CEDAM Blog

http://cedam.info/news/blog/

Food Forward MI: Agriculture Workforce Development

FoodForwardMI-BlogHeader

Written by Mary ZumBrunnen, CEO of One-Community Consulting

________________________________________________________________________________________

“…the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at a crossroads of opportunity.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

field-196173_1920Michigan is currently seeing a decline in small and mid-sized farms across the state. This trend has negatively impacted the state’s cultural heritage, economic stability and overall food security. These small and mid-sized farms play an important role in Michigan’s diversified food system. However, many areas of Michigan, both rural and urban, actually have the potential to be food secure by relying on their own regional food systems, given that the proper supports were developed and in place. Interestingly, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation also identifies agri-business as one of Michigan’s top growth industries, but according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the gap between available talent and labor needed is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Once again, Michigan is at the crossroads of opportunity.

In Montcalm County, Rob Spohr, the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Montcalm Community College, is trying to address this issue by expanding curriculum through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Strategic Growth Initiative funding. He says: “The agriculture industry is competing for the same workers that are being hired by the manufacturing industry. The agricultural industry needs to define those skills that will translate to different companies cross sector so that we can create programming around those skill sets.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

“The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

cherry-88403_1920On the employer end, there are also lingering stigmas around the field of agriculture. Potential talent often views agricultural work as low-paying and “dirty” work, as identified through discussion with the Michigan Works! Association and other employment agencies. Organizations such as Michigan Works! can also be misinterpreted by employers as placement firms for those that are “difficult” or “unemployable.” From the eastern side of Michigan, Jessica Billiau, GST Michigan Works! Director of Communications, says: “Small farmers are looking for flexibility and experience and trust in their employees. The jobs they are offering are usually seasonal making it hard to build that trust in a short period of time. The industry often can’t afford competitive wages, making it hard to keep workers. I (do) see opportunity in the future. 200 jobs were just announced last month for Cass City. MichiganWorks! is looking to support this expansion with food training programs, basic computer and tech literacy programs and other scholarships to fill the available roles.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

“Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

Agri-business re-branding and more communication outreach are necessary by both government and businesses. While the disconnect between talent in Michigan and agricultural employer needs exists, there are pilot programs in development that may bridge the gap. One successful way that employers in Clinton County attracted future talent began with a career expo day geared toward eighth grade exploratory learning and business tours. Along with formal career days, employers and government entities may also jointly work together to develop representative employer councils that offer growth-oriented internship rotations across major industry positions. For more information about pilot programming or to learn more about the agri-workforce development, please read the extended blog here or connect with Jessica AcMoody at acmoody@cedam.info today.

yellow-colorbar

About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

CFPB’s New Rule

Written by Heidi Kurniawan, Policy Intern

trouser-pockets-1439412_1920In Michigan, there are more payday loan stores than there are McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s franchises combined. Advertisements for these loans make them seem like a fast and easy way to get cash when you’re in a financial bind. What they don’t tell you, however, is that four out of five payday loans are rolled over or reborrowed. In Michigan alone, 90% of borrowers take out another loan within 60 days of repaying their last one. With an average APR of nearly 400%, these loans extract billions of dollars from low-income borrowers, and lead to financial consequences like bank penalty fees, lost accounts, delinquency on other bills and even bankruptcy. This represents the debt trap that payday lenders encourage many borrowers to fall into.

CFPB_LogoOn June 2, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a proposed rule addressing payday lending. The rule includes provisions that restrict the number of short-term rollover loans borrowers can take in succession and requires borrowers to be notified when a lender plans to deduct funds from their bank account. This would rein in a lender’s ability to repeatedly attempt to deduct said funds, and prevent a string of overdraft fees that could generate if the account does not contain enough money.

Additionally, the proposed rule establishes an ability-to-repay principle that would require lenders to determine whether a borrower can afford the full amount of each payment while still meeting “basic living expenses” and “major financial obligations” (both of which are specifically defined in the full report). Lenders would also have to go through another review of borrowers’ finances if the borrower seeks to renew or extend the loan. While an ability-to-repay principle is a long-standing tenant of responsible lending, abusive lenders who deliberately target communities of color and low-income workers often ignore it.

The CFPB rule is a start. It does contain loopholes such as exceptions to the ability-to-repay principle for both short- and long-term loans, and inadequate protections against loan flipping – putting borrowers into one unaffordable loan after another. Tougher rules with fewer loopholes are needed to protect vulnerable families from predatory lending practices.

Membership Spotlight: PNC’s Community Development Banking

Member-Spotlight-header4

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“We help low- to moderate-income community members access the bank and work with those servicing the community through financial education, specialized products, access to business capital and providing grant and sponsorship dollars.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Jason Paulateer

Jason Paulateer, PNC Bank

When most people hear PNC Bank, they probably think of a bank that offers financial services and financial products for people and companies. While this is in general what PNC Bank is all about, they also have a division that focuses on local communities they serve: PNC’s Community Development Banking. Jason Paulateer, Vice President and Market Manager of Michigan’s PNC Community Development Banking, explains that the Community Development Banking division “focuses on providing access to financial services to the entire community and focusing on the low-income community. We help low- to moderate-income community members access the bank and work with those servicing the community through financial education, specialized products, access to business capital and providing grant and sponsorship dollars.”

dollar-941246_640PNC’s Community Development Banking in Michigan focuses on leveraging bank resources in order to make them more accessible and understandable to the community members they serve. Two main focuses on how they do this is through human resources and economic development. On the human resources side, PNC Community Development Banking members provide and promote financial education, work with organizations who promote education and leverage other team members to participate and advocate the bank to the community. With economic development, these members often work with local nonprofits to provide capital debt and equity to construct affordable housing projects, promote community revitalization and community stabilization efforts. They do this through loan, investment and grant dollars to groups looking to help low- to moderate-income people improve their conditions.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

In the field, day-to-day battle against things happening in Michigan, it’s important that we tell the truth of the story that people are facing on a local level.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

When asked if Michigan faced any unique issues, Paulateer said that the answer was no. Many of the issues Michigan communities face are not unique – what Paulateer says is unique is that the issues in Michigan communities tends to end up on a bigger stage. “In the field, day-to-day battle against things happening in Michigan, it’s important that we tell the truth of the story that people are facing on a local level. Our problems aren’t unique […]” Issues from financial challenges and budgeting, affordable housing and water crises are happening all across this country, but Michigan is taking the main stage and representing them on a larger scale. Since this is the case, Michigan communities’ supports must approach these issues while knowing that many others are watching.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“Paulateer says he wants to make sure the people he’s helping see ‘low-income housing as a stepping stone rather than a landing place,’ and wants to help see them into homes where families can build a life in.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

beach-1011162_640Paulateer also mentions that he feels it is so important for large corporations to support the communities that they are serving, and how on each level the needs and passions are different, yet complimentary. When speaking on PNC, Paulateer says that their largest focuses are on early childhood development and economic development. Through these initiatives, PNC has created the Grow Up Great program, which has put millions of dollars into helping young children get prepared for kindergarten, as well as supporting their parents through developing the communities they grow up in. Michigan’s PNC Community Development Banking division shares this goal, and in particular want to “support the parents of those kids that would be directly impacted by this statistic.” This means economic development through financial services that the bank could offer these families, such as banking services, a loan for a home or helping them start a business. Then, there is Paulateer’s personal goal in serving the community – graduating people out of affordable or low-income housing and into homes for a lifetime. Paulateer says he wants to make sure the people he’s helping see “low-income housing as a stepping stone rather than a landing place,” and wants to help see them into homes where families can build a life in.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“In our industry, I think that reducing or decreasing the unbanked and underbanked population is our ultimate goal. We want people to feel comfortable using the bank, working with the bank and accessing the bank that might not have done so otherwise.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Paulateer expresses that he believes success in this particular industry is based on how many people they are able to serve, as well as what the impact of that service is. “In our industry, I think that reducing or decreasing the unbanked and underbanked population is our ultimate goal. We want people to feel comfortable using the bank, working with the bank and accessing the bank that might not have done so otherwise.” There are reports stating that the unbanked don’t have access to banks, they believe they don’t have access to banks or they are uncomfortable turning to the bank for help. “We try to break down those barriers,” says Paulateer, and they try to help as many community members as possible in the process.

Learn more about PNC’s Community Development Banking divisions at www.pnc/communitydevelopment or contact Jason Paulateer at jason.paulateer@pnc.com.

Memmemberspotlight-smallbership Spotlight are blogs highlighting the great work that our member organizations do within their communities. If you are a CEDAM member and would like to be featured, please contact Lisa Assenmacher at lisa@cedam.info.

The Municipal Effect

Written by Megan KursikCoordinator of the Michigan Communities for Financial Empowerment

In 2013, the City of Lansing was one of five cities competitively selected to launch a Financial  Empowerment Center to seamlessly integrate free, professional financial counseling with core city and nonprofit services. It’s now more than three years later and the cities came together last week to discuss lessons learned, as well as ways to push the municipal financial empowerment movement forward. This municipal effect is a model that is working across the nation, and CEDAM is grateful to participate in regular convening to share best practices and identify new solutions. Last week, I was able to travel to Philadelphia and attend the Financial Empowerment Centers meeting.

My greatest takeaways included:

  1. The Financial Empowerment Center model works! Altogether, the Centers in Denver, Lansing, Nashville, Philadelphia and San Antonio helped nearly 24,000 residents improve their finances through one-on-one financial counseling. These sessions led to quantified results–more than $25 million in client debt reduced and $2.9 million saved across the five sites.
  2. Local government leadership is critical to scale and sustainability. While specificmichigan-1191024_1920 integration points for referrals to financial counseling varied across the sites, each city government leveraged partnerships with other city agencies and nonprofits to reach a significant percentage of clients receiving services. Additionally, all five cities secured public funds to continue service delivery beyond the three year private grant period. Establishing the precedent that financial counseling should be a publicly funded service is a critical step forward in the municipal financial empowerment movement.
  3. We need you! (and you, and you and you). While the municipal financial empowerment movement has grown rapidly over the past few years, we’re still far from reaching critical mass. CEDAM has supported several cities and counties across the state to help residents facing financial challenges – like property tax delinquency – connect to quality financial counseling services. But we need to continue to spread this strategy across Michigan.

MCFE-logoSo, we’re challenging our members to help us root this approach in many more communities across our great state! And we’re connecting you with the tools to do so at a full day Municipal Financial Empowerment Bootcamp on August 2 in Detroit. It will be held in conjunction with our annual Michigan Financial Empowerment Summit. The Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund will lead the training, designed for city, county, nonprofit and neighborhood leaders to learn more about strategies to address financial instability in their communities.

To learn more about the Bootcamp and the Summit, visit http://mcfe.cedam.info/annual-summit/.

Food Forward MI: Food Innovation Districts

FoodForwardMI-BlogHeader

____________________________________________________________________________________

“Michigan has tremendous opportunity to grow our health and economy while maintaining ecological diversity and cultural heritage.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

“A food innovation district is a geographic concentration of food-oriented businesses, services and community activities that local governments support through planning and economic development initiatives in order to promote a positive business environment, spur regional food system development and increase access to local food,” according to Patty Cantrell of Regional Food Systems Solutions, LLC. The idea of a food innovation district comes out of the Michigan Good Food Charter (see April 2016’s Food Policy blog) a statewide policy platform laying a roadmap to source 20 percent of Michigan’s food from Michigan markets by 2020, thereby increasing residents’ access to locally grown healthy foods. Why is this important? Michigan has tremendous opportunity to grow our health and economy while maintaining ecological diversity and cultural heritage.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“Within Michigan several food innovation districts are represented across: Eastside Neighborhood, Lansing; Eastern Market, Detroit; Grand Traverse Regional Market, Traverse City; Marquette Food Co-op and Hub, and; Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Grand Rapids.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

berry-197078_1280Across Michigan, several food innovation districts are already in full swing having semi-organically developed and in other municipalities local government is actively working with and across grassroots organizations, food retail and supporting organizations as well as academic and philanthropic agencies to plan and implement a designated space to cultivate such food aggregation, distribution, processing and retail operations. Within Michigan these areas are represented across: Eastside Neighborhood, Lansing; Eastern Market, Detroit; Grand Traverse Regional Market, Traverse City; Marquette Food Co-op and Hub, Marquette, and; Grand Rapids Downtown Market, Grand Rapids. What is unique across each of these areas is the origins and anchoring partners. For example, on the eastside of Lansing the local non-profit Allen Neighborhood Center has led the push forward with local health, academic and governmental partners. In Grand Rapids, the City is actively seeking more opportunity for water and waste water clientele with potential for food business innovation district overlap. Further west, the City of Muskegon is in discussion about using such a planning tool to help connect diverse populations.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“Perhaps the best example of work to date on this type of urban planning tool comes from the 2012 publication Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool created in partnership with Regional Food Solutions, LLC, MSU CRFS, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, and the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Supporting this work across the state, Michigan State University Center Regional Food Systems (MSUCRFS) has worked extensively to congregate tools and supporting resources for innovation district development. Perhaps the best example of work to date on this type of urban planning tool comes from the 2012 publication Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool created in partnership with Regional Food Solutions, LLC, MSU CRFS, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, and the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction. While no study has been conducted (as of yet) on the overall impact of such a clustering of related food business, it should be noted that among economic benefits, a “breaking down of silos” and facilitation of new relationships and partnering has taken place from grassroots to government, public and private entities.

For more information, please contact Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist at CEDAM or check out: http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/fid-guide

yellow-colorbar


Glasses2About the author:
Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

Michigan’s Home Heating Credit – Are you eligible?

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition

snow-1269449_640After a cold winter that seemed to drag on, warmer temperatures are here to stay…at least for a couple of months. Time to soak up the sun, enjoy the warmth and relax.

So why am I ruining everyone’s enjoyment of this wonderful summer weather with reminders of a distant cold? Well, because as someone familiar with Michigan’s Home Heating Credit, I know that far too many eligible taxpayers have not claimed their home heating credit, leaving millions of dollars floating in Lansing, instead of helping people to cover their utility expenses.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Michigan’s Home Heating Credit goes to help offset a lower-income taxpayer’s heating costs. To claim it, a person doesn’t have to file a state income tax return, but they must file a MI1040CR-7 by September 30, 2016.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Unfortunately, too many people don’t apply for the Michigan Home Heating Credit and therefore miss out on assistance that can either reimburse them for the money they spent on fuel, heating oil or wood last year during the colder months or go directly to their gas utility provider and reduce any current or future bill. Even though we have summer heat now, the credit will help provide a smoother path into colder weather this fall.

dollar-941246_640It is also important to note that while the Home Heating Credit pays for heating costs, access to other energy assistance programs and resources tend to dry up in the summer, making this valuable credit a critical year-round resource for eligible folks who need help with their utility bills. Even though you’re not heating your home now, you can access the credit now if you paid for heat this past winter and your total household income falls within the guidelines.

To apply, either go to the Michigan Department of Treasury’s website and type in “Home Heating Credit” to download the instructions and form, visit MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org, or dial 2-1-1 (if available) or 1-888-636-4211 and to see if there is a free site near you to help you file the credit for free.  Don’t wait until it’s too late! Act now, get ALL the benefits available to you this summer and coast into fall.

Membership Spotlight: Community Action Agency

Member-Spotlight-header4

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

____________________________________________________________________________________

“Different programs at the CAA are focused on the long term solutions of fixing issues and helping members of the community reach their own goals by addressing problems of poverty systematically, rather than just putting a band-aid on it.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

The Community Action Agency (CAA) serves Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale counties and focuses mostly on the issues of poverty and promoting self-sufficiency for those in the community. Kate Lambert Lee, the Communications Manager of Community Action Agency, describes the work they do as “addressing the problems of poverty systematically, rather than just putting a band-aid on it.” Different programs at the CAA are focused on the long term solutions of fixing issues and helping members of the community reach their own goals. Through classes on financial empowerment, homeownership and on the issues of generational poverty in their counties, community members are able to reach milestones of graduating from school, buying their first home or reducing their debt.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“They are also able to find trends and programs that are working to positively affect the community much faster because of the large number of people they provide services to.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Jackson-CAA2The CAA began as the Region II CAA in 1965. For more than 50 years and from locations in each county, the organization has been able to prove its ability to shift and change with the growing needs of the community. As the CAA serves these three counties, there are benefits and drawbacks of serving such a large group of people that Lambert Lee touches on. On the plus side, the CAA always has staff members from other locations and ideas from different counties on how to engage with the community. They are also able to find trends and programs that are working to positively affect the community much faster because of the large number of people they provide services to. The challenge in this is that Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale are three very different counties with a variety of unique issues to address. Lambert Lee states, though, that the CAA does it’s best to create programs for each county that continue to compliment one another.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“After using a service through the CAA, users are provided with a survey asking them about what other issues they feel need to be addressed their communities, and the CAA puts these answers into action.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

SONY DSC

The 2013 graduating class of the Getting Ahead Program. Photo c/o CAA

The CAA stays highly involved with those whom they provide services to, and use these people to find what other issues may need to be addressed in their communities. After using a service through the CAA, users are provided with a survey asking them about what other issues they feel need to be addressed their communities, and the CAA puts these answers into action. Lambert Lee mentions that the Getting Ahead program, a class that teaches community members about the effects of poverty in numerous aspects of their community and how to help tackle these issues, was only implemented a few years ago thanks to demand from the community. She also states that she feels the Getting Ahead program is also successful because many past participants that have overcome poverty due to the program come back to tell their own stories, which makes all the more impact on others.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“These classes have been taken by members of all three counties, and have had such an impact that Financial Stability Coalitions have sprouted up across their communities to help better address financial issues.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

credit-card-1080074_640Another successful endeavor the CAA has taken on is the success of its financial stability classes. These classes aim to help community members prioritize their budget, tackle debt in a financially responsible way and help them adjust to changes in their monthly payments. These classes have been taken by members of all three counties, and have had such an impact that Financial Stability Coalitions have sprouted up across their communities to help better address financial issues.

____________________________________________________________________________________

“…what makes the difference with CAA is that the people who work there truly care about the people they’re helping.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Lambert Lee says that while the CAA does many great things for the tri-county area, she thinks what makes the difference with CAA is that the people who work there truly care about the people they’re helping. As she puts it, “It’s not a job where at 5 o’clock, your time is up. These people take calls and emails at just about any time, because they’re passionate about the work they’re doing. They care about the issues they’re addressing and the families they’re helping.”

Learn more about Community Action Agency (serving Jackson, Lenawee and Hillsdale counties) at caajlh.org, and follow them on Facebook @CommunityActionAgency and on Twitter @CAAJLH.

memberspotlight-small

Membership Spotlight are blogs highlighting the great work that our member organizations do within their communities. If you are a CEDAM member and would like to be featured, please contact Lisa Assenmacher at lisa@cedam.info.

Affordable Housing is Out of Reach in Michigan

Written by Heidi Kurnaiwan, Policy Intern

There is no state, county, or city in the United States where a full-time worker earning the prevailing minimum wage could afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Only twelve counties and one metropolitan area has a minimum wage sufficient enough to even afford a modest one-bedroom apartment.

These statistics are just a small part of the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2016 Out of Reach report, released to the public recently on May 25. The report seeks to answer how much someone has to earn in order to afford rent and utilities on a modest two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent by calculating the hourly wage needed to earn and the number of hours needed to work, respectively, without exceeding the common benchmark of spending 30% of monthly income on housing.

OOR_2016_Housing-wage-map

How Michigan Stacks Up

“With the current minimum wage of $8.50, a household in Michigan would have to work 74 hours per week, 52 weeks per year in order to make rent.”

According to the data, Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment averages about $812 in Michigan. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, all 52 weeks of the year, a household would have to earn $2,708 monthly or $32,494 annually. This translates into an hourly wage of $15.62/hour. With the current minimum wage of $8.50, a household in Michigan would have to work 74 hours per week, 52 weeks per year in order to make rent (note that the average American works approximately 34.4 hours a week and typically takes 16 days of vacation). The most expensive counties to live in were Washtenaw, Grand Traverse, Livingston, Lapeer, and Macomb counties.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 11.11.23 AM

The Root of the Problem

“For every 100 ELI (extremely low-income) renter households, there are only 31 affordable rental units available.”

OOR_2016_Figure2
Wage stagnation and income inequality are part of the problem. In the last eight years, the bottom 10% of wage earners saw a mere 0.2% increase in real hourly wages, while the top 5% saw an 8.7% increase. Additionally, the demand for rental housing is currently at its highest since the 1960s, but the stock of rental housing units has been unable to keep up. For every 100 ELI (extremely low-income) renter households, there are only 31 affordable rental units available. Development costs are rising, which cause developers to target newly built rental units to the upper end of the market. Even older housing rarely becomes cheap enough for ELI renters.

This report reveals what many ELI renters already knew to be true: the affordable housing crisis is real, and it’s hurtful. Seniors, people with disabilities, and individuals and families with low-wage jobs constantly struggle to find decent and affordable housing in today’s economy. These minimum wage employees are childcare workers, nurse’s assistants, EMTs, cooks and servers in restaurants and more—people we interact with and rely on every day. Housing is one of the most basic needs we have, and our nation needs to invest in affordable housing for the lowest income households in America.

Find the report and read more online at www.nlihc.org/oor

3 Takeaways from the Summit on Race and Inclusion

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition

The first time I ever visited Holland, Michigan was in January 1992, on a football recruiting visit to Hope College. At the time, I associated this area with its lack of diversity. This was because I remember that virtually everyone I met that day looked like me, and to this day, that implicit bias on the area’s lack of diversity is what immediately comes to mind when I think of Holland and Hope.

Last week, I attended the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion, an annual event held (serendipitously enough) at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The event dates back to 2001 and began as part of a five-year regional summit on racism series. In 2006, in response to its success, it became a bi-annual event. Now, as an annual and sold-out event, hundreds of people from the region and across the state spend the day engaged with other community members and key stakeholders working to eliminate racial barriers in the lakeshore region. From this event, I had three great takeaways.

  1. Inclusion is NOT a balancing act where lifting up one vulnerable community or population comes at the expense of another. An example was given of when the City of Seattle changed the way it replaced burnt-out street lights. Prior to the change, some of the predominantly black neighborhoods that were witnessing increasing violent crime were also having burnt-out street lights not being replaced because residents were not calling the city to have them fixed. The change was to begin regularly replacing street light bulbs based-on their expiration dates across the city to decrease areas with non-working lights, especially in neighborhoods experiencing higher crime. While this change helped to keep these neighborhood’s streetlights working, an unexpected result was that residents in the more affluent neighborhoods commended the change because they were tired of calling to report burnt-out street lights. So while the policy was designed to help those residents living in more the neighborhoods more vulnerable to violent crime, all of the city’s residents benefited.
  2. People seeking to impact positive change need to preach outside of the choir. This is such a simple concept, but one that I think needs highlighting. All too often, as advocates for change and supporters of diversity and racial inclusion, we find ourselves talking to folks who are fellow supporters and champions. Rather, we should focus on those who do not agree or are reticent on the issue and work to change their view on these issues.
  3. We should work harder to recognize implicit bias and work to prevent it from negatively impacting our efforts to improve our communities and advance our work, regardless of the field. Unlike an explicit bias, which is a conscious level endorsement or refutation of an idea (e.g. I like people who went to Michigan State University, because I went there and I have an open bias toward them), an implicit bias is a bias or judgement that comes from below conscious awareness and without intentional control (e.g. “Holland is not diverse” is a visceral or sub-conscious judgement that is not supported by facts, but rooted in my past experience associated with the judgement). Negative explicit bias is often openly repudiated, but implicit bias all too often seeps into our policies and negatively impacts our work.

This annual event has become one of my favorites, and one I would like to see replicated elsewhere in Michigan. It was my second time attending and just like the first time, I left with some answers to my questions, thoughts to ponder and constructive ideas to help challenge some of the implicit biases that are out there with regard to race and ethnicity.  If ever there was a summit that needed to grow, incorporate more communities and include more participants, this would be it.

Did you attend the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance’s Summit on Race and Inclusion? What were your takeaways?

5 Key Components to a Successful Board of Directors

Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

Whether you are working for an organization with a board, or have sat on a board of directors, we all likely share similar experiences within the nonprofit world. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session at the Building Michigan Communities Conference in April led by Tom Williams of the Nonprofit Network that provided insight for maximizing your board’s full potential.

From this, I put together five key components to consider when either planning a board or are a participating board member.

1. Composition and Needs

checklist-1275665_640This is a fundamental, yet important thing to consider with board of directors. Rather than seeking a warm body or somebody you know, it’s more proactive and advantageous to the organization to seek out people who bring specific skills, experiences and demographics to the conversation. A board functions to direct the strategy of an organization and if there lacks this diverse spectrum of composition and needs, the overall success can be limited. Instead, begin by carefully considering the existing board composition and prioritize your list based on your governance priorities and current needs.

2. Structure and Committees

graphic-1020359_640While every organization is different, common best practices include a the creation of different committees focused on key areas that help ensure the functionality and strategic direction of an organization’s progress. Beyond an Executive and Finance Committee, every board should have a group of dedicated people that meet to work on fundraising, program and services, audits and other special projects as they surface. The board’s job is to follow the strategic plan and govern the organization, and while the staff may coordinate and oversee the committees, they handle the day-to-day operations and implementation. The board’s involvement in committees help provide clarity and remove uncertainty.

3. Recruitment Process

interview-1018333_640Armed with your priorities for board composition and needs, you will then need to identify potential candidates that would be a good match for your organization. The process should be involved and include identification and research, followed by an initial contact, an interview and follow up to ensure that it is a good fit and potential relationship. After this, the committee should recommend that candidate to the board.

Interviews should convey professionalism and include relevant information, including meeting dates, bylaws, policies, a commitment form, evaluation methods and other informational documents. Further, the expectations of board service should be clear and it is critical to emphasize the responsibility, legal and ethical requirements and contribution expectations from new board members.

4. Orientation

puzzle-654957_640The more a board member understands the organization, the better job they can do participating in their role. An orientation is a helpful way to acclimate people and equip them with the tools to help them do their jobs successfully. Orientations should provide opportunities for board members to become familiar with the organization chart, position functions and responsibilities, glossary of common acronyms and facts and figures (budget, audience, revenue, expenses, awards, milestones, coverage map, etc.). In addition, they should get to each other, meet key individuals and understand how board meeting will work. These steps will help ensure that things are done appropriately and derail any potential confusion throughout the term.

5. Assessments

arrows-1229845_640Assessments provide built-in opportunities to make sure that board members are accountable for their commitments and avoid conflict and difficulties later. These should be planned ahead of time and given enough time for implementation. Organizations have to decide if they plan to do assessments internally or hire an outside facilitator. Whatever the process, it should be documented and consistent, and include follow up.

Next Steps

Each of these steps highlights important considerations for an organization to maximize their board’s potential. While these are merely an overview, there are more best practices and details that can be explored for each unique situation. CEDAM offers custom services, strategic technical assistance and other resources, and the Nonprofit Network is also available for consulting services. In addition, there is endless reading available online through different search queries if you are looking for more general information and a place to start.

Are there areas in which your board could be more successful?