The ConnectMichigan Alliance (CMA) grew out of an emerging concern among Michigan’s nonprofit leaders that without a robust network of volunteers and an infrastructure for managing it, the sector would struggle. Many key leaders realized that this type of network’s success would be greatly dependent on consistent public and private funding, both of which were uncertain. This uncertainty was compounded by the impending conclusion of Gov. John Engler’s administration, which had long championed volunteerism and national service initiatives with their creation of the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC). In response, a campaign was started to create a permanent endowment to support and promote volunteerism.
The campaign began in earnest when Gov. Engler championed the creation of a $10 million, 1-for-1 challenge grant by the state that would match funding from the nonprofit sector (i.e., private, family, and community foundations), the for-profit sector (i.e., corporations and sole proprietorships), and individuals. Initially, the raised funds were to be separated and housed within the Capital Region Community Foundation (CRCF). The private funds would be kept in an agency-designated fund for the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) to support volunteer infrastructure statewide, while the matching challenge funds would be released to the CRCF through the Michigan Community Service Commission.
After the successful completion of the challenge grant, it was decided that a separate infrastructure organization should exist with a focus on volunteerism, and so the ConnectMichigan Alliance was formed in 2001 with Dr. John Lore at its helm. MNA and MCSC moved programs and endowments to support the new organization, so at the time of its creation, CMA had $20 million of pledged endowed public and private funds and housed many initiatives that supported volunteerism.
CMA’s commitment to building partnerships was demonstrated throughout the duration of its existence. CMA often worked to connect organizations with similar goals to facilitate learning communities and strengthen services provided, as well as to help prevent the duplication of volunteer services both within communities and statewide. By cultivating local-level contacts, CMA was able to more effectively offer support to communities. Additionally, CMA was able to reach out to communities by hosting Michigan’s participation in the national Make-A-Difference Day Campaign. At the state level, the organization engaged with the Gov. Jennifer Granholm administration in supporting the creation of Mentor Michigan, a statewide network of mentoring programs. The ConnectMichigan Alliance also built many partnerships with national organizations including America’s Promise Alliance, the Points of Light Foundation, the national Campus Compact, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
CMA helped strengthen volunteer, service-learning, and civic engagement opportunities for college students through the Michigan Campus Compact. During this time, CMA and the Michigan Campus Compact granted faculty, staff, and students on college and university campuses funds to begin new ventures in volunteering. In order to provide volunteer services in communities throughout the state, CMA also funded the Volunteer Centers of Michigan. The Volunteer Centers of Michigan provides organized support to each volunteer center’s efforts to promote voluntary civic involvement as a primary response and solution to local community problems. Through the Michigan’s Promise program, CMA identified Michigan “communities of promise,” and awarded grants to provide young people with caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, marketable skills, and an opportunity to serve. During Gov. Granholm’s administration, the Mentor Michigan volunteer initiative began at CMA, supporting and collaborating with mentor programs throughout the state to serve youth.
Even beyond these central resources and partnerships, CMA acted as a resource for the nonprofit sector through advocacy and educational initiatives. It provided opportunities for adults and students to engage with government through dialogues and programs, meetings with their state legislators, advocacy days, and the first student community action network in the country. Other services included the annual Institute on Service Learning, colloquiums, and Service Leadership Camp, which educated over 600 faculty, K-12 educators, and students on the value of service learning. CMA also provided resources through libraries, opportunity email lists, staff expertise, and the co-sponsoring of significant research like Michigan Giving and Volunteering: Key Findings to further the sector.
In 2004, Dr. John Lore concluded his term as CMA’s president, leaving the organization in the capable hands of Mr. Kyle Caldwell, who previously served as executive director at the MCSC. At that point, the Michigan Nonprofit Association was under the leadership of Mr. Sam Singh. As both MNA and CMA evolved, it was clear that the organizations were filling similar roles within the sector. This overlap sparked a discussion about a possible merger of the two organizations, a change that was supported by both Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Singh in agreement with their respective boards. CMA merged with MNA in 2007. Both Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Singh supported giving MNA’s board the ability to choose the new president and CEO of the strengthened MNA. Mr. Caldwell was asked to fill the role, and Mr. Singh took the opportunity to travel the world (1). Today, the ConnectMichigan Endowment continues to fund programs and initiatives that advance volunteerism in Michigan as a part of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.
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(1) Upon his return, Mr. Singh successfully ran for the Michigan House of Representatives, 69 District in Ingham County, Michigan (the Lansing area). Representative Singh now brings his deep understanding of the nonprofit sector to his formal work in making public policy decisions.