Montana Nonprofit Association

promoting a strong nonprofit sector in MONTANA

Montana Nonprofit Association Blog

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

Brand with a Capital “T”

(Policy) Permanent link

Liz-Moore-Executive-Director by Liz Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Policy, Networking) Permanent link

liz-blogby Liz Moore

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

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

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

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

Doing our Homework on Engagement

(Conference) Permanent link

Liz-Moore-Executive-DirectorBy Liz Moore 

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

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

The homework is simple but requires deliberate thought.

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

Am I engaged?

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

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

Am I cultivating engagement in others?

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Conference) Permanent link

Suzanne-Wilcoxby Suzanne Wilcox 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attending My 10th Conference, This Time As A Member

(Conference) Permanent link

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less is the New “More.”

(Conference) Permanent link

Kim-Klein-photoby Kim Klein 

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

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

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

Where are those dog days?

(Conference) Permanent link

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

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

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

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

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

(Conference) Permanent link

Gail-Tronstadby Gail Tronstad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out GreatNonprofits!

 Permanent link

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

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

The main things I like about the site are:

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

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

Welcome Jim!

(Membership) Permanent link

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

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

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

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

The View from the Table

 Permanent link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summertime Collections

 Permanent link

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

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

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

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

February 2013

 Permanent link

Nonprofit Day in the Rotunda - 2013 

by Liz Moore, Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2012

 Permanent link

Tell the Nonprofit Story

by Liz Moore, Executive Director 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2012

 Permanent link


Advocacy and the Nonprofit Scope of Work

by Liz Moore, Executive Director


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

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

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

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

Many missions - one voice.



 Permanent link

A Message from past Keynote Speaker Robert Egger

by Robert Egger, Founder and President of D.C Central Kitchen


I've had theRobert Egger great fortune to make multiple visits to Montana, and I've worked directly with the Montana Nonprofit Association for many years. THIS state association has done amazing work to help legislators know more about the work you do, the economic impact your work has, and how much treasure you bring to the Treasure State.

Now, more than ever, as budgets are tightened and cuts must be made, MNA member organizations and their employees and boards need to work together to insure that candidates and incumbents alike understand that nonprofit organizations are an equal part of the economic engine that makes Montana thrive.

Last year, I was in Missoula, and I happened to walk past the Chamber of Commerce. In their window was a sign touting the reasons that businesses should consider moving to the city. I was excited to see the work of nonprofits on the list. It included higher education, arts and culture and quality healthcare, as well as clean water and outdoor activities as motivators. Yet, the word "nonprofit" wasn't mentioned. That's because there's a disconnect between what people - including legislators - think we do (good work), and what we accomplish (smart business).

Afterwards, I decided the time had come to act, so I penned this op-ed in the Huffington Post, titled "No Profits Without Nonprofits", and launched CForward, an advocacy organization dedicated to championing the role that nonprofits - America's 3rd biggest employer - play in every state.

Almost 50,000 proud sons and daughters of Montana work at a nonprofit...that's over 14% of the state's workforce. You have the opportunity, at this weeks annual conference, to meet candidates face to face and ask them how they would partner with you to make Montana stronger, create more jobs and attract more investment.

Don't think your voice doesn't count. It does.

Don't think you can't ask questions of candidates. You can.

Don't think you can't make the time to go. You MUST.

And don't think MNA can do it without you. They can't.

As a colleague and a friend, I implore you to head to Helena and help your leaders see that Montana's nonprofits are proud partners, equally dedicated to to the future of the state.

View the full agend and register

September 2012(3)

 Permanent link

Your Mission:  An Insufficient Strategy Screen

by Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint and keynote speaker for the 2012 MNA Conference 

Jeanne BellAs nonprofits respond to major changes in both funding and expectations of their impact, their sustainability depends upon the quality of organizational decision-making. What programming do we keep? What programming needs to change radically? What programming do we leave behind? But the go-to screen in our sector for what to do and not do—the organization’s mission—is a wildly insufficient screen. Your mission is relevant for keeping things out of your business model, but it is frankly irrelevant for keeping things in. And it’s with what to keep in the model that most of us our struggling. If my mission is to end domestic violence in my community, that will keep me from developing a cancer screening program, but it won’t tell me whether I should keep running a shelter for which the government doesn’t adequately reimburse me. What we are challenged by is not mission alignment, but sustainability—achieving great impact towards our mission in a financially viable way.

This is why I no longer begin strategy formation processes with mission, vision, and values. In the vast majority of cases, those are not the strategic questions in play. Instead, we begin strategy formation with a set of deeper questions about how well every programmatic and fundraising activity is currently performing from both an impact and a financial perspective. Once every board and staff person has that understanding of the current business model, they are in a much better position to consider what strategic decisions need to be made in service of mission fulfillment.

We need good habits and practices in our organizations for making strategic decisions in real time. While fulfilling our missions is what drives our work, the hard choices about what mix of programs will do that in a high impact and financially viable way are not made any easier by conflating mission with strategy.

Join Jeanne Bell for her pre-conference workshop, Nonprofit Sustainability Clinic: Making Decisions for Financial Viability.  Jeanne will also give the opening keynote address, Sustainability:  A Framework for Tackling the Greatest Leadership Challenge.

September 2012(2)

 Permanent link

Conference Session Highlight- Enhancing the Client Relationship with Charitable Planned Gifts

By John Eastman, Vice President of Development, Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation


John EastmanNow is the time for Montana donors to take advantage of a unique opportunity to increase their tax savings and help build long-term stability in their favorite Montana nonprofit organizations through the Endowment Tax Credit.  Since 1997, Montana has allowed its taxpayers to receive income tax relief for charitable planned gifts to Montana charitable endowments.  A charitable planned gift, such as a Charitable Gift Annuity, Charitable Trust, or Reserved Life Estate can generate up to $10,000 of state income tax relief to individual taxpayers or up to $20,000 for married couples.

The Montana Endowment Tax Credit will expire at the end of 2013.  A new administration and new legislative session make the future of the Endowment Tax Credit uncertain.  Our current tax year may well be the last chance to take advantage of this extraordinary dollar-for-dollar write off against state income taxes.  Montana donors will soon be contemplating their year-end giving and tax savings opportunities.  I encourage MNA members and their directors, accountants, lawyers, and financial advisors to refresh their knowledge of the Endowment Tax Credit and learn the many advantageous ways in which it can be generated by attending the Enhancing Client Relationships with Charitable Planned Gifts continuing education seminar at MNA Conference 2012 on September 20th.  Click here to register.  
Historic Tax-Free Income

Charitable Gift Annuities have long been an important planned giving opportunity for Montana donors and an important development program for Montana nonprofits.  Gift annuities generate lifetime fixed income to donors.  The gift annuity rate guidelines suggested by the American Council on Gift Annuities have recently stayed above other plummeting interest rates.  Now is the time for Montana donors to take advantage of the best gift annuity rates available. Year-end 2012 offers a unique window of opportunity for Montana donors.  The Applicable Federal Rate which is used in the calculation of a gift annuity is at an unprecedented low.  Low can be a good thing because it causes a greater portion of annuity income to be tax-free! I encourage MNA members, nonprofit board members, and professional advisors to learn the many versatile applications for Charitable Gift Annuities by attending the Enhancing Client Relationships with Charitable Planned Gifts continuing education seminar at MNA Conference 2012 on September 20th. 


September 2012

 Permanent link

Closing Plenary- No Bragging and Nothing Boring: Effective Ways to Share Your Impact

by Kivi Leroux Miller, President, Nonprofit Marketing, Lexington, NC


 See the newest conference blog from Kivi!Kivi Blog

Kivi Leroux Miller will be presenting No Bragging and Nothing Boring:  Effective Ways to Share Your Impact as the closing plenary at the 2012 MNA Conference.

Supporters want to know how their gifts of time and money are used before they'll give again.  They also want to know that they- through support of your organization- are changing the world for the better.  Are you meeting these needs, without bragging or boring them?  During the closing plenary, Kivi Leroux Miller will show you how to effectively communicate your impact year-round in ways that make your supporters feel like the heroes they are.  You'll see how nonprofits are reporting results in creative, innovative ways, using both new technology and traditional communications channels.  You'll leave inspired to talk about your work in new ways, which in turn will inspire your supporters to do even more for your cause.

Join Kivi for her extended friday workshop So What and Who Cares:  Making Communications More Relevant for Today Friday September 21st from 9:15am-12:45pm.  Register for the conference here.

August 2012(2)

 Permanent link

A Spectacular, Colossal and Amazing Back-To-School Event

By Liz Moore, Executive Director 

Liz picHow can we already be back to school? Our Montana summers are so precious and fleeting; they evaporate almost as soon as we get the hang of relaxing!

Here at MNA, we‘re not necessarily thinking about backpacks, notebooks and textbooks, but we are preoccupied with education! In just 23 days, we’ll be hosting an exceptional professional development event, MNA’s 11th Annual Conference, “Nonprofit Impact: So What’s your So What?”

The word Impact packs a wallop! It calls to mind vivid images of comic book covers splashed with words like Spectacular, Colossal, Amazing, and Super-Hero. But in fact, we all know nonprofit impact is much less about the statement we make than it is about the difference we make. Nonprofit impact is not a “flash in the pan” phenomenon.  Rather, sustained impact is built on practices like setting a clear intent; ensuring capable, mission-driven leadership; commitment to laser focused planning and operations; a rigorous and lively learning culture; and wholly communicating our story. We’ve built the 2012 conference around these concepts, bringing a stellar gathering of national and Montana speakers to our 3-day MNA “classroom”. The MNA Conference is truly the premier nonprofit gathering in the northwest, and this year is going to be extraordinary, perhaps even “spectacular, colossal and amazing”!

On another back-to-school note, MNA has been fortunate to partner with the University of Montana for several years in their efforts to ensure nonprofit professionals have access to higher education in nonprofit leadership and administration. The Office of Civic Engagement, under Dr. Andrea Vernon’s leadership, is committed to responding to the evolving needs of Montana’s nonprofit leaders. To that end, will you take a moment to respond to two questions Dr. Vernon posed to me earlier this summer?  1) Is there a preference for nonprofit leaders to have a graduate degree?  2) If so, what is the preferred degree: Master’s of Public Administration, Master’s in Nonprofit Management, Master’s in Business Administration, Master’s in Communication, or Other?  Click here to respond, and thank you.  

A final word – the MNA Conference is about so much more than education. Although the heart of the MNA conference is in the learning, its “soul” is the almost 400 nonprofit leaders who gather for a brief, enriching sabbatical. Just like in elementary school, excellent curriculum is paramount– but the friendships, conversation, laughter and fun are what we look forward to most.

We at MNA truly look forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Till then, enjoy summer’s glorious last days. 

August 2012

 Permanent link

So Here's my So What! 

 by Brad Robinson, Member Services Director

The nights are beginning to get cooler which brings me to my favorite time of the work year:  the MNA Conference.  As MNA's Member Services Director, I have spoken with most of you at some point; many of you I talk with several times a year.  While our one-on-one connections during the year are excellent, the conference is a rare opportunity for me to see 400 of you interacting: networking, laughing, sharing, and learning.  Once a year I am immersed in a sea of members - and I love it.

Why is the MNA conference important? On the one hand, the conference fulfills aspects of our organizational bylaws and mission it convenes all of us for our annual Membership Meeting and  provides (in aggregate) a few thousand hours of education and training.  But from my perspective it is so much more.  Nonprofits bring substance to the fabric of society.  We are passionate about our work.  And when a lot of us get together, the energy is palpable. Through the conference we learn from statewide and nationally acclaimed nonprofit leaders.  We have occasion to realize that none of us is alone in our work.  We enjoy an interlude that gives us time and space to share stories, network, and celebrate our good work with friends both old and new.

At every MNA conference, I watch folks as their focus expands from "nonprofit mission" to  mission and "nonprofit sector".  I see the light-bulb moments as leaders find their diverse peer groups - complete with common experiences and challenges despite varying missions.  The MNA Conference offers an energetic  mix of raw idealism tempered and groomed by experiential wisdom.  It's an event where those who are ready meet and learn from those who can help them move to new levels of success.

The 2012 MNA conference is about impact - how we plan for it, gauge it, and tell our story about it.  Your impact on me is straightforward.  You inspire me to do the best I can to help you succeed at your mission.  The energy at the conference rejuvenates me and others have told me they feel it, too.  Many people work behind the scenes all year long to make the MNA conference the biggest and best convening in the northwest.  I hope you will plan to attend, and I hope you will help spread the word about the value of this event.  I look forward to seeing you in Helena and in the meantime, keep up the great work .  You are making a difference.


May 2012 eNews

 Permanent link

Renewal and Realignment

 by Liz Moore, Executive Director  

Last week the MNA staff and board of directors spent a day in conversation realigning ourselves with MNA’s five year business and strategic plan.  Foundational to the plan – which was crafted in 2010 – were the hopes, needs and wishes for the nonprofit sector as expressed by MNA members and partners. Shortly after the business plan was rolled out, we all watched the recession alter the external environment and then, more recently, MNA’s executive transition brought internal change.  While these events have certainly impacted MNA, our board/staff dialogue gave us the chance to reconnect with our strategic trajectory – which has held remarkably strong even in the midst of change.  The retreat was a chance to once again articulate the MNA bedrock:  LizMoore 

  • We continue to be about the members – Montana’s 501 (c) 3 organizations. You are the driver for everything we do.
  • We direct our resources and activities toward a single high aim: to strengthen Montana’s charitable nonprofit sector.
  • We believe more than ever in the power and necessity of our collective voice; whether we are heightening public awareness, providing sector research and education, or engaging in advocacy,  we are fully invested in developing and supporting the nonprofit seat at the table – particularly in the public policy arena.
  • We are grounded in partnership; we believe the nonprofit sector is only as strong as our connections with one another as well as with our public and private partners.  

There’s nothing new or earth shattering here – and that’s what was so reassuring. Yes, the timeline we laid out some time ago has altered somewhat, but the MNA fundamentals are absolutely solid. Even in the context of significant change, our strategic direction is spot on. The board/staff conversation was rich, thoughtful, and punctuated by laughter - a great setting for renewal and realignment.

Guest Blog: National Volunteer Week - Apr 15-21

 Permanent link


Shout Out for Volunteers!

 by Jono McKinney, Board Chair, MNA  

Montanans are remarkable for their generosity in time and talent. Over a third of our citizens participate in our community life as volunteers sharing over 33 million hours in service every year to strengthen our communities. The Volunteering in America report values this at $714 million in services contributed. What an asset to our state economy.  More importantly, what a measure of our character as Montanans.

April 15-21 marks National Volunteer Week.  This celebration reminds us to thank all those volunteers who help our organizations in so many ways by guiding our boards of directors, serving as mentors, showing up to help with special events, or quietly stuffing envelopes.  Also across our state, over 9,000 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps participants are making a difference through more than 900 project sites. These folks add immeasurably to the strength of our organizations and the vitality of our communities.

The 2012 theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrating People in Action.” This begins with us, taking action to lead by example with our own service, and encouraging others to join with us in sharing their talent and time toward positive solutions to our communities needs.   Albert Schweitzer, the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, reminds us of the transformative power of serving: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought out and found how to serve.”  Service can be so simple, starting with a greeting to our neighbor and affirmation that we are neighbors working together for better communities.

Thank you for serving, and thanks to all of you in our Montana nonprofit sector who leverage your passion, talents, wisdom, hearts, and muscles to make Montana healthier, safer, and smarter.

Jono McKinney is MNA Board Chair
and Executive Director of the Montana Conservation Corps

MNA Conference - Nonprofit Impact

(Conference) Permanent link

Nonprofit Impact: So what's your "so what?"

 by Liz Moore, Executive Director, MNA  

I am extremely pleased to announce MNA’s 2012 Conference this September 19-21 focusing on Nonprofit Impact. As nonprofits today, we must focus on more than how many people we serve, how many events we sponsor, or how many "friends" we have.  Increasingly, donors, policymakers, volunteers, and other stakeholders are asking: “So what? How does your work impact our community, our lives, our future?”  No doubt your work is making an impact, but do you know how to identify it, plan for it, measure it, and demonstrate it to stakeholders?
For nonprofit organizations, impact is a word that elicits rich, lively conversation – going right to the heart of organizational purpose. The concept of impact has increasingly taken hold in the nonprofit lexicon as we are asked to become more and more adept at articulating and measuring effectiveness. In short, making an impact has always been important. Today identifying, evaluating and communicating that impact are essential components of nonprofit sustainability.
The optimistic desire to make a difference is part of our nonprofit DNA. We are mission-oriented; we come to our work with a particular idea of the unique contribution we want to make. At MNA we literally have front row seats that allow us to see so much good unfolding in Montana because of the work of nonprofits. We also recognize the increasing emphasis being placed on strengthening nonprofit impact. At September’s conference, these two vantage points will come together as we present opportunities to learn how to imagine, achieve, and share our impact.

I hope you will join us as we bring this topic to life – using a generous brush to color every aspect of the conference with vibrant, dynamic conversation on nonprofit impact. So what’s your “so what?”

MNA in the news

 Permanent link

'Build Montana' takes root on Web

 Helena Independent Record Editorial, used by permission | Originally posted: Dec 15, 2011 | Read on  

As the days wind down in 2011, many Helenans once again take up the giving spirit — not only the giving of gifts under the tree in 10 days’ time, but giving from the checkbook before the calendar turns to January. For people who want to find worthy causes to support but aren’t sure which ones best match their own values, we suggest perusing a new Web portal established this year by the Montana Nonprofit Association. With a few clicks, users can find organizations in Helena or anywhere in the state doing the kind of work that they will feel best supporting.

Build Montana, at , is a terrific resource for people looking to donate, volunteer or simply learn more about the state’s thousands of nonprofits. With this season’s emphasis on donating to organizations before Dec. 31, the page for each nonprofit in the state includes a “Donate Now” button, so procrastinators can wait until the last minute and still give in time to receive the charitable deduction on next year’s taxes.
But there’s more to the site than the ability to offer financial support. As much as anything, the site aims to build awareness and relationships between organizations and Montanans who are able and willing to help in any way.

“As we were creating Build Montana, we asked the question, ‘What kind of tool could we create to help the public understand who the nonprofit sector is and how to connect with them?’ ” said Patty White, MNA’s marketing director.
The MNA fields general inquiries about nonprofits in the state all the time: How many nonprofits are there in Yellowstone County? Where can I volunteer in Cascade County? And so on. Build Montana was formally launched at the group’s annual conference in September, but the site was actually operating in May, and with no publicity at all received a fair amount of traffic from people looking for ways to help in the aftermath of the spring floods that devastated parts of the state.

The site provides a modicum of financial information so people can see how large organizations’ budgets are. For more detailed information, users should visit GuideStar (, a much more extensive compilation of financial data for nonprofits across the country, compiled from the groups’ IRS filings.
If you’re using Build Montana to search by ZIP code, enter “596**” instead of any of the specific codes in our area, for instance, since some groups use the common 59601, while others have the P.O. Box-specific 59624, and searching for either of those will yield incomplete results.

Many of us already have our favorite groups and charities at this time of year. But for those new to the area, those looking for a new group to support, or those looking for someplace to volunteer, Build Montana can help point us in the right direction. It’s good for the nonprofit community, and ultimately we hope it’s good for Montana.

Copyright 2011 

Employee Management Webinar Series

(Org. Development) Permanent link

Investigating Employee Complaints: 10 Common (and dangerous) Mistakes

 by Teresa Geremia-Chart, MNA Organizational Development Director 

Thanks to Len Stanton of Associated Employers in Billings who presented our Fall, 3-part Employee Management:  Most Asked Employer Questions Webinar Series.   All of the webinars provided nonprofit managers with compliance information and strategies for practicing excellent employee management.  


During this week’s webinar, Investigating Employee Complaints, we learned how often supervisors fail to take immediate and corrective action in response to employee complaints.  Most issues in the office are not witnessed first-hand by supervisors, so supervisors must investigate, which can be tricky to ensure that whatever decision is made is supported by the evidence collected and documented, and by the process used for the investigation.  And, no, not investigating is not an option.  As with the current issue at Penn State, ignoring a complaint will eventually come back to hurt you and possibly others.

I found the 10 Most Common Mistakes Made When Conducting Employee Investigations (and correct action) most informative.  Are any of the following mistakes familiar to your experience?

1.  Failure to get input from the person the complaint is about
It’s not sufficient to gather information only from the accusers; you must also interview the accused.

2. Failure to get input from the complaining employee
    Whereas a passing comment from an accuser may be sufficient to launch an investigation, a formal interview of
 accuser must also be conducted.

3. Shortcutting the investigation
    Take the time to interview ALL witnesses to the incident.

4. Dragging out the investigation
    Resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

5Terminate now, investigate later
    If enough initial evidence is present, suspend the accused employee without pay until the investigation is complete if you

6. Failure to close the loop
    Instead, be decisive one way or the other and report the outcome (not the details) back to the accuser.

7. No "second set of eyes"
    Be sure to have another person join you when interviewing all parties; one person records (takes notes), the other asks

8. Inadequate or flawed documentation
    Maintain clear and concise written documentation of each conversation and decision.

9. Failure to protect privacy
    Only share details of the issue with HR, your executive leadership, and/or your legal counsel.

10. Requiring "face-to-face" confrontation
    It is not a good idea to bring the accuser/accused together to try and “work it out” or for interviews.


Conference Blog: Board Governance – Why It Matters

 Permanent link

Don’t Overlook Oversight:  Board Governance – Why It Matters

Guest Blog by Kim McKelvey, Executive Director, ALPS Foundation Services    

To be a results and growth-oriented nonprofit board of directors, it just isn’t enough to congregate and show support for the mission of the organization. An effective board should guide the organization at a strategic level. Before a board can do this, it must have its own clearly-defined model of governance, set roles and responsibilities for its board members, and guiding principles that lead toward ultimate organizational goals.

Governance allows a board to move beyond maintenance mode to a place of setting and reaching strategic initiatives and growing the organization in a positive, mission-driven way.  It begins with very basic and clear fundamentals.
  • Unifying the board on the mission, vision, and values of the nonprofit
  • Knowing the impact the nonprofit is trying to make
  • Developing clear-cut roles for governing board members
  • Ensuring the board understands and effectively undertakes its governance responsibilities 
  • Creating and monitoring a strategic plan 

Board governance (or lack thereof) can influence the entire organization – positively or negatively. Governance has many arms and thus many touch points throughout the organization. These appendages can be working together efficiently and effectively or they can be duplicating efforts. Worse yet, they can be sedentary. These arms need a strong, centralized brain to help them maximize impact.

In my session, “Getting It Right: Excellence in Governance,” I will discuss how these fundamentals can be implemented and how the well-governed board can go on to truly influence the success of the entire organization.

I would encourage those interested in this topic to also consider attending a pre-conference workshop on Wednesday, September 28.  Peggy Owens and Terry Profata from Sage Solutions Nonprofit Consulting and Bonnie Sachatello Sawyer, the Executive Director of Hopa Mountain, will present “Governance: Creating Boards that Lead.”  This workshop explores how to form and maintain a governing body that promotes a healthy and successful nonprofit organization.  For more information about the pre-conference workshop, click here .

Also on Wednesday, the State Bar of Montana’s Nonprofit Law Section will present a workshop sponsored by ALPS:  “Legal Issues Related to Representing and Managing Tax-Exempt Organizations.”  The workshop will discuss board oversight, including the legal implications of board service and board governance and management.  An incredible line-up of speakers, including Montana’s Attorney General Steve Bullock, will speak on a variety of topics including the legal liability of board members and how to properly manage and invest endowment funds.  The event is approved for 6.5 general continuing legal education credits, including 1.25 ethics credits.  For more information on the Nonprofit Law Section workshop, click here .

Conference Blog: What Nonprofits Need to Know About Social Media

 Permanent link

What Nonprofits Need to Know About Social Media:  do you have A-PIE?

Guest Blog by Chris Syme, Principal,     

There is no better vehicle for bringing outsiders in than social media. Social media can enhance your ability to tell your story, raise friends, sustain campaign engagement, recruit  volunteers, and deepen just about every process that involves human interaction, including fundraising.

No, social media isn’t a magic pill, nor is it the answer to all your problems. But, it can be a powerful partner in your effort to connect with people. The latest data collected by Pew Internet Research shows that people who use social networking sites (SNS):

  • have more close relationships,
  • get more social support than other people,
  • are more politically engaged than most people, and
  • are more likely to revive dormant relationships.

Also, people on social networks are more likely to keep up with close social ties. There’s a world of data and people out there to connect to in real-time. Are you taking advantage of the best channels to reach your stakeholders and build new ones?

Where do you start? Do you jump in, or should you check the depth and temperature of the water first? I recommend you start by building a solid strategy that is based on the goals and mission of your organization. You need A-PIE:

  • Assess: Listen and monitor your audience. Who are they? What are they doing online? Are they creating, monitoring, commenting, posting reviews, recommending to friends? Where are they online? Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Do they watch videos? Post pictures? Do an internal assessment as well. How much time, resources (people) and money do you have to dedicate to being social? What are your organizational goals? How could social media help you reach them?
  • Plan: Take what you learn above and start to formulate a plan. Who will be in charge? Who can post on your behalf? What are your content guardrails? Who will monitor the channels? What metrics are you going to use to judge your progress? Who will do the training?  Who will write the social media policy and how will it be enforced? How often and where will you post? What channels will you implement first? Second?
  • Implement: Now that you’ve planned the work, work the plan.
  • Evaluate: Always, always, always have a plan to regularly evaluate your progress. Do we need to cut away anything? Tweak? Show me the data.

To find out more about how you can implement an effective social media strategy for your organization, come to the Montana Nonprofit Association Conference in Billings September 28-30. You can find out more about the conference here . I’ll be doing an introductory social media boot camp on Thursday for social media newbies and then a deeper session on Friday on social media strategy that includes managing and building your reputation online, content marketing, and social media optimization. Bring your laptops.  I hope to see you there!

Chris Syme is the Principal of  Follow her ongoing blog at .

conference blog: Do Nonprofits Really Need Risk Management?

 Permanent link

Do Nonprofits Really Need Risk Management?

Guest Blog by Tom McGree, Director of Enterprise Risk Manager, Anderson ZurMuehlen    

Nonprofits exist for lots of different reasons.  In fulfilling their missions, they encounter many of the same risks for-profit enterprises face, including human resource challenges, safety concerns, data protection issues, premises security threats, training issues, and regulatory hurdles.  The difference is that many nonprofits must deal with these issues with access to only a fraction of the resources available to their for-profit counterparts.

So what can a non-profit do?  The answer is really very simple: make the most of available resources.  That’s certainly not a new concept for non-profits.

Tom McGree

Responding effectively to risk is not about having the newest software or best resources.  It’s about carefully identifying and managing your risks in a consistent, ongoing manner.  Here’s how to start:

1.    Determine what assets (information, materials, people, etc.) you absolutely must have to be able to operate.
2.    Take a comprehensive look at what could harm your nonprofit the most.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Look at your organization in bite-sized pieces, one at a time, and pay attention to how each piece affects the others.
3.    Identify the resources you have at your disposal (including time, experience, relationships, reputation, etc.) to use in solving the problems.  You may not have unlimited cash in the bank, but you do have the resources listed above, plus many others.  Recognize what you do have and take full advantage of it.   
4.    Prioritize your risks.
5.    Tackle the most important, pressing risk first.  Then move on to the next.

As Brian Tracy has said, “Eat that frog.”  Get the most urgent and important item checked off your “To Do” list, even though you really don’t want to do it.  Then gradually work your way through the rest of your list, beginning with the second, third, and so on biggest challenges.  Monitor your progress so you can celebrate success and make needed course corrections.

You’ll have hiccups along the way.  You’ll also have to deal with unexpected challenges.  Over time, however, you’ll have lower costs, fewer headaches and increased success because you’re staying ahead of the “reaction curve.”  You’ll be moving from disaster recovery to risk management.

For more guidance in managing your risks please join us at the Montana Nonprofit Association’s 2011 annual conference on September 28-20 in Billings, MT.  See  for details.  

Tom McGree is the Director of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) with Anderson ZurMuehlen and Co .  The ERM department works with organizations to identify, evaluate and control risk using an array of resources and methods.  Clients see increased long-term success, lower costs of risk, enhanced information from which to make strategic decisions and increased control over the future of their organizations.  



Financial Management - Guest Blog

 Permanent link

Continuous Self Improvement: Plugging in to the Power of Quickbooks

by Irene Bushnell, Shareholder, Anderson ZurMuehlen   

 IreneBushnell One of the easiest ways to facilitate continuous self improvement is with formal instruction.  Whether it is attending a conference or a seminar, enrolling in a registered class at an accredited school, listening in on a webinar, or watching a self training video, you’ll always walk away with new insights, good information and ways to improve both personally and professionally.

Many organizations use QuickBooks for their accounting software.  It is a wonderful program that can be customized to work with almost any small to mid-sized organization.  But all too often we learn the basics and then never take our software to the next level. 

Anderson ZurMuehlen is proud to offer a conference that helps you Plug In to the Power of QuickBooks! This conference is about teaching organizations how to fully employ the capabilities of this under-utilized software to more efficiently manage accounting processes. It’s about saving you time and frustration, using less paper, and eliminating costly, inefficient, and often manual work-arounds. It’s about exchanging great old habits and ways of doing things for great new ones.  

But this conference is more than that, because we know your job involves more than that. We know you want to improve your accounting skills and learn best practices.  We understand that advanced report writing and exporting and importing data between systems are high priorities for many QuickBooks users in Montana. Our conference presenters will address all of these issues and more.

Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” We certainly aren’t earning much interest with today’s economy by putting money in the bank so why not invest in training?

I hope you’ll join us for our Fourth Annual Montana QuickBooks Users Conference to be held in May at four different Montana locations.  Visit our website at:  to read about the sessions to be presented at this year’s conference.  MNA nonprofit members receive a discount – type MNA in the registration or write it next to your registration if you are faxing in your registration.  I look forward to seeing you there!