Assets is that a child’s resilience in the face of adversity increases with the number of internal and external assets in the child’s life. One of the most poignant assets I recall has to do with the number of supportive adults in a child’s life. The greater the child’s connections in the community, the more resilient that child will be. Similarly for nonprofits, the more positive connections in the community, the stronger the organization will be – and certainly more able to weather storms. Local nonprofit networks are an efficient and effective way to build connections and increase resilience.

As Montana’s largest nonprofit infrastructure organization, MNA is a member of Montana’s nonprofit network ecosystem. Our work is being shaped and influenced by local networks at the same time that we are providing support in network development. In a 2012 interview, leadership guru Jim Collins said this, “It seems to me that this era is marked by something having to do with connectivity and networks and the ability to operate and lead within them. The Internet is all about networks and connectivity across networks. So one possibility is that there is a shift to a new fundamental building of society, namely, the network. We may be moving to a world of networks well led, as opposed to organizations well managed. You can't really manage a network, but you can help lead within a network. In any case, networks are very alive and real and are becoming building blocks.”

The lines between us are more connective and lively today than they have ever been. In that regard, during my Saturday afternoon symphony musings, I was warmed with the recognition that MNA is one node, if you will, in a vibrant network that culminated with the music of Star Wars. As we enter November and a time when our part of the earth becomes quieter, I encourage you to take pause and consider the connections between us, and the possibilities that are opening up as we become an increasingly networked world. Today I’ve written specifically about nonprofit networks, recognizing there are a host of other kinds of networks we are part of. I will leave those for future reflections. For now, I hope your mission is made more joyful, creative, and attainable as you share the journey with your fellow nonprofit travelers. And may the force be with you!

Get very excited! You are in for a treat!!

(Networking, Conference) Permanent link

When we chose Thaler Pekar as our keynote speaker for the 2015 Conference, we were delighted to learn she had been the keynote the previous year for our colleagues in Alaska, The Foraker Group. We heard incredible reviews from our friends in Anchorage whose work we deeply respect. My good friend Dennis McMillian, former CEO and Founder of Foraker, will be joining us for the conference, participating in the State of the Sector address and also presenting two highly relevant breakout sessions. On top of that, he agreed to write today's column on his experience with Thaler. Buckle up and read on!


 Attention Montana's Nonprofit Leaders 
You Are In For A Treat!! 

Dennis-McMillianImagine, five hundred nonprofit leaders packed into a hotel conference room during a keynote address. The speaker takes the podium and provides a few significant points on her subject. She has everyone's attention. Except for her voice, the room is quiet.

Now see the room erupt in personal conversations. Five hundred people talking to each other, sharing their stories, laughing–crying–learning. Collectively they create a buzz, but everyone is engaged and energized. The process is repeated for three full hours. No one leaves the room. Time flies by. The audience would have stayed three more hours.

Now imagine, after the conference, a survey is sent to the participants. Over eighty percent of those in attendance respond to the survey. This keynote speaker had over 99% positive to very positive responses on her session; in fact, most were very positive responses.

That was my first experience with Thaler Pekar.

Having spent a career working for nonprofits, I look forward to conferences. I appreciate what I learn from the presentations, but honestly I really look forward to meeting with peers, I often gain more benefit from those informal contacts than from the formal program. Having seen many post conference evaluations, that sentiment is common.

Your keynote speaker at the 2015 Montana Nonprofit Association Conference, Thaler Pekar, will open your mind, like she did mine, to the value of a true expert's insights and skill to help us learn. Having attended well over one hundred conferences, therefore having heard many more keynote or plenary speakers than many, I can confirm that Thaler's presentation on the morning of October 1st will engage, entertain, and inform you beyond all expectations. I promise that you will leave the conference with enhanced communication skills. You will be a better story teller. You will be energized.

The theme of this year's conference is The Power of Story. I encourage you to review Thaler's bio on the MNA website, she is indeed impressive. My comments about Thaler Pekar are personal, since we have become friends and I so admire her and the impact she has on everyone she meets. My sincere belief is that she is one of today's most gifted trainers–period.

She is especially talented in helping us tell our story– or COMMUNICATE in a way that will best influence whatever audience we address. Since effective communication is critical for our work with clients and constituents, and is required of good managers, and since communication with your community as an advocate for your mission is critical, her presentation should check most of the boxes of what one should expect to learn at a conference; all from one person.

I will be in Billings with you to participate in a couple of sessions, and you can bet that I will be standing in the back of the room, watching Thaler do her magic with you.

Get excited!!!! Get very excited!!! You are definitely in for a treat.

Dennis McMillian Former CEO of The Foraker Group, Alaska's nonprofit association.

 

The Power of Board and Staff Learning Together

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New for the 2015 MNA Conference is a special registration rate for board members of nonprofits. Board members who are not otherwise employed by a nonprofit are invited to attend the main conference (Thursday and Friday) for a discounted rate of $150. 

MNA Board Chair Russ Cargo, CEO of Helena Industries, and Vice Chair Mary Peterson, Executive Director of Eagle Mount Bozeman sat down with Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director to discuss the return on investment for board members attending this year’s conference.

Liz Moore: We’re offering a special board rate this year that nets a 25-60% discount for board member registration. Why should an organization consider sending board members?  

Mary-PetersonMary Peterson: Here’s the thing I know, if there are 7,000 nonprofits there are at least 21,000 people in the state who are board members . . . working their hearts out for good causes. Probably closer to 70,000. Then we know that at least 40,000 are working with no staff; it’s just the boardmaking it work.  

Russ-Cargo

Russ Cargo: And no one can be expected to do a job unless they know what their responsibilities are and what the objectives of the job are. I always believe that professional development for board members is just as important as it is for any other kind of job, paid or not.

Liz: How would you approach a board member about attending?  

Russ: We often come onto boards because of an interest in the mission, and I don’t know that people who are not employed in the nonprofit sector have an appreciation for the body of knowledge and depth of understanding that exists. Seeing the scope of the nonprofit sector, in addition to access to knowledge, makes a much bigger impression.

Mary: And, executives understand that their work doesn’t happen in isolation, but for the board member . . . it’s harder to get a sense of the larger context. There is a whole network supporting your work. It lets board members appreciate you more.

Liz: We know it’s difficult for board members to find time for professional development. 

Mary: This is a question of if you only have one day, what day do you do? Find the day that speaks to your most urgent need. I look at the Thursday lineup and see there is so much there for boards.

Russ: The time really has to do with the commitment to the organization. If you are serious about being a board member – I think it’s important for you to recognize that is going to take time. It should be part of orientation and recruitment process. Having a resource like the MNA conference would be easily justified because of the value. Someone that is serious is willing to devote a day or two a year.

Liz: In your involvement with boards over the years, what training needs have you seen?  

Mary: It’s always advocacy and fundraising they (board members) mark themselves down on. This is a way to increase the board’s comfort level with their responsibilities.

Russ: Understanding the financing of nonprofits . . . and beyond reading financial statements to thinking about the asset allocations. Are we using our assets to the greatest advantage? What are the strategies behind either spending or not spending money? So few boards have received the training they need to provide this kind of leadership.

Liz: As a CEO, what would you see as most valuable for a board member?  

Russ: It’s difficult for an executive to move the organization as aggressively as they might want to without the support and buy in of the board. I always go back to that friend of mine who grew up in Choteau. He used to say “two heads are better than one even if one is a cabbage head.” When you have a group together discussing almost anything the outcome is so much richer when there are multiple voices.

Mary: Three things –

  1. Board members are concerned about liability, good practice, whether the organization is staffed or not. They need to assure themselves that their organization is operating in the legal and ethical bounds. Just to reduce your fear and stress level.
  2. Every board I’ve been involved with – the board feels like “I wish we were better at advocating for this cause.” This whole conference is on story – how to tell the story. If you had just one board member go back and train the others, fire them up, you will be ahead of 90% of other nonprofits in the state.
  3. Board members are the movers and shakers in our communities. You ought to just go meet the other movers and shakers.

Liz: Anything else?  

Mary: When both staff and board are able to attend, the returns are huge. You are on the same page. Your organization has a big move to make, and you have a huge advantage if you’re both on the same page. You’re learning together, and in between you’re talking together. This is the gift of time that will propel your organization forward.

Russ: For an executive, that old saw that its’s lonely at the top is true. Though there are some that might rather be left alone (laughs) having a team operating creatively and generatively is so much healthier.
 


A Sampling of Concurrent Sessions Recommended for Boards

A3 Building the Leadership Bench: Succession Planning for Boards and Staff – one of the country’s pre-eminent nonprofit leaders will engage board members in the topic of planning for leadership succession.

A5 Mile-High Ethics: Elevating Standards in Philanthropy – board members will gain an understanding of their role in maintaining an ethical framework and culture.

B6 Collective Action Under the Big Sky – this will give board members experience interacting with foundations and government on topics Montanans care about.

C6 Stand for your Mission: Mastering Board Advocacy – this session is ideal for the Executive Director and board member to attend together; it gives board members tools to speak up on behalf of the mission.

C6 Fundraising Compliance: 4 (or More) Things to Master – this will show board members the information they need to help the organization maintain legal compliance in fundraising.

D1 The Central Asia Institute Story: A Case Study on Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency – learn what every board member should know about their legal responsibilities in upholding the organization’s accountability and transparency.

D2 Building Blocks for a Better Board – this is an ideal session for the first time board member, and a good pick for board and staff to attend together.

Learn-more-and-register
 

To learn or not to learn . . .

(Org. Development, Conference) Permanent link

Liz Mooreby Liz Moore, Executive Director

The mass of information we process daily via e-mail and other digital technologies can be both a gift and a problem. Having what amounts to an entire university curriculum at our fingertips is enticing, especially for avid learners. However, it’s not realistic for us to read everything that comes our way – no matter how interesting. We are fatigued not just by the information, but by the choices we are constantly making: to read or not to read, to save for later (will I remember to get back to it?), to discard, to flag, etc.

I don’t have the answers, but in the spirit of summer, I’m giving myself permission to indulge myself in learning – or not. Here’s what that means for me:

I won’t feel guilty about deleting articles, whitepapers, and invitations to webinars. And I don’t mean I’m getting rid of just the dull items, but interesting ones as well. I am choosing to lighten the information load, and guilt free delete is working for me.

I am choosing to immerse myself in one topic for several months, knowing other equally useful and compelling topics will still be here. Right now I’m interested in nonprofit mergers and acquisitions; this is an area I know little about and I’m motivated to learn. I have several books that will take me much further than anything I can find online, and I’m going to let myself learn. Having a focus on one area makes it easier to let go of the myriad other possibilities I could be pursuing. I need that focus, and the gratification that comes from jumping into the deep end on a single topic.

Taking time off from technology is a new skill for me, and I’m not very good at it. Purchasing books online feels economical. However, for me there is something vastly restorative about walking through a bookstore and judging books by their cover. I recently bought Painted Horses by Missoula author Malcolm Brooks. I have the actual book, not the online version. I bought it in an airport, even though I had my iPad with me and could have downloaded any number of books. The book has heft, and I enjoyed turning the pages.

And speaking of paper – just because an article is online doesn’t mean I can’t download it and read it when I have time, rather than when I happen to see it. I love paper. I love paper calendars, books, magazines, articles. I try to be conscientious about how much I print, but there are worse things than printing an article and reading it out on the back patio instead of from my desk or laptop.

These summer indulgences are helpful to me. I am a voracious reader, and letting go of potentially interesting or useful information is not easy. But the law of diminishing returns has made it necessary for me to set some limits. If you have tools or advice for the rest of us on how you are managing your learning in an information age, please post a comment.

This month’s e-news has several resources and articles related to learning. And then a couple of summer strolls I hope you don’t miss: the Community Spotlight and the #allplaynowork link at the bottom. Enjoy summer.

 

Getting the story of our impact right

(Conference) Permanent link

 Steve-Pattyby Steve Patty

A story can be powerful. And a story about our impact as nonprofit leaders can be powerfully convincing. It can move people to engage and contribute and invest in ways we have never dreamed. It can mobilize people to join the cause with verve and abandon.

There’s something about a story that draws people close to the impact of our work. They can see it and hear what it sounds like. They can touch it vicariously and trace the contours of its human effect. Through story, others can walk alongside us and, for a moment, become lost in our cause.

But how do we know that we are telling the right story and, for that matter, telling the story rightly? How do we know it is not simple a story we like to tell ourselves – a pleasant but unfounded narrative about the greatness of our work?

For that, we need evaluation.

Getting-to-what-matters The problem with evaluation is that it usually doesn’t tell our story very well. Conventional evaluation is about metrics and measures too simplistic and superficial to capture the true essence of the story. The data we use rarely gets us to the best parts of the story – the deep and durable shifts of thinking, the awakening of new possibilities, the tender but persistent adjustments in a life’s trajectory, the subtle but significant commitments made in the depths of the heart that end up changing everything.  

This is what we tell stories about. But this is not usually what the data from our evaluations can deliver.

We need evaluation to tell a true story. But we also need evaluation to get us data on what matters most in our story of impact. This will require a different kind of evaluation. It will make us rethink the way we design and develop evaluation.

Join me at the 2015 MNA Conference and discover how to get data at the heart of your impact story.

Curiosity

(Org. Development, Conference) Permanent link

Liz-MooreWe’ve all smiled at the phrase, “There are no wrong questions.” But is it true? Are there no wrong questions?

According to management guru Peter Drucker, “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” I think both statements are true: there are no wrong questions, and then again, there are wrong questions.

The process of evaluating impact begins with questions. But which ones should we be asking? Today’s e-news includes several resources intended to aid in evaluation, but none of them can take the place of having the “right question”, which is the start of good evaluation. There is an elegance that emerges when the right question is being asked. For example, for MNA, the right big question might be “Are nonprofits doing more good because of MNA?” or, “Is life better in Montana because of MNA?”

In his book “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy”, Richard Rumelt makes the point that good strategy starts with an unflinching focus on defining the greatest challenge facing an organization. He posits that strategic plans don’t get executed or bring the desired results largely because the hard work of identifying the most significant challenge has not been done in the first place.

In the same way, evaluation mechanisms can leave us deflated, overwhelmed and rudderless unless we are resolute in our quest to define and refine the right big question, the question whose answer truly informs our impact. Of course, once we ask the question, we need a certain amount of courage because answers to big questions might take us down roads unknown. But isn’t that the point?

Good evaluation requires us to fully occupy the space between what we know and what we don’t. Children do this naturally; but somewhere along the way we adults have tamped down some of our curiosity. Not because we don’t wonder about things, but because we’ve become less comfortable with not already knowing the answers to the biggest questions.

Evaluation is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be unbearably complicated. Any one of us – with or without a survey tool or spreadsheet, can take time to think about our big question. Once we’ve got that in our sights, a very generative and exciting process can fall into place, one that simultaneously tells our story and informs our story, giving us the information we need in order to learn, grow and deepen our impact.

 

The Power of Story

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 Liz-Mooreby Liz Moore

Every year in May or June I become infatuated with the annual conference theme. I find myself turning it over in my mind in the months, weeks, and days before the conference. Impact. Innovation. Passion. What do these words really mean to me? This year I’m thinking about Story. What do I know about story and storytelling? What do I want to know? What is the importance of story to me, to our organization, to the nonprofit community?

I’m intrigued with the phrase “narrative intelligence”, a concept related to story and story-telling. Our opening keynote for the 2015 conference, Thelar Pekar, uses this phrase – as do others whose life’s work centers on story. After some brief exploration, here is what I understand about narrative intelligence so far: Story telling is not so much an action as it is an interaction. Note the following phrases, which help make the point:

       Yellowstone National Park       ●         Evening on Broadway    ●    NASA    ●    Berlin Wall   ●    Nine eleven

In each case, the storylines evoked by the words go far beyond the phrase itself – or the thing we’re talking about – and involve the experiences, memories and emotions of both teller and listener. Understanding this dynamic relationship between narrator and audience is a core aspect of narrative intelligence.

I spend a good bit of my day talking about nonprofits. I have all kinds of statistics at my disposal, but there are times I need more, I want to convey the story of Montana’s nonprofits. At those times I often reach for the Gallup Poll that says Montanans are least likely to move to another state if given the opportunity. As I begin to describe the link between quality of life in Montana and the contribution of Montana’s nonprofits to clean streams, walking trails, artistic endeavors, healthy lifestyles, children excited about the future, historic sites and cathedrals – I can see listeners nodding and joining me in the story. At that instant, the story ceases to be about me and becomes about “us”. That’s the power of story.

I believe this year’s conference has the potential to be transformative. I hope you – like I – will become curious about the concept of story, and what it has to offer you and your organization. The word story is simple. It’s just five letters . . . and even a three-year-old knows what it is. And yet that single word contains the whole of our experiences, traditions, beliefs, hopes, and understandings. Indeed, as American poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, "The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

The Power of Story, October 1-2, 2015, Crowne Plaza, Billings

Small but Tough

(Org. Development, Networking) Permanent link

Liz-Mooreby Liz Moore

This week MNA is heading to eastern Montana for the first-ever Nonprofit Kaleidoscope, a one-day convening designed to bring resources, education, and nonprofit networking to the many nonprofits serving this eastern most area of the state. From Wolf Point to Broadus (and slightly beyond), hundreds of nonprofits truly are the fabric of the community, a role that has become even more critical with oil exploration and development in the Bakken. We hope that wherever you are in Montana - you’ll take a moment and get to know some of your colleagues in Custer County – Cowboy country, home of the Range Riders Museum and the annual Bucking Horse Sale.

After spending some time in eastern Montana over the past two years, we know that nonprofits “over there” have much in common with nonprofits in other parts of the state; the fundamentals of nonprofit leadership and management apply regardless of geography. Having said that, we also recognize there are vast differences between nonprofits situated in our home community of Helena, and those in towns like Forsyth, Ekalaka, Miles City, and Sidney. As we put the agenda together for the Kaleidoscope conference, we intentionally focused on the unique qualities of rural nonprofits, particularly in the area of resources. Human and financial resources are just harder to come by in smaller communities.

Several years ago, Big Sky Institute coined the phrase “philanthropic divide”, in describing the very real resource deficit experienced by nonprofits operating in rural states. We would take that a step further and suggest Montana has a philanthropic subdivide. In the most rural parts of the state, even less resources are available to meet the challenges of remote geography and extremely sparse population than are present in other parts of the state. Consider the following:

  • Nonprofits that are so necessary in small communities struggle more than the rest of us to obtain foundation funding for several reasons, two of which are lack of scale and real or perceived lack of capacity. Attracting in-state funding is a challenge, and out of state foundation funding is just about beyond reach. 
  • Businesses are generous in small communities, but nonprofits are very aware that they are all “hitting up” the same donors. The Red Lodge Area Community Foundation has handled this in a very unique way, and their executive director, Tracy Timmons, will be speaking about this at Kaleidoscope. 
  • The volunteer base in small communities is fatigued; board members are often on several boards which can make deep engagement with any one organization difficult. While we know this holds true in communities of all sizes, it’s just tough in a community that is a hub of sorts, but only has a few thousand people (e.g., Miles City or Glendive). The demands on all volunteers – including board members – are immense. 
  • In most small communities, recruiting new staff to a nonprofit probably means that someone who already lives in the community will fill the position. This can be a plus, but it can also be very limiting. Finding the right skillset can be near impossible. This is further complicated by the fact that in Montana, the average wage in a rural nonprofit is almost 19% lower than nonprofit wages in larger communities (Montana Department of Labor, 2014).

In spite of these significant challenges, rural nonprofits can and do thrive. A Bridgespan Group report written in 2011 used the phrase “Small but Tough”, talking about rural nonprofits. Practicality, innovation, cooperation, a strong sense of community, and a “can-do” mentality are resiliency factors for the nonprofits serving our most rural communities. But resilience will only take any of us so far. Today we want to make the point that there is no substitute for funding. Fortunately, there is hope.

We at MNA applaud the work of local community foundations that are growing philanthropy in rural Montana. Access to more financial resources – especially long term resources – is paramount. We also appreciate the foundations that continue to open their checkbooks to fund smaller projects. We know this might fly in the face of funding for impact, but when it comes to rural Montana, we appreciate and encourage the flexibility that many Montana foundations exercise.

Finally, as the legislature debates the merits of infrastructure funding in eastern Montana, why are we not including funding for nonprofits in the conversation? I spoke with a legislator early on in the session and talked about this issue. He completely agreed that there needs to be support for eastern Montana's nonprofits, “But,” he said, “What they really need is leadership. We need passionate leaders. The resources are there.” Maybe it’s true. What I’ve seen is the opposite. I’ve met the leaders, seen their passion at work. I think they need money. We’re going to work on that before the 2017 session.

Obviously funding isn't the only answer. There is skill building, developing organizational capacity, board training and engagement, connecting with peers, and simply raising awareness of the scope and breadth of the nonprofit community in rural Montana. That’s all part of why we’re headed 360 miles east next week. It’s also why we’ve included in today’s e-news information we think will be of interest to small, under-resourced nonprofits. And, we will continue to fill our role of amplifying the voice of the nonprofit sector by speaking out and pushing for solutions to Montana’s “philanthropic subdivide.” The group that first imagined MNA fifteen years ago was resolute in their desire to serve nonprofits of every size and mission from all corners of the state and in between. Much has changed since then, but MNA’s commitment to all nonprofits, regardless of size or location, is baked into our organizational DNA, and holds as true today as it did all those years ago.

Brand with a Capital “T”

(Policy) Permanent link

Liz-Moore-Executive-Director by Liz Moore

Most often, when we read about “brand identity” we’re thinking about the unique characteristics of our specific nonprofit organization or product. We are highlighting what differentiates us from others, our value proposition, and our story. We use every means possible to effectively convey to others what we want them to think about when they hear our name, see our logo, or read our tagline. For the past several weeks, I've had several opportunities to step back and consider the brand identity of the nonprofit sector itself, above and beyond the brand of an individual organization. The legislative session tends to provoke that kind of thought, particularly when issues come up regarding transparency, which is an integral part of the nonprofit brand identity. As an advocate for the larger nonprofit community, MNA is often in the position of simultaneously championing transparency while arguing against legislation that – in the name of transparency – adds up to more regulation and reporting.

The most recent example I offer is HB 389, sponsored by Representative Jeff Essmann, that would require Montana’s tax exempt organizations to reapply for property tax exemption every six years, pay a fee to do so, and then have the information be made publicly available.

MNA opposed this bill. Why? The bottom line is that after talking with Rep. Essmann, it remained unclear what problem is arising with enough regularity or size to merit this legislative solution – which by the way will cost $125,000 plus ongoing costs. That’s $125,000 that will be taken out of mission oriented activity in communities and paid to government. The bill was also unclear in its intended purpose and, for the MNA Public Policy Council, raised more questions than it answered.

Although we opposed the bill, we also want to say this: there is a component of the bill that sits at the uncomfortable nexus of transparency and regulatory burden, and on that point MNA should be taking a stand for transparency. The state of Montana does not know which properties are tax exempt. They do not have accurate records going many years back when counties handled the applications for exemption locally. There is merit in cleaning that up. That’s the transparency part. Would that require statute? Presumably not if the department had the funding to staff the effort to clean up their records. We’ve seen plenty of examples of nonprofits not paying for reapplication in other states. We vote no on a fee, regardless of the size of the organization. And finally, what about the requirement that there be a public listing of tax exempt properties? We don’t understand that at all. It seems like an add-on that hints at an agenda that goes beyond transparency.

So what does all of this have to do with brand identity? Even though we believe there is or will be more to HB 389 than meets the eye, we also believe transparency (with a capital T) is at the center of the nonprofit brand identity. So we will carefully review the new bill draft, and continue to oppose the parts of the bill that are confusing, or that may be part of an unknown agenda. At the same time, we will offer to be part of a solution that creates more transparency. That’s our brand identity. And we need to stand for it. We ask that you take time to read the bill and let your legislators know three things: 1) we support the sponsor’s intent to clean up the records on tax exempt properties; we think having good records is a reasonable expectation. We’re not certain this requires statute. 2) If the bill goes forward, it should not be at the expense of communities that will see $125,000 less in mission oriented activity. 3) What’s with the publicly available list? That requirement simply seems off the mark and rather mysterious.

Bottom line: we’re for cleaning up the records and we’re against charging nonprofits to do it and we’re unclear on whether it requires statute to get the job done. And we don’t understand the list. Is it a registry?

“Without love, none of this could’ve have happened.”

(Policy, Networking) Permanent link

liz-blogby Liz Moore

Yesterday I listened to a TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Isabel Allende. She spoke with passion . . . about passion. Passion is not a word I use often. I tend to dismiss the word as cliche, having quite a bit of heat and not enough substance. But Ms. Allende’s talk prompted me to consider the role of passion in this nonprofit work we undertake; our causes vary, but our passion about the cause draws us together as a community. 
  
Daily I have the opportunity to notice how one nonprofit or another is making life better for Montanans. This week I became slightly infatuated with the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts. Last week it was FollowtheMoney.org; they just won the MacArthur Award – one of nine in the world. Next week it will be Big Brothers Big Sisters as I enjoy the annual “Montana Youth of the Year” celebration. And in between I will make a donation to an organization that made sure my grandson got a new book just after he started first grade in a new school. I find the work of almost any nonprofit interesting. But what really grabs my attention is when I get a glimpse of the passion behind the work in the conversation with nonprofit leaders who are alight with a sense of mission. My own passion is fueled by the notion that nonprofits are agents of community - creating the quality of life we want for ourselves and future generations of Montanans. There is a richness of democracy within the nonprofit structure that just pulls me in. I believe in it. Yes – I’m passionate. At the same time, I know passion is not enough. It will propel me on the journey, but it won’t replace the highway I need in order to get from here to there. One of the reasons MNA exists is to offer tools and a roadmap so that organizations – full of passion and a sense of mission – can navigate successfully toward their vision.

2015-NPDay-buttonOn January 22nd we had 100 nonprofit leaders in the Rotunda for Montana Nonprofit Day at the Capitol, and many of us we were all wearing a little pin, designed by Gail Tronstad. We offered the pin to policymakers, not because nonprofit work is about unicorns, hearts and rainbows. But because we are all touched by nonprofits in one way or another. I have yet to talk with someone whose life isn’t bettered in some way because of their connection with a nonprofit organization. We want our lawmakers to remember that tie to a particular nonprofit as they make decisions that impact the sector in the next several months. You can be sure we also offered solid data about the sector, but we led with what is personal and connective.

I’m fortunate to be in this position where “nonprofit” is not an abstract concept, nor is it the name of a particular organization. For me, “nonprofit” evokes a map of Montana that is alive with the light of nonprofit leaders living out their mission with passion in communities large and small throughout the state. One of the blogs I enjoy is gapingvoid.com; it always includes thought provoking artwork. Last week’s piece said “Without love, none of this could’ve have happened.”

This week, Valentines, I’m going to go ahead and give way in my vocabulary for the word passion. I know there are many other components on the road to accomplishment, but without passion, none of it will happen. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Doing our Homework on Engagement

(Conference) Permanent link

Liz-Moore-Executive-DirectorBy Liz Moore 

In two weeks, Montana's nonprofit community will meet in Helena for MNA's 2014 Conference - Engage: Aligning Mission, Meaning and Capacity for High Performance.

Over the course of the conference, our individual nonprofit identities - represented by the mission statements of the more than 300 organizations participating in the conference - will be experienced as the powerful collective identity that emerges when we come together as members of a larger nonprofit community. This year's conference theme has the potential to be transformational, both for organizations and for Montana's nonprofit industry. To maximize our conference experience, I'm challenging each of us to do a piece of interesting homework between now and the conference.

The homework is simple but requires deliberate thought.

I am challenging us to deliberately spend time in the next 14 days reflecting on engagement as two sides of a coin. One side is our own engagement; the other is our effectiveness in engaging others - be those volunteers, board members, funders, staff, or community stakeholders.

Am I engaged?

We each have a personal responsibility to know ourselves, to be attuned to our passions, our strengths, our calling. We are responsible for evaluating our "fit" for the job and for owning our happiness in our role. This is one side of the coin. A tangible way to explore this side of the coin is to use StrengthsFinder 2.0 or another tool you're familiar with to assess and remember your strengths and passions.

Along with that, find ways to notice and be curious about times when you are energized, excited, deeply focused or in the flow in your work. Ask yourself, "What aspect of my work is generating this experience?" Similarly, when you're experiencing frustration, exhaustion, or a sense of being drained, ask "What aspect of my work is contributing to this experience?" This can be as simple as writing "Am I enjoying what I'm doing right now?" on a sticky and putting it on your computer monitor as a prompt to notice your work experience.

Am I cultivating engagement in others?

The other side of the engagement coin is our responsibility toward others working with us in the cause - be they fellow board members, volunteers, staff, or other stakeholders. I will admit, I was dubious when to learn that less than a third of employees in the United States are engaged in their work. Maybe this is true in the for-profit world, but how could this possibly be true in the highly mission driven nonprofit sector? To shed light on this, I looked up the full Gallup report and found what is called the Q12, the 12 questions posed in the survey. Here they are:

engage-questions
State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement
Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide, Gallup, 2013.
 

I don't know about you, but as a leader I find these questions sobering. These 12 indicators are absolutely as relevant to nonprofit staffs, volunteers and board members as they are to the corporate world. To explore engagement from this perspective, you might print out the twelve questions, place them in your line of sight, and notice if your leadership supports engagement as it is described in these indicators.

Nonprofits have a head start on engagement because our missions are compelling. But when we tolerate or even promote an unsustainable workload, making do with too little, a disorganized sense of focus and systems, we lose engagement. When we find ourselves spending 60% of our time or more on work that is necessary but not fulfilling, we lose engagement. And when we lose engagement, we lose impact - and everything else follows.

I've never forgotten what one of MNA's funding partners said to me, "It's not enough to take the mission seriously. Nonprofits have to take the organization seriously as well." We have a unique opportunity at this year's conference to raise our individual organizations and the collective nonprofit industry by taking engagement to heart as deeply as we take the mission to heart.

I invite you to get the most out of this year's conference by doing some simple but enlightening homework - and I'll see you in a couple of weeks in Helena!

Arbejdsglæde

(Conference) Permanent link

Suzanne-Wilcoxby Suzanne Wilcox 

I am of Danish heritage, and take a kind of pride in that heritage, based on my experiences with Danes individually and because I respect many things about Danish culture and social and political structure. Growing up, I spent time with my grandparents, Mormor and Morfar, Danish for grandmother and grandfather, literally translated mother’s mother and mother’s father. Mormor spoke an unstructured amalgamation of Danish and English. I learned to understand her language but never to speak Danish.

There is a Danish word – arbejdsglæde – literally translated it means “work glad” or “work happy.” There are comparable words speaking to happiness at work in other Scandinavian languages – Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian, but not in any other language. In Scandinavian workplaces, there is a large tradition and focus on happiness at work.

When we began planning for the theme of engagement, I was taken aback by the statistics showing 60% - 80% of the US population is unengaged at work, depending on which pollster you look to. We Americans think it's normal to dislike or be indifferent to our jobs. The implications are far reaching.

Engagement is about a connection to the missions of our organizations – many of us embrace that whole-heartedly, especially in the nonprofit sector. But it’s more than that. It’s about the alignment of an individual’s skills, interests and passions with the specific role they play in the organization or business.

When we build a culture of engagement in our organizations and communities, we contribute to a better world. Imagine a world in which 80% of the people love the work they do. What would that look like? What would innovation look like? How would we treat one another?

Throughout the conference we invite you to explore how to cultivate engagement in your organization, for yourself, colleagues, board members, partners and other volunteers. I believe it takes a kind of sensitivity and focus, as well as a generosity of spirit, to create an environment that fosters arbejdsglæde – and we in the nonprofit sector are well-positioned to lead the way.

Attending My 10th Conference, This Time As A Member

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by Brad RobinsonBrad Robinson
Director of Operations
Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts

From 2005 to 2013, I attended every MNA Conference – Missoula, Helena, Billings, Helena, etc. In that time, however, I did not attend one single conference session in its entirety. I was always talking with the members, hanging out with the vendors, and working to support Gail and the rest of the staff, more or less behind the scenes. Of course, during that time frame I worked at MNA – so talking to the members and the vendors was, in fact, my job, and the conference was always my favorite time of year. All those members in one place at the same time was great! So it worked just right, actually.

This year, however, it’s all different. This year I have a new role with a new organization. But I’m not going to let a nine year streak of perfect attendance end. No way. I’m coming to the conference and I've already chosen which sessions I plan to attend. This year, I am going to immerse myself in the substance of the conference.

For all those years, I heard from the members how amazing, how rejuvenating, and how inspiring the conference was. I heard from people that the MNA conference was better than any of the national conferences they attend. I heard that this was the only conference some people attend. But I could only take their word for it.

Each year I knew how much effort went into selecting the speakers, aligning the breakout sessions, managing the marketing, and rallying the membership so new people would attend – but I never actually had the chance to sit down and learn from the amazing body of presenters that MNA always pulled together.

This year, I will be there as a member of MNA. I have heard enough times that the MNA conference is the one place I can get all the info I need to be able to do my job to the best of my ability. Now I’m going to find out for myself. You should too. I’m going and I hope to see you there!

Less is the New “More.”

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Kim-Klein-photoby Kim Klein 

Over the past two decades, all of us who work in fundraising have commented endlessly on how much harder it is to raise the money we need. This, in spite of the fact that we have wonderful new tools with online platforms, user friendly and efficient databases, and tons of affordable (often free) information on how to conduct any fundraising strategy. Fundraising should be easier than when I started 30 years ago with a manual typewriter, carbon paper, dial phones, no voice mail, and walking twelve miles through blizzards to meet donors. (OK, that last thing isn’t really true!) It is not hard to figure out the problem: while fundraising itself may have gotten easier, the number of organizations needing money and the cost of being an organization has risen exponentially. Loss of tax revenues cause public schools, libraries, and even public health departments to seek corporate or foundation grants and donations from individuals. But there is not enough money from foundations and individuals to support what they have always supported as well as to pay for things that used to be paid for by taxes. With rising costs, some organizations stop providing health insurance or lay off “nonessential” staff. In other words, many organizations simply do more and more with less and less.

We need new ways of thinking about how organizations get the resources they need. To start with, the board and staff need to understand some of the rudiments of how taxes work, and debate what kinds of taxes are the most fair and just. We need to make sure everyone around us who can vote, does vote. In other words, civic engagement needs to be added to the roster of tasks that boards take on. This kind of work often surfaces deep disagreement—that’s OK! Disagreement among people of good will often leads to whole new ideas that no one had before. We also have to take care of each other—arts groups have to advocate for homeless programs and anti-poverty organizations need to push for high quality public education. Less has to become the new “more.” We are professional problem solvers—and we can solve the problems that face us.

Looking forward to exploring these and other issues in a few weeks . . .

Where are those dog days?

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Liz-Moore-Executive-Director I'm thinking I blinked and somehow missed the last three weeks of summer. We wait so long for heat in Montana; when it finally comes we flee en masse for our kayaks, flyrods, gardening tools, hiking boots, and outdoor grills. When the air turns cool early, as it did last week, I for one am pouty. As you read through today's eNews, you will see there is no shortage of activity at MNA or generally in the nonprofit sector. But I'm here to say: wait! Technically we have three more weeks of summer and I'm not letting go. Kids are back in school, task forces are resuming activity, the MNA Conference is around the corner. But let’s relish these next three weeks.

Here are a few thoughts on how to remain immersed in summer even as the air begins to turn:

  1. Designate a few days to think. Before our workday activity rips back into full gear, let’s take time to ponder what we want to accomplish during this next season, and consider what we’ll need to let go of in order to succeed.
  2. Create fun. We’re fortunate at MNA because we enjoy each other. As a group, we use a potluck approach to bringing playfulness into the workplace. Making reservations for all of us to try out the new café for lunch, bringing garden flowers into the front office, laughing over salted chocolate, extreme wit, and a relaxing backyard barbeque all make for light work. It’s worth pondering “What will I do next week to enliven work?”
  3. Read a book. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an Oprah choice, an historic tome, or a nonprofit management classic. Giving books their due time makes everything else a little easier. One reason may be that it’s difficult to multi-task during a good book. We still have three weeks to finish our summer read. Our brains need food, and a good book is a great indulgence that creates space for clear thinking.
  4. Slow the pace. In those first 3-4 days back from vacation, we respond to “how are you” with a broad smile and a few highlights of a really wonderful break. All too soon, however, we’re back to answering the question “how are you” with a grimace and some description of being busy, swamped, etc. Let’s change that. It’s not helpful in any way to support a culture where being overwhelmed is expected. The leaders I most admire have somehow figured this one out, and I think it has to do with focus. They eliminate noise and clutter to focus on the task at hand. And when you ask how they’re doing, there’s no martyr language. They are in charge of their pace and managing their environment. They are doing well.

Like many of our workplaces, MNA doesn’t have a slow season anymore. It’s up to us to extend summer, to create an environment that is lighter, calmer, and more sustaining, even in the midst of the work. Technically, we have three more weeks to practice summer. My hope is that – regardless of the tasks at hand, of which we all know there are plenty – we deliberately stroll into autumn. The annual MNA Conference is October 1-3. Choosing our activity and work environment thoughtfully during these next few weeks is a perfect prelude to the Conference theme, Engage. More on that later. In the meanwhile, I’m going to savor the dog days in whatever ways they emerge. See you soon.

Top 10 reasons to attend MNA’s annual conference, the premier gathering of nonprofit leaders

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Gail-Tronstadby Gail Tronstad

#10 We have great coffee; Latte for a Cause -- We know coffee is important to you and we will have lots of good coffee. Galaxy Roasting will be on site for the 3rd year with the “latte for a cause.” All proceeds from the latte sales will be awarded to a Helena area nonprofit in attendance.

#9 Continuing Education Credits – The conference curriculum has been approved by the University of Montana for one credit of independent study, graduate or undergraduate. In addition, CPE, HRSI and CFRE certificates will be available for qualifying pre-conference and concurrent sessions.

#8 Two Networking Receptions – Wednesday evening vendors will be on hand to showcase the latest and most innovative products and services for nonprofit management. This “meet and greet” event will give you an opportunity to welcome your friends and colleagues while visiting with the vendors. Three pre-conference presenters/authors will be with us and signing books. The Holter Museum of Art, premier cultural center for the region, will be the site of our Thursday reception. Great reception fare, mellow music and engaging conversation – networking at its finest.

#7 PechaKucha – Several regional nonprofits will share their engagement stories in the dynamic fast-paced PechaKucha format - 7-minute presentations, 20 slides auto-forwarded every 20 seconds. PechaKucha was a hit in 2013!

#6 Consultant’s Corner – Nonprofit experts provide complimentary 20 minute one-on-one consults about your specific questions and issues.

#5 Book Fair and Signings – The bookstore will be stocked with an exceptional lineup of some of the latest must-read books on nonprofit leadership, management and engagement. Kim Klein, Amy Sample Ward and Richard Chang will have a book signing Wednesday evening during the reception. Richard Chang will also sign following his opening keynote.

#4 Graffiti Wall – A white spot and an array of art supplies will beckon you to record your conference pearls of wisdom. One quote from the 2013 Graffiti Wall – “Creativity prevails. Lack of resources is not an excuse.”

#3 You will meet a lot of interesting people – This is more than a conference – it is a grand networking event!

#2 You can rub elbows with three internationally known speakers and you will be challenged to make a tough choice of which 4 of 24 concurrent sessions you will attend. What other nonprofit event in the Northwest can offer that to you?

And the #1 reason….(drumroll, please) You will return home re-ignited, re-energized and overflowing with passion, ready to work at your full potential. 

Check out GreatNonprofits!

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Liz-Moore-Executive-Director Summer is an ideal time for exploring. If you haven’t taken a walk through GreatNonprofits, I highly recommend you take five and do it. This website is supported by several rock stars in the world of philanthropy who want to make real-time information about nonprofits widely accessible. You know how we cannot resist looking at ratings on Travelocity, Zagats or Amazon? Apply the same concept to nonprofits and you have GreatNonprofits. The site is designed to “allow people to find, review, and share information about great -- and perhaps not yet great -- nonprofits and charities.” The site is refreshing, efficient and beneficial.

Someone stopped by our office this week and asked how he could find the names of nonprofits in Montana that do international work, particularly in the area of water. We suggested the IRS master list, which is cumbersome and not very nimble for actual human beings. Although he found some info through the IRS Master List, he really hit paydirt with GreatNonprofits.

The main things I like about the site are:

  1. Searchability. find any nonprofit anywhere. The homepage opens up with several nearby cities already conveniently listed. Click. Helena shows 851 charities. Whaaat? Sort by place, issue, or ratings.
  2. Down to earth transparency. Peer reviews engender honesty and authenticity very much like a 360 evaluation. Not only is it good for us to learn about ourselves, but it’s great for others to hear about our fabulousness or foibles in a way that is not straight out of an annual report.
  3. The nonprofit story. The profile gives nonprofits a chance to tell their story in their own words, while peer reviews tell the nonprofit’s story through the lens of others. The rating system has a comments section. Reading through the various comments really gives a sense of interconnectedness to the site, especially because nonprofits are encouraged to ask people on their contact list to review them. We could have fun with this in Montana where we all more or less know each other.
  4. Ease of use. We have often thought it would be great to have a navigable, highly reliable directory of nonprofits. How 411 used to be used to find phone numbers. This takes us a long ways toward the goal.

The site isn’t perfect. The volunteer and grants sections are essentially sponsored material. But even that is interesting. Overall GreatNonprofits is a powerful and easy to use tool for nonprofit review, accountability, transparency and storytelling. Personally, I hope this takes hold, and I encourage each of you to check it out and promote its use. GreatNonprofits.org.

Welcome Jim!

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Liz-Moore-Executive-Director I'm delighted to announce to you that MNA has hired Jim Lawrence as our new Director of Membership and Resource Development.  For the past seven years, Jim has been with Special Olympics Montana (SOMT) in Great Falls as Director of Development. Prior to SOMT Jim was a business entrepreneur. In his volunteer role as president of the board for the National KOA Association, he served as the chair of the KOA membership committee for almost a decade. He spent much of his early career in the oil business.

Jim was the chair of MNA's finance committee while on the MNA Board of Directors. His familiarity with MNA and his unique blend of experiences will serve MNA and our members well as he moves into the very large shoes left by Brad Robinson.

Jim-Lawrence-bio-photoOne of Jim's great strengths is his understanding of and appreciation for what it means to work in a customer-centric organization. His style is to get out on the road and meet people; you will have the opportunity to talk with him in the coming months. He will have many questions about what is important to members and what brings you the most benefit. His entrepreneurial background will allow him to work on your behalf to ensure MNA members continue to have outstanding cost-saving products and services. And, as MNA seeks to strengthen our sustainability, Jim will be a great resource as we thoughtfully and strategically increase earned and contributed income.  Jim is a tremendous addition to our staff team, and I hope you'll take the opportunity to welcome him and fill him in on your mission, your needs as an organization, and what you most value about MNA.

Jim and his wife Joann relocated to Helena two weeks ago; offsetting the demands of the move and a new position for Jim is the delight of living in the same community as their young grandson. We are pleased they're here, and invite you to send Jim a note of congratulations and welcome!

The View from the Table

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Liz-Moore-Executive-DirectorThanks to the collective voice of MNA’s 630 charitable nonprofit members – MNA has recently seen firsthand what it means to have a seat at the policy table at both the state and national levels. 

In Montana: Just before the bell rang to close out the 2013 legislative session, MNA learned of a decision made not by legislators, but by a district court, that - as it stood - would weaken the integrity of the nonprofit corporate structure and the concept of donor intent in Montana.

After scrutinizing the details of the case, and in consultation with an attorney, the MNA Board voted for the first time ever to engage in advocacy at the court level. We, along with Montana Community Foundation, joined with the Attorney General’s office in filing a “friend of the court” brief that detailed our concerns with the court decision in a complex case involving the split of a church, and the disposition of assets held by a Foundation associated with the church.

Here is a summary provided by Larry Johnson, counsel for MNA on the case. The details aren't necessarily recreational reading, but it's worth spending a few minutes on a case that put Montana's nonprofit sector at risk:

New Hope Lutheran Ministry v. Faith Lutheran Church of Great Falls, 2014 MT 69 (March 12, 2014). The case arose out of a split in a Church over theological issues with an ensuing dispute over which Church group owned the church property. As part of the case, the Trial Court awarded property held by the Church Foundation to one of the Church groups even though the group had not proved any established legal theory for doing so. . . Based on language in the Foundation's Articles of Incorporation, the Trial Court held there was some heretofore unidentified type of fiduciary duty/trust obligation, and ordered the assets in the Foundation be transferred to one of the Church groups.  Both groups appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

The appeal caught the attention of Kurt Alme, President and General Counsel of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation who brought it to the attention of MNA and MCF.  Kurt and Liz Moore then met with the Attorney General’s Office. They expressed their concern that contributors to certain charities and community foundation funds would be reluctant to contribute unless the Courts would treat independent charitable organizations as independent, protected by the statutes under which they were organized.  They also expressed their concern that if the Court affirmed the Trial Court decision without understanding the significance of this new unidentified legal theory, that theory may be able to be used in a lawsuit against a nonprofit (or even a for profit corporations or other entity) reaching any parent, subsidiary or other related entity.  Assistant Attorney General Jon Bennion filed an Amicus Brief, in which MNA and MCF joined.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Attorney General and reversed the Trial Court on the Foundation issue, noting among other issues: “As amicus Attorney General argues, to permit the particularly stated charitable purposes of a nonprofit corporation to be malleably converted into an express trust for unnamed beneficiaries, and then its property transferred outright to those beneficiaries could negate much of the substance of the Nonprofit Corporation Act.”  The Court decided that the language in the Articles of Incorporation, and  the fact the Church donated money to the Foundation, were not enough to justify the Trial Court’s decision. The Supreme Court’s decision is lengthy and covers many issues that were beyond those of concern to the Attorney General, MNA, and MCF, but even the limited issues of concern to us were discussed at some length by the Court. Those of us who are involved in the Nonprofit sector, who rely on the independent existence of nonprofit organizations to carry out their missions and the intentions of those who financially support the organizations, will be referring to this case for guidance for many years.

. . .The Attorney General was most helpful in helping secure a decision that follows well established  law that protects nonprofit organizations, and preserves the intent of donors that contribute to those charities.

To all MNA members, when we met with the Attorney General’s office to discuss this case, we said, “This will harm the sector.” Due in large part to MNA's almost 650 members, our statement generated attention and action. Through your membership in MNA, you had a seat at the table and it made a difference. Thank you and well done.


In Washington DC: For the past several years – including 2012 and 2013 – many of you responded to various requests for information related to nonprofit/government contracts. Your efforts are paying off. Armed with information provided by you and your colleagues across the nation, the National Council of Nonprofits has been working closely with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington DC. As a direct result of our collective efforts, in December, 2013 the federal government announced new guidelines that significantly overhaul the way government works with nonprofits in the grantmaking and contracting process.

Here are the key points of the new guidance as summarized by the National Council of Nonprofits:

Indirect Costs: The OMB Guidance explicitly requires pass-through entities (typically states and local governments receiving federal funding) to either honor a nonprofit’s negotiated indirect cost rate if one already exists or negotiate a rate in accordance with federal guidelines. Nonprofits will be empowered to elect an automatic indirect cost rate of 10 percent of modified total direct costs (MTDC), which can be used indefinitely if they so choose, or negotiate a higher rate.

Direct Costs: The guidance makes clear that, in certain circumstances, program administration (e.g., secretarial staff dedicated to a specific program) can be reported as direct, rather than as indirect, costs.

Audit Rules: The new guidance also raises the threshold for a single audit (A-133) requirement from $500,000 to $750,000, thus reducing costs for smaller contracts and grants.

Streamlining Federal Guidance: The new guidance consolidates and streamlines eight OMB circulars, including OMB Circulars 110 and 122 that relate to charitable nonprofits. As a result, applications and reporting will be standardized and streamlined to provide more consistency across various federal agencies.

Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly said, “The new OMB guidelines reflect the continuing pressure that nonprofit advocacy organizations, in this case epitomized by the National Council of Nonprofits, have put on the federal government to remove impediments that make life difficult for nonprofit grantees and contractors.”

Thank you MNA members. Via your membership in MNA you are affiliate members of the National Council of Nonprofits; through them you have been at the table with OMB as these changes have taken shape. Not only have you offered your stories and perspectives through surveys and e-mails, but you have joined your collective voice with members of the larger nonprofit community. Congratulations on the results!

Summertime Collections

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Liz Moore Summer is a time for collecting: seashells, river rocks, and vacation memorabilia.Though we still have two weeks of summer in front of us, I’m beginning to sort through the various interesting stones, photos, and souvenirs I’ve gathered in the last three months. In the same way, the MNA team has selected a collection of the best nonprofit reading and resources we’ve seen this summer. I am passing our list along trusting you’ll find one or two keepers in the bunch.

Speaking of collections, we’ve put together a phenomenal collection of speakers, workshops and activities for the 2013 MNA Conference.  If you haven’t looked closely at the agenda, stop reading this and check it out. Attending the MNA Conference is valuable on several levels: 

  1. The quality of speakers is unmatched. Through the support of our sponsors, we are able to bring national leaders to Montana while keeping the price affordable. You will not find a better return on investment for your professional development dollars.
  2. We’ve responded to requests for new sessions. The schedule of breakout sessions is designed to meet the training needs of first time conference attendees as well as returning participants.
  3. The chance for Montana’s nonprofits to network on this scale exists only at the MNA Conference. This is the opportunity you don't want to miss!
  4. Your sustainability as a leader has a direct bearing the sustainability of your nonprofit organization. Refueling is not a luxury.

I hope the last two weeks of summer are just right for you. I look forward to saying hello at the Conference.

February 2013

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Nonprofit Day in the Rotunda - 2013 

by Liz Moore, Executive Director

Liz MooreWow! What a showing at Nonprofit Day at the Capitol on January 23rd! We at MNA really only have one thing to say - but we're saying it eight different ways: 

Thank you to the 120 nonprofit professionals who participated in what turned out to be a superb (and packed out) lunchtime event. From all of us in Helena, thank you to so many who drove in from out of town.

Thank you for sending your photos. Our slideshow with more than 200 photos of nonprofits of every stripe kept the diversity, breadth and depth of the sector in front of us in a vivid and visual way throughout the day.

Thank you for inviting legislators to lunch. Even if you couldn't be here, clearly they received the message. We ran out of food somewhere between 350-400 people. . .which reminds me. . .

Thank you to Chili O’Brien’s for doing such a great job with lunch. Seriously – who could have ignored the smell of lasagna wafting into the rafters of the Rotunda?

Thank you to MNA’s newest staff member* Gail Tronstad (formerly Brockbank) for coordinating Nonprofit Day at the Capitol. *More on that later!

Thank you to the members of the Senate Taxation Committee who passed the Charitable Endowment Tax Credit unanimously out of committee first thing in the morning on Nonprofit Day. Whoop-whoop.

Thank you to M&R Strategic Services for providing excellent advocacy training following the morning’s events.

And finally - thank you to those who took time to fill out the evaluation. We appreciate and will use your feedback as we look ahead to Montana Nonprofit Day at the Capitol in 2015

I would say more but I believe we promised to say just one thing: truly, thank you.

November 2012

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Tell the Nonprofit Story

by Liz Moore, Executive Director 

Liz Moore, Executive Director of the Montana Nonprofit Association Did you know that although Montana ranks in the bottom five states for income, our charitable giving is ranked at 23 among all states?*

This simple statistic speaks volumes about the value Montanans place on philanthropy: We are generous, and we have proof, which has become more important than ever before in light of recent events regarding the federal charitable deduction.

Philanthropy is currently facing what might be the gravest threat in its history as policy makers search for ways to create a rapid "down payment" in order to thwart sequestration. We learned last week that some policymakers, including Senator Baucus, are seriously considering capping total deductions, including the charitable deduction. This would functionally eliminate the charitable deduction.

In our letter to congressional delegates last week, MNA articulated the threat as we see it, and we backed it up with the briefest narrative about the value of generosity in Montana: Montanans value philanthropy in word and deed, and we have proof. This is part of Montana's unique nonprofit story.

Nonprofits understand storytelling, especially this time of year. Whether we are choosing a photo for a remittance envelope, inserting a particular quote from a constituent into an appeal letter, or pulling out a single statistic from the mountains of data available to us, we are hoping donors and other partners will hear our story - that they will see past our organizational structure and into the soul of our efforts. In short, this is the ultimate aim of transparency – to ensure we allow an unobstructed, crystal clear view of the work we're doing and its value in our communities. In this spirit, we have a request to make of you.

Tomorrow we will be sending an action alert with some rapid response tools that allow you to quickly relate your own story about the charitable deduction. Responding will take a few minutes during a busy time, but your comments will carry the day, giving life to statistics. We are all inundated with opportunities to give feedback and respond to surveys, and we at MNA recognize, especially during this time of year, every moment is precious. Our request is not made lightly.

As a member of Montana's nonprofit sector, will you take a few minutes this week to advocate for the charitable deduction. There are several options floating around that impact the deduction. We are not making a recommendation or proposing a solution. We are simply stating that this particular measure would be a worst case scenario for the charitable deduction. Please click here for more information and to get a head start on responding.

* Percentage of adjusted gross income on returns with itemized deductions, National Center on Charitable Statistics, 2012.

October 2012

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Advocacy and the Nonprofit Scope of Work

by Liz Moore, Executive Director

 

Liz picAs nonprofits, we are as different as we are alike. Our missions vary in scope,  our operations budgets range from almost nothing to multi-milion dollar corporations, we are "all-volunteer" organizations as well as businesses with hundreds of staff.  But no matter our differences we share this in common: regardless of the election results, we must be about the business of exercising our political voice and influence. Nonprofits are the core of civil society. We have not only the legal right but the obligation to advocate for our cause and on behalf of our constituents.

We may think advocacy is the domain of the largest, most experienced nonprofits, but I recently heard something quite different.

An associate who works in government affairs recently explained to me that even a few years ago, political influence resided in the capitol hallways and inevitably involved lobbyists. Not great news for small organizations with no budget for lobbying. He went on to say that policy makers are now much more tuned into the voice of the local community. His message was this: no matter what the elections bring on November 6, we have our work cut out for us ensuring the nonprofit voice is heard loud and clear after the elections.

Our colleague and friend Robert Eggers (DC Kitchen and CForward) recently wrote this about the election outcomes, "Between escalating costs associated with care for the rapidly aging baby boomer generation, the sluggish growth of the GNP, nagging unemployment, a reshuffling of the global economy and the specter of $1.2 trillion in mandatory, across-the-board, cuts over the next ten years; no matter our election outcome, the next President will have to make many tough choices . . .This is why America's real "social welfare" nonprofits -- the hundreds of thousands of direct-service, locally based, tax paying charities that uphold the great American social contract -- need to step up and engage candidates at every turn. These essential organizations must compel candidates to explore the economic ramifications of their visions.” (Italics added)
 
Advocacy is part of the nonprofit scope of work. Not all of us will lobby - but we can all educate and inform. In this issue of MTc3 we offer advocacy tools and resources we hope you'll find helpful. If you want to know more about MNA's policy agenda or if you have a question about what's legal and what's not for 501(c)3s and lobbying - call or email me. I'd love to hear about your work and fill you in on our efforts. In the meantime, thank you for all you're doing to make our democratic society brilliant with the countless and varied expressions of the will of the people.

Many missions - one voice.