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Montana Nonprofit Association Blog

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

December 6 Op-ed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Resources: 

How to Take Action, National Council of Nonprofits

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

December 4 Tax Reform Update, Nonprofit Quarterly

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

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

 

By Jay Wilkinson, Firespring CEO 

 

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

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

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

firespring image 2
 

 

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

About Jay Wilkinson 

  

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

  

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

October 26, 2017 Director's Corner

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Liz 2017

by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 State of the Sector

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here are some suggestions I invite you to consider.

Get grounded.  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here are some examples:

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

What partners should we be talking with about this?

What does this mean specifically for our constituents?

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

What other information do we need?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

August 31 Director's Corner

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 liz2017 

 by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

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by Emily Flemming, MNA Director of Operations

 

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

  

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

  

Learn more and register for the conference. 

  

 

July 27 Director's Corner

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Raise More Money and Awareness with a Firespring Website

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

  


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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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A robust website platform with integrated tools. 

 

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

 

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

An easy-to-use content management system. 

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

 

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Built-in communication tools. 

 

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

  

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

  

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

June 29: Director's Corner

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LIZ_WEBby Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

Policy Update from D.C. June 23, 2017

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HAVING TROUBLE FINANCING YOUR LATEST PROJECT?

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

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

If your non-profit is looking for affordable financing for a development project or equipment purchase, please contact Frederick Smith, Business Development Manager, to see if your project is eligible: 406-532-5717 / fredericks@mtcdc.org.

 

Buy a House with No Down Payment

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 CDCBUY A HOUSE WITH NO DOWN PAYMENT 

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

 

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

Saving Squirrels

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TinaB_2016 by Tina Bateman-Schlepp, MNA Communications Manager

Saving Squirrels 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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by Emily Flemming, MNA Director of Operations

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

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


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


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


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


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

Additional Resources: 

Top 5 Email Retention Best Practices 

A Beginner's Guide to Record Retention 


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

 

If there’s an issue or concern impacting your organization, email us at mna@mtnonprofit.org for help!
 

Desktop as a Service

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AZTS 

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

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

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


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

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


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

March 7: Director's Corner

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LIZ_WEBby Liz Moore 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member A2Z Staffing

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Spotlight on MNA Affiliate Member A2Z Staffing   Anna_caption 

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

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

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

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

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

 A2Z 

Back to the Fundamentals: The Common Good

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LIZ_WEB

by Liz Moore
Back to the Fundamentals: The Common Good   

Last week I had a conversation with our board chair about the number of changes taking place at the federal level. She said to me, “Yes, a lot is changing. But I’m also interested in what hasn’t changed.” Her remark got me thinking not only about current policy specifics, but also about longstanding fundamentals that have remained constant over time for nonprofits. This led me to the concept of the common good. It’s not a phrase we use every day, but it is profoundly relevant, especially for those of us working in the nonprofit sector. I’ve heard the common good described in many ways, including this concise explanation: 

“The common good is a way of defining in a single concept the good of the community together with the good of each of its members.”   

Although this description takes more than one reading, I appreciate how it so closely weaves the good of the community with the good of each of its members, and vice versa. Neither stands alone, and the good of one is necessary to the good of the other.  

But here’s the tricky question. When there are differences of opinion – as there always are – who gets to decide what exactly is the common good? Right now, with conflicts and dispute at the federal level and in our communities, this is a valid question.  

In seeking answers, I’ve found myself turning to some of our nation’s founding documents. Last week I read the Constitution to my husband as we drove home from Bozeman. (Yes, he was as thrilled as you might imagine.) This week, it was the Declaration of Independence. 

In reading these documents, it’s clear to me a single person or group doesn’t get to mandate exactly what is the common good – not even our Founding Fathers. Instead, they offer us a roadmap dotted with phrases like general welfare, equality and the unalienable rights of all – including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. These are the mile-markers of our democracy, and it is in the context of these values that the nonprofit structure emerged. Nonprofits are critical to our country’s ability to achieve what is set out in these founding documents. Nonprofit endeavors are how we, the people, reach for these ideals. 1.5 million nonprofits across the nation, including more than 7000 in Montana, represent our highest and best wishes for ourselves and our great national community – our common good.  

In order to fulfill our role, then, nonprofits accept a dual mandate. First, we turn outward: vocally and visibly fighting against threats and barriers to societal wellbeing, and advancing the general welfare through the delivery of services, advocacy and civic engagement. That has not changed. Second, we look inward: remaining nonpartisan, avoiding an agenda that serves the few at the expense of the many, maintaining the highest ethical standards, being trustworthy, and staying focused on mission. That too has not changed.  

We have our work cut out for us. These mandates are not new, but recommitting to them can be a theoretical exercise, or it can be pragmatic, powerful and effective, distancing us from the distracting noise and chatter we’re experiencing on so many levels, and bringing us back to our center – the day to day work of advancing the common good, which is the distinctive and unchanging role nonprofits occupy in our democracy.  

Post-Election Issues, Opportunities, and MNA’s Call to Action

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LIZ_WEBPost-Election Issues, Opportunities, and MNA’s Call to Action

Regardless of our leanings, it’s fair to say most of us were surprised by the election results two weeks ago.  Responses have run the gamut from fear and disbelief to relief and optimism. And by now, many of us have transitioned to a “wait and see” mode.  Based on what I’m hearing and reading, I suggest “wait and get ready” might be a more appropriate stance for nonprofit leaders. Three ways we can prepare now for change – even though we’re not sure what to expect are to:  1) learn what we can about the big issues nonprofits will be facing; 2) imagine the opportunities that might emerge; and 3) champion our values.  

In today’s policy update, we offer an analysis done by the National Council of Nonprofits,  an overview of opportunities presented by Heather Iliff, President and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, and MNA’s call to action. This is a longer-than-usual update, but I suggest it’s worth bookmarking and taking time to see what’s there for you. We are in new territory – and we need to be as prepared as possible for leadership.  

 

THE BIG ISSUES 

The National Council of Nonprofits provides us with an excellentanalysis of the election in which they look at key federal and state-level issues impacting charitable nonprofits in light of the election. A handful of federal issues rise to the top based on their review of promises made during the campaign and existing policy positions: 

 

  •  Supreme Court: Scholars are predicting President-elect Trump’s nominees, if confirmed by the Senate, are likely to create a Court more receptive to challenges to abortion rights, class-action lawsuits, environmental regulations, property use, and other issues.
  • Executive Orders and Regulatory Reform: The Trump Transition office has announced that the incoming administration plans to pursue regulatory reform. Likely Executive Orders facing harsh scrutiny relate to the status of immigrants, protections for gender identity, and numerous mandates on government contractors.
  •  Spending Priorities: Early statements from the Trump Transition office suggest increases in defense spending, which could be paid for through more severe cuts to programs serving human needs. This could reduce financial support for work in communities while amplifying the presumption that nonprofits and foundations will somehow, yet again, “pick up the slack.”
  •  Tax Reform: The Trump tax plan, which the transition team summarizes as “lower, simpler, fairer, and pro-growth,” calls for capping itemized deductions at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.  One analysis of this plan reduces charitable giving as much as $26.1 billion per year.
  •  Nonprofit Electioneering Ban: Candidate Trump and his 2016 Party Platform called for repeal of the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” the federal tax law ban on 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits and private foundations engaging in partisan election-related activities. The National Council of Nonprofits and many organizations have long recognized that 501(c)(3) nonprofits gain more power, independence and public trust through a nonpartisan identity.
  •  Health Care Reform: The incoming administration promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). One potential proposal this summer would change the Medicaid health care program for low-income and disabled individuals by providing states with a choice of either per capita allotments or block grants.

 

The National Council of Nonprofits includes in their analysis a very well done review of state-level pressures that ask nonprofits to do more with less by imposing new fees, cutting tax benefits, reducing state spending, or de-incentivizing charitable giving.

  

OPPORTUNITIES  

Heather Iliff of Maryland Nonprofits described five opportunities nonprofits might find in a Trump administration. Her geography is vastly different from Montana’s, but the principles hold up:  

 

  •  Reform of Government:   Many voters, not only those who voted for Trump, were trying to send a signal that the whole system needs an overhaul.  Though change may be painful, if nonprofits are active and engaged with the Trump Administration, we could help shape a rebuild that includes greater community empowerment, innovation, and insight. 
  •  Big Infrastructure:  One of the few policy items that the President-elect mentioned in his victory speech was the need to invest in infrastructure. While we can expect to see a decline in support for anti-climate change initiatives, other investments such as green initiatives, broadband, the electricity grid, and transportation could be transformational if communities are engaged rather than sidelined in the planning process. 
  •  Inner Cities and Rural Areas:  President-Elect Trump has promoted the idea of rebuilding inner cities, which have faced systemic disinvestment for decades.  Strong engagement by the nonprofit community can help shape rebuilding to ensure local citizens are empowered and strengthened, not displaced.  Rural nonprofit organizations – many of whom voted overwhelmingly for Trump – must engage in shaping strategies for investments that meet the unique needs of rural America.
  •  Deregulation:  Nonprofits, especially in the health & behavioral health, human services, child welfare and disabilities fields, are faced with nearly crushing regulations that govern how services are delivered, rather than focusing on outcomes.  If nonprofits are involved in the deregulation process, we could put people first, focus on efficient and effective practices, and reward organizations for succeeding.
  •  Favored Causes and the Private Sector:  Certain causes which tend to be favored by Republicans create opportunity for organizations working in those areas: pregnancy aid centers, veteran’s organizations, and programs focused on self-reliance may have new opportunities.  Mrs. Trump’s focus on anti-bullying or other causes may gain donor and public funding attention. It is crucial for nonprofit leaders to remind policy makers that we are a critical part of the private sector. 

 

 THE CALL TO ACTION  

Without question the 2016 election results escalated tension, fear, and division in communities and relationships across the country and in Montana. As champions of civil society, Montana’s nonprofits must move quickly and decisively to address violations of civil rights and human dignity. Where we see injustice or threats to human rights, we must be bold. Here are some suggestions: 

  

  • Invite different perspectives, diverse opinions, and deeper dialogue on controversial or difficult issues. Nonprofit leaders are in a unique position to promote safe, respectful community engagement. Let’s not wait for opportunities – let us deliberately create them.  One step we are taking at MNA is to include more focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as we revise the Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Montana. Our goal is for organizations to imbed DEI into their management and leadership practices across the board.
  • Use every avenue to increase awareness of how community members can respond to real or threatened injustice. From a “Not in our Town” campaign such as we saw in the community of Billings, to publishing information about Montana’s human rights organizations on our websites, let’s proactively send the message that communities offer sanctuary where hate and injustice will not be tolerated.
  • Especially in the public policy realm, reach across differences to promote civil dialogue. I recently read a well-written op-ed piece by Dorothy Bradley and Bob Brown, former legislators who sat on different sides of the aisle but spoke to the power of communicating directly and respectfully with each other.
  • Understand more about how social media is playing a larger role in shaping and influencing public opinion. Social media has blurred the lines between opinion and actual news in far-reaching ways. It has also allowed us to express vitriol in ways we couldn’t imagine doing face to face.  Let’s change that.

 

On a personal note, I hope uncertainty and change will propel me to become more compassionate, kind and grateful. I’m acutely aware of my inability to control so much of what happens in the world around me. But I can control my responses. And that’s the over-riding message of today’s policy alert. Regardless of where any one of us stands on the 2016 election, we have choices to make to ensure a better future for all our people. For nonprofit leaders – this is our role and now is our time.  


 

5 Grant Management Best Practices

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 TammyBy Tammy Tilzey   

Grant management is often overlooked and underappreciated. But if you’ve ever had to work in an organization where no thought or resources were given to tracking and managing the grant fundraising efforts, you quickly realize that it is a necessary discipline to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Using effective grant management in your organization is like putting oil into your car – it keeps everything running smoothly!    

Also - if you are looking to improve results from your grantseeking efforts, it may surprise you that the answer is not always in finding more funders or filling out more applications. The answer may be to "sharpen your saw" and improve your grant management process. Think of it this way – how much time could you and your organization spend on higher-return activities if you could eliminate time-consuming administrative tasks like these:    

  •  Following up with and reminding team members of their grant related assignments and when they are due    
  •  Remembering the proposal deadlines, and when your grant reports are due   
  •  Searching through previous grant applications for elements you want to reuse in another grant proposal, or gathering all the necessary supporting documents   
  •  Preparing summary reports for your management team on grant funding status    

   

Below are 5 suggestions that will help you improve your grant process and help you focus your precious time on other, more impactful activities.    

  1. Create a grant tracking list / calendar that is easy to keep up to date, and available to the entire team.     
  2. Organize your funders, record important communications, and track your grant history.     
  3. Coordinate your grant team's responsibilities to stay on schedule and know what is coming up next.     
  4. Assemble a library of common answers and supporting documents.     
  5. Track your progress and produce regular status updates.   

   

1.Create a Grant Tracking List / Calendar     

A grant calendar can help you and your organization keep on track. It should remind you of your funder’s proposal deadlines and help you submit your grant reports on time.   

There are many ways to track your grants. Your grant calendar may consist of a white board or wall calendar, a shared Outlook or Google calendar, a task management system, spreadsheets, or ideally – a grant management solution, like GrantHub, that ties all these pieces into one cohesive system. Whatever you use, you should strive to meet the following criteria:    

   

  • Everyone has visibility to upcoming deadlines.   
  • Task owners receive reminders when items are coming due.   
  • Everyone on the grant team can see their upcoming deadlines and easily access grant documents.   
  • You have a process to continually add new opportunities to your calendar.   
  • Recurring funding opportunities are always reflected in your future plan.   
  • The system seamlessly facilitates the communication of your grant plan, progress, and results.   

   

At the start of your grant efforts, you may be just fine using a manual process and applications you already have on hand. But if you start receiving more grants, you may soon find that you are spending more time maintaining your solution and having less time available to focus on building relationships with funders and engaging in other fundraising activities. Be sure you reassess your grant management needs and tools at regular intervals so it can grow with you.   

   

2. Organize Your Funders and Grant History     

Tracking key information about the funders you work with is a good practice. Often this information resides at best in someone’s email folders or, at worst, in their head. This puts your organization’s fundraising capabilities at risk. It is vitally important that you document key contact information, past results, and funding priorities, and make it accessible to those who need the information. In our research of funders and grantseekers – we found that these items were most important to track:   

Funder name, website link & other key contact info, link to their 990’s, EIN, areas they fund, typical funding range, funder type, their social media links, notes of past conversations, and a list of your past grant history with them.    

    

Having quick access to details on your past, present, and future grant requests is a key part of grant management. The ability to track and access dates related to funding requests can make the difference between having a sustainable grant practice and one in which you are constantly running behind, apologizing for missing dates, and losing out on funding opportunities. Our research found that it was helpful to track:   

Grant name, status, funder, funder program, contact at the funder, who wrote the grant, proposal / LOI deadlines, requested amount, targeted program/restrictions, application method/details, date submitted, decision date, amount awarded, grant term, notes about the grant and easy access to all the grant documents associated with this grant.     

    

3.Coordinate Your Grant Team Responsibilities while Staying on Schedule     

Your grant management solution can keep you on track, highlight tasks that are falling behind schedule, and remind team members of upcoming items that are coming due. Being able to quickly see what is coming up in the next two weeks or quickly see a high level view by month is critical to keeping the process running smoothly.   

  

Grant management solutions can be utilized to track important deadlines and send email reminders of deadlines when they are approaching. This can be a great time saver for the person who is organizing all the elements of a grant proposal and responsible for the final submission. Spending less time reminding people and more time on finding new funders, writing more powerful proposals, and nurturing relationships with funders is a good tradeoff. If you don’t have a grant management solution – then make sure you have an organized approach to tracking all the requirements for a successful proposal and who is responsible. Spending time upfront to identify everything that is needed and who is responsible helps you weed out funders that you are not a great fit with – which saves you lots of time if you catch that early in your process.    

    

4. Assemble a Library of Boilerplates and Supporting Documents.     

Spend time making sure you and your organization is ‘grant-ready’. There are several grant ready resources available. Find one that you like and use it to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. It is estimated that you can complete up to 80 percent of the effort to create a funding proposal before you even know which funder you will be applying to. Having this work done upfront helps you complete more applications in less time. And the time saved can then be spent in higher value activities that will set your proposal apart from others.   

    

An answer library is a place where you can collect important documents, templates, boilerplates and answers to common questions. If it is online, everyone on your grant team can easily locate, access, and use the best and most current information for their grant work. What's in it for you? You don’t have to hunt to find past applications, copy and paste, and risk sending something outdated to the wrong funder! And – if everyone has access to the repository themselves, you can control the content, but don’t have to be the bottleneck on distributing it to those who also need these items.    

    

Now when you sit down to write, you will have all the ingredients easily accessible. Or, if you have an intern or other supporting help, they can utilize these resources to compile a first draft for you. An answer library can really help streamline the development and writing of your proposals.   

    

5. Internally report on your progress at key intervals.      

You should also be prepared to pull together summary reports that can effectively communicate to your organization and Board the current status and progress of your grantseeking efforts. Depending on the type of grant management solution you use, this can take a few clicks—or potentially hours of time manipulating spreadsheets every time you need to report.    

    

Once you start reporting on particular metrics, you can tune your grant tracking process to be more timely and consistent in tracking the information needed to create those reports. A question that is often asked – what types of grant status reports and metrics should I start with? In our research on what metrics grantseekers would most often wish to report on, we found that reporting on grants by status (planned, in-progress, pending, awarded, denied, etc.) was the most common report. Other metrics and reports such as Grant Win Percentage, Upcoming Grant Deadlines by Month, or Top Funders by Program reports were also desired.    

    

An excellent link to another blog post that discusses the different types of metrics and reports that can help you build a sustainable grant practice is found here: http://www.granthub.com/metrics-to-drive-grant-performance/    

   

Conclusion: Why worry about grant management?   

A grant management solution helps you stay organized and prepared to answer questions like these:   

  • What do we need to do to increase the success rate of our grant efforts?   
  • If we had more money, what investment (in people, tools, training, skills, consultants, etc.) would we want to make?   
  • What is involved in successful grantseeking, and why does it take time to do well?   
  • What would it take to get our organization ready to apply to more funders?   

convertableWhen you are prepared, organized, and have the data you need, you can be depended upon to provide your organization with solid advice. Your system can also help you become recognized as a knowledgeable grant professional, increasing the power of your recommendations. An effective grant management process also helps show the results of your efforts and investments, and support your need to make data-driven decisions. If you want to get the best return on your grantseeking efforts, you will want to use tools and processes that help save time and increase the amount of funding you receive.   


 

 

  

Tammy Tilzey, Director of GrantHub  

Three Steps Toward Greater Capacity

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 by Liz MooreLmoore 

Three Steps Toward Greater Capacity

 Almost 400 of you received the 2016 Northwest Nonprofit Capacity Report at the MNA Conference. Over the next four months we will highlight some of the most interesting information about Montana nonprofits’ strengths and challenges in the areas of public policy, collaboration, evaluation, and capacity. We start with nonprofit capacity building.

For the four years we’ve done this survey, insufficient capacity has consistently topped the list of issues nonprofits face. This year, in order to learn more, we asked survey takers to identify their top capacity building needs. Six primary themes emerged from these open-ended responses. In the infographic below, you can see how Montana nonprofits ranked their capacity and their most significant needs.

 

 NWInfo 

One of the most interesting findings in the survey was the gap between respondents’ self- assessment of their financial capacity (ranging from 5.4) and their self-assessment of their effectiveness in accomplishing their mission (8.4). It doesn’t make sense to us that we rate capacity as one of the lowest scores on the entire survey and mission achievement as one of the highest scores. This seems like a discrepancy. The statistically significant spread between these two rankings prompted more questions. While we don’t really have answers, we do have some observations. 

First, maybe we are simply reluctant to rank ourselves low on effectiveness because what nonprofit in their right mind would do that? Or maybe we’re disinclined to say we have sufficient capacity . . . because what nonprofit in their right mind would say that? We’re accustomed to simultaneously saying we are achieving our mission yet don’t have enough resources to achieve our mission. Maybe we need to figure this out.   

Second, sometimes we think money is the answer to our capacity needs. For sure, our data shows that organizations who rate themselves higher in capacity don’t have the smallest budgets. But budget size isn’t everything. The organizations who rate themselves highest on capacity have three characteristics worth noting: 1) they have more than three months of reserves; 2) they have a written budget; 3) they have a written strategic plan. There’s no guarantee that having these three things will get you the capacity you need; however, having financial reserves, written budgets and strategic plans are in your own control. By focusing on these three things, you can presumably get closer to having sufficient capacity. It’s not magic, but it’s a step forward.

Third, the need for personnel is so significant in Montana. 40% of nonprofits who took the survey said the need was “urgent”. So many nonprofits are struggling with employee recruitment and retention. The Department of Labor overtime regulations that increase exempt salaries is two-edged. On the one hand – how do we afford it? On the other, might it help with employment recruitment and retention? MNA’s workforce training and cost-saving products support the nonprofit workplace, but we know we aren’t solving the problem.  As we move into our strategic planning process, MNA will be examining how we might further address this need for a nonprofit workforce. If you have thoughts on this, please comment below or email us.

Today’s e-news includes several resources designed to help you reach more sufficient capacity. To the 138 organizations who took the 2016 Northwest Nonprofit Capacity survey – thank you! We are so appreciative. The full report can be found online here. If you weren’t at the 2016 MNA Conference and you want a hard copy, please let us know and we’ll send one your way. 

Frontline Processing: Helping Nonprofits Process for a Purpose

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 Bethany SchulerMy name is Bethany Schuler. I am a recent graduate from Montana State University and the Marketing Director at Frontline Processing. Frontline Processing is a payment processor and merchant service provider based out of Bozeman, Montana. This summer I have had the honor of working with Frontline’s ambitious and exuberant staff including Chris Kittler, CEO and owner.  If I had to describe Frontline in just a few words I would describe the company as committed, hardworking, and knowledgeable.

You might be wondering how Frontline Processing relates to Montana Nonprofit Association. I am writing today to tell you just that. Frontline Processing is MNA’s preferred electronic payment and merchant service provider. MNA and Frontline have enjoyed a partnership for two years which originated from Frontline’s commitment and determination to create a revenue generation program, Processing for a Purpose, which benefits both Montana Nonprofits and the Montana business community. 

I’d like to share the powerful story of how Processing for a Purpose came to be. In February of 2011, Chris Kittler’s son joined the track team at Sweet Grass High School and returned home later that evening with dilapidated track gear for the upcoming season. To help find a solution to this issue Chris called the gentleman who ran the Sweet Grass Booster Club and the coach of the Sweet Grass track team. They explained that the reason behind the worn-out gear was a lack of funding.

Chris thought about how his company could help the Sweet Grass Booster Club earn the funds that they desperately needed. Chris proposed that by partnering with Frontline, the booster club could refer merchants and earn a percentage of the revenue that Frontline typically invested into sales and marketing.  After working out details of the program, Chris met with the booster club and discovered six out of the twelve board members were businesses owners in Big Timber. All six of the business owners signed up for, what is now, Processing for a Purpose.   

Later that spring, Chris put an ad in the Big Timber newspaper announcing the program and signed up 30 merchants to participate in the program. As a result, the booster club’s monthly income substantially increased and the athletic programs, as well as other school programs, were able to get the funding they desperately needed to support the growing minds at Sweet Grass High.

Today, the program has flourished into Processing for a Purpose, where Frontline envisions raising money for nonprofits across Montana and far beyond. With a combination of Frontline’s dedication to the community and their unique financial perspective, they are excited to offer this opportunity to members of the MNA.

To learn more about Processing for a Purpose please we invite you to attend the Generating New Revenue for your Cause workshop at the 2016 MNA Conference on Tuesday, September 27 from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the Radisson Colonial Hotel in Helena. This special session was designed for conference-goers who are interested in diversifying and increasing their revenue, while learning the latest trends in digital fundraising. There is no cost or obligation – just a desire to learn how Processing for a Purpose can take your partnership with business to another level. Together, we can grow our purpose!

 

Civil Dialogue: A Nonprofit Leadership Mandate

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 Liz-Moore-Executive-Directorby Liz Moore

This summer I’ve found myself asking what a state nonprofit association’s response should be to the political and social climate we’re living in. What is MNA’s role? What is the role of the nonprofit sector at large? Is there a universal message which transcends our individual missions and goals, moving our communities and conversations forward? I believe there is, and it relates to civil dialogue.

Nonprofit leaders are uniquely positioned to promote and model a type of civic engagement which intentionally invites a variety of perspectives and opinions to the conversation. However, to do this in a way that builds rather than destroys, we must deal with the concept of tension. Tension is going to arise when we bring disparate opinions to any issue of significance.

Here is a real-time, nonprofit leadership example.

The recent U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations on overtime are intended to carry forward a social justice initiative. As it currently stands, employees in countless industries who make more than just $23,660 per year are classified as exempt, which means they are routinely working beyond forty hours per week with no additional compensation. We might like to think it doesn’t happen in Montana, but it does. Check out the wage structure in fast food shops. So we start with a social justice issue in which something isn’t working and needs to change.

Then we have a solution that doubles the exempt employee threshold to $47,476. In other words, an exempt employee must be paid at least this amount or be paid overtime for any hours over forty. This new national standard will be applied across the board, whether you live in a low-wage state like Montana, or a higher wage state like California or New York. You can see the tension arising. The national standard is creating very real difficulty for Montana’s nonprofit employers. Leaders have moral support for the new regulations but operational anxiety about how to implement them.

In today’s eNews, we’re once again offering information and resources about the new DOL regulations. We don’t have a panacea or magic solution. However, we see the effectiveness of being informed and offering thoughtful, well-rounded responses, absent a cure-all.

A fundamental aspiration of the charitable nonprofit community is the pursuit of the common good. In our pursuit, we are called upon as nonprofit leaders to strive for a future in which an opportunity for the good life is available to all. At the same time, we are asked to understand and promote an economic climate that can support such a promise. We do not have the luxury of ignoring the great tension that can emerge between these two concepts. To occupy our place as leaders in the civil sector, we must practice and model behaviors that are harder, more complicated, and more time-consuming. We must stop seeking the panacea and learn to handle and appropriately address tension. If you – like me – are asking “what can I do?”, this is one possible avenue forward. Be well.

Home on the Range: Nonprofits in Rural Montana

(Org. Development, Networking, Conference) Permanent link
by Liz Moore Liz-Outside

Next week MNA will be in Sidney, Montana hosting Nonprofit Kaleidoscope 2016, a conference for nonprofit leaders in eastern Montana and western North Dakota. As we prepare to spend several days in one of my favorite parts of the state, I find myself thinking about conversations we have had at MNA about serving rural and remote areas in Montana. One of the questions that comes up is whether it is fundamentally different to be a rural nonprofit as compared to a nonprofit located in one of a larger community. I think the answer is “yes and no”.

On the one hand, the fundamentals of nonprofit leadership and management remain the same regardless of where the nonprofit lives or the resources available to the organization. The principles of good governance, strategic planning, human resource management, and financial oversight hold true regardless of where a nonprofit is located, the resources available, the age and size of the organization, etc. In this way, all nonprofits are alike.

On the other hand, the “ecosystem” in which the nonprofit resides makes a tremendous difference to the organization, and any in-depth consideration of organizational development must consider this. The types of resources nonprofits need are the same across the board. Ability to access resources differs greatly depending on where the nonprofit resides. Here are several components of what we might think of as a nonprofit ecosystem, and how they play out based on rural vs. less rural location:

Workforce: Based on conversations with nonprofit leaders across the state, we understand a qualified workforce may be the greatest challenge faced by Montana’s nonprofit organizations. In a rural community, that challenge is multiplied. One rural leader said it this way, “When we have an executive leave, the nonprofit might actually end up shutting the doors for a year or two because there is simply no one to take his/her place.” This extends into volunteerism as well, including recruiting board members. There is a phenomenon in small towns affectionately called STP: Same Ten People. Meaning, the same small group of leaders are on multiple boards.

The Economy. I’m particularly mindful of the impact of the local economy as we travel to Sidney, where economic changes have been so dramatic in the past few years. The local economy impacts everything from individual and corporate charitable giving, to volunteerism and the demand for services in the community. While economics impacts rural and non-rural communities indiscriminately, organizations in larger communities often have more options available to help them manage change. Examples include using interns instead of hiring or legal resources to assist with mergers. In small communities, economic variations – good or bad – are experienced intimately and immediately, and securing resources to address them can be difficult to impossible. In a slightly different take on economics, I recall a conversation in Sidney during the boom when nonprofit leaders reported they couldn’t get Americorps candidates to choose their community. And even if they could, housing was almost impossible.

Philanthropy: Most of us are familiar with the Philanthropic Divide, a concept Big Sky Institute named when discussing the philanthropic disparity rural communities face. We believe there is also a philanthropic subdivide: the most rural communities have the greatest amount of difficulty attracting foundation funding. We understand the reasons for this, and it makes us especially grateful for Montana foundations that specifically focus on rural programs. Individual and corporate philanthropy can also be challenging. Thank you to the local community foundations who are addressing this in rural communities.

Administrative Infrastructure: This is a big category that could start with the question, “Do you have internet access?” Most of us can’t imagine operating without internet, and yet according to Broadband Now , Montana is the 50th least connected state. Many rural communities don’t have a print shop or ready access to phone, copier, and other IT resources. Securing a good bookkeeper is hard in many communities – even more so in Montana’s rural towns.

Clearly Montana’s nonprofits have a great deal in common – regardless of location. However, it’s also true that our state’s more rural nonprofits face challenges that are magnified because of where they live. As we travel to Sidney next week, we go with an appreciation for the unique ecosystem of eastern Montana and for rural nonprofits who work every day to make their respective communities “Home on the Range.” We look forward to seeing you there!

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

 Permanent link

 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.