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Leader Profile:

Donna Murray-Brown

Donna Murray-Brown left her business career as a bank executive to follow her passion for helping people and solving community problems through the nonprofit sector. Rising to the leadership of the statewide Michigan Nonprofit Association, Donna guides the activities designed to support Michigan's charitable sector. In addition she gives of her time and talent as a volunteer leader and trustee for a number of significant state and national nonprofit organizations. Donna assumed the CEO role at the Michigan Nonprofit Association in 2013.  She brings a fresh perspective to her role in one of the four major infrastructure organizations – learning from history and then using the experience in Michigan to innovate and create a new future.

Leadership Highlights

Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about her career in philanthropy.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about her career in philanthropy.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the significance of understanding the history of Michigan's non-profit sector.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the work of the Michigan Nonprofit Association and how the organization must adapt to the changes in the nonprofit sector.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about how overlapping boards can result in creating strong alliances.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the goals of the Michigan Nonprofit Association in terms of helping other non-profts and the sector as a whole.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about how partnerships between grant-makers and grant-seekers are vital to Michigan's philanthropic infrastructure.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the connectivity of the leaders of the four philanthropic infrastructures organizations in Michigan.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the partnerships that have developed between philanthropic leaders.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about servant leadership, acting selfless, and supporting others for the greater good.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about assessing individual leadership and how it fits with the greater community.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about educating young people about philanthropy so they may grow to be more involved in the sector and create thriving communities.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about the nonprofit caucus, which helps to bridge the gap between the public and nonprofit sectors.
  • Ms. Donna Murray-Brown talks about Michigan's commitment to diversity inclusion and equity, along with its relationshp to national organizations.


Donna Murray-Brown graduated in 1988 from Central State University of Dayton, Ohio, with a degree in Business Administration.

Philanthropic Biography

Donna Murray-Brown spent the first 20 years of her career in the banking industry, working with institutions such as Fifth Third Bank and Charter One (now known as Citizens Bank). Coincidentally, working in the banking industry is where she first encountered philanthropy. As vice president and community reinvestment act director for Charter One, Ms. Murray-Brown led and developed strategies for the bank’s role in the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which helped meet credit needs in communities. Also under her role as vice president, she reinforced Charter One’s relationships with over 100 community-based organizations. She initially encountered the nonprofit industry while in a meeting with United Way, where she realized she wanted to spend her life problem-solving and brainstorming ways to help those in need. After being introduced to various figures in the nonprofit sector, Ms. Murray-Brown ultimately left her career in banking in 2009. She has since served in various roles at the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), for which she is currently president and CEO. Of her transition from the banking sector to nonprofit, Ms. Murray-Brown says that it was “the hardest decision and the best decision of [her] life” (1).

Contributions to the Field

Before becoming president and CEO of MNA, Ms. Murray-Brown held the position of director of the Metro Detroit partnership office and director of capacity-building.  While serving in this role, she was responsible for overseeing MNA’s work in the Metro Detroit area.  During this time she also collaborated with the Cultural Alliance for Southeastern Michigan to promote programs for arts and culture organizations, and in 2009 led the merger negotiations of four organizations (Friends of Belle Isle, Belle Isle Botanical Society, Belle Isle Women’s Committee, and Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium) to create the Belle Isle Park Conservancy.  The merger allowed these park-advocacy organizations to offer strong resources that promote all of the experiences, both educational and recreational, offered by the Belle Isle Conservancy (2).

In 2013, Ms. Murray-Brown became the president and CEO of MNA, which manages various programs that work toward a better Michigan, including: Data Driven Detroit, Highway T, Michigan Campus Compact, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, and AmeriCorps VISTA.  Under the leadership of Ms. Murray-Brown, all of these programs have helped better Michigan communities.

Beyond her work at MNA, Ms. Murray-Brown serves on a number of boards throughout Michigan and beyond.  She is the vice chair of the National Council of Nonprofits, a primary resource for nonprofits across the country.  She is also vice chair of Detroit Public Television, a trusted public media source for Detroit.  She serves on the board of directors for the Michigan Association of United Ways, a leadership partner that works with communities all over Michigan to support positive change.  She is state commissioner for the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, a government program that provides caregivers, community, and other support services to Michigan’s elderly.  Ms. Murray-Brown is also a board member for the Nonprofit Advisory Council for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, a group of grantmakers dedicated to building strong nonprofit communities.


Donna Murray-Brown was interviewed regarding her insights and experiences working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following are selected quotations from her interview specifically related to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“It really is the ability to be able to provide the support system for someone else…. it’s really around how do I create the opportunity for others to thrive?, whether it be other organizations, other people.”

“I like to think that we’re always considering who we’re grooming to take our role. I always hope that that’s what we’re thinking, because the highest vulnerability to this infrastructure we have in Michigan is the leadership.”

Human, Financial, and Knowledge Resources

“I think that one of the pieces of infrastructure that we often don’t talk about is the infrastructure into people. People make institutions and make organizations run and do the great work that they do… For [MNA], it starts in kindergarten through our philanthropy education that we do. So for Michigan Nonprofit Association, we’re thinking about leadership. We’re thinking about children, all the way to young adults in college, and then we’re thinking about those in the community that can really think about their leadership in the space of community.”

Practical Wisdom

“The things that are maybe sometimes difficult about infrastructure are that it’s infrastructure. It’s so strong. It sometimes seems permanent and that it’s not as easy to evolve. It’s not as easy to see the need to evolve because it’s sometimes invisible until it breaks or until something tragic happens… That’s when it becomes very easy to understand… So the infrastructure is still there but it’s evolving and changing through the needs – for what the community needs. So I think sometimes it’s a little hard to make those adjustments. Sometimes they’re painful but I think they’re necessary and I think that’s what makes it challenging… The idea is that we have all made a commitment to the betterment of the state of Michigan and this infrastructure is included in that, that we will acquiesce when we need to, and we will move forward together when we need to.”

“It’s a notion of understanding each other and being able to be vulnerable when you can be vulnerable, because leadership is a lonely spot. Leadership is a place where it’s really challenging to say, “I need help.” Knowing that you do have a group that you can go to to be vulnerable, I think, makes us stronger, actually – which has been especially rewarding for me.”


(1) “Michigan Nonprofit Association.” MNA. n.d. Web. 24 August 2016. Found here


(2) “Merger History.” Belle Isle Conservancy. n.d. Web. 29 August 2016.  Found here

This profile was last updated: 02/28/2017