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Chapter 5: Insights

Build Connections and Networks

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Chapter 5-1

Be a Team Player

Along with the personal relationships that have been developed among the leaders of Michigan’s charitable sector, there has been an ethic that values and supports partnership.

In a joint venture, each partner’s needs must be taken into consideration. If the solution to a problem doesn’t work for one of the partners, then it’s time to go back and look for a new solution. A critical skill in developing such trusting relationships is the ability to listen to the needs of each partner organization and to help navigate their interests and constraints, as well as your own.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss the value of being a good listener.

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Embrace a Philosophy of Abundance and Not Scarcity

A philosophy of abundance is a mindset that the resources that are needed to accomplish a task are available. There is “enough.” A philosophy of scarcity assumes that resources are limited and must be carefully guarded because there isn’t “enough.”

In scarcity, people need to compete in order to accumulate enough resources to be successful. In abundance, people can move boldly knowing resources are created through synergy and sharing. The Michigan philanthropic community has always operated from a philosophy of optimism and abundance – that money would be attracted to good ideas, talent would be attracted to the freedom to be creative, and solutions could be found. Read an explanation of abundance and scarcity thinking.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss the use of human, financial, and knowledge resources in Michigan’s philanthropy.

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Build Life-Long Ladders for Service

While not yet completed, the infrastructure leaders frequently discussed building a series of interrelated institutions that could support life-long philanthropy.

Learning to Give provided the academic content for understanding the nonprofit sector in lesson plans and teaching resources that could be integrated into the core curriculum of K-12 education. Academic service-learning grants to schools provided resources (both activities and money) to encourage teachers to use volunteer service as a hands-on learning tool for K-12 students.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss Learning to Give.

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At the high school level, students could become involved with a community foundation’s youth advisory committee (YAC) – or write a grant to be funded by a YAC. Students who moved from high school into jobs in the community could take a year after graduation to serve with AmeriCorps or VISTA. Students who moved from high school to college could become engaged with Campus Compact and related projects such as a summer of service. After graduation, a person could be supported in their community leadership (by grants made from local community foundations, or through operating funds provided by United Way) through their work with organizations that serve the community. The area’s volunteer center would link and support the local volunteer efforts. In retirement, older citizens could participate in Senior Corps, VISTA, and/or Mentor Michigan.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss service opportunities in Michigan.

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Students who wish to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector can obtain an undergraduate degree with an emphasis in nonprofit management, or a masters’ degree in nonprofit administration, philanthropy, or in a sector field such as hospital administration or environmental studies. Full schedules of professional development opportunities are offered across the state by a network of freestanding, yet collaborative, nonprofit management assistance organizations.

While the majority of the “pieces” have been put in place in Michigan, there still is not a smooth “hand off” from one level of support to the other at the individual, personal level. Also, the integrated nature and potential of these services performing as a “system” has not been totally realized. Work continues. In Michigan, there was action in the present related to specific tasks – with an awareness toward larger goals of support for the philanthropic sector across geographic space and into the future.

 

Build Community Capital and Serve the State

Philanthropy, itself, was the purpose for working together. In working together, the philanthropic community built an ethic of civility, a network of relationships, and what would now be called a deep well of “community capital.”

There is no doubt that a part of the culture in Michigan’s philanthropic community was made possible by the establishment of a high level of trust among those who served, which was nurtured through the development of personal relationships over time. Michigan has benefited from senior mature leaders, in foundations and the infrastructure organizations, who remained in their jobs over several decades. These leaders had excellent working relationships. They also actively nurtured the development of young professionals and new people coming into the field of philanthropy. Learning to Give provides an essay on community capital. You can also find out more about Robert Putnam and his essay, “Bowling Alone” at bowlingalone.com.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss the value of mentoring the next generation of philanthropic leaders.

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There was a high degree of candor between the grantmakers and the nonprofits engaged in the common work of building the sector. The foundation professionals were out of their offices and actively engaged in the field as advisors, board members, and champions. They used their foundation base of influence toward the common sector goals by, for example, chairing boards and committees, testifying on public policy, making calls to assist with fundraising, and bringing in intellectual resources and model programs from across the world to Michigan. The foundation program officers were not only extremely smart and experienced; they also were adept at negotiating the dual role of “cheerleader” for a project – and “program officer” for the foundation.

Although the state is large and the winter weather sometimes very difficult, the leaders of Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure organizations show up. They meet face-to-face for meals and discussion. They come together for common educational events. They talk by telephone. They good-naturedly tease one another and have some knowledge of one another’s families and interests. They genuinely like one another and are professional friends. There is a high degree of trust in the abilities, motives, values, and actions of the people in any one of the partner organizations.

While employees and leaders of the four infrastructure organizations worked hard to build and strengthen their own organizations, they also had a commitment to a larger mission and vision for the state and for philanthropy as a whole.

The professionals that were a part of this 40-year history viewed themselves as creating and implementing a series of common big and bold visions. A comment often repeated was that any staff member of one of the organizations could just as easily have been hired to be a staff member of one of the others. Their values aligned. The people cared about the success of the other organization as well as their own, because they were focused on the larger vision of serving philanthropy in the state – not on having their own organization “win.”

Then and now, this continues to mean that when things go wrong – and they always do – the partners consider the problem with a high degree of trust that their colleague(s) did the best they could do. There is no assumption of a larger political conspiracy. There is no suspicion of a hidden agenda. The problem is simply a problem to be solved together. Problems are addressed and not allowed to grow into institutional battlegrounds or lingering hard feelings. The people involved know each other, like each other, trust each other, and have fun doing very difficult work together. Find out more about Michigan’s value in collaboration in Chapter 1, Play Well with Others.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss “playing well with others.”

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Partner with Government

The Council of Michigan Foundations was launched in response to public policy. The Michigan Nonprofit Association began as a place to develop a common voice for a very disparate nonprofit sector. The Michigan Community Service Commission is a state appointed agency funding private voluntary activity. The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy started as a place to transmit the traditions of giving and serving, and provides reliable, unbiased data for public policy decision making.

Joint ventures with government; educating public policy makers about the nonprofit sector; advocating on issues important to the health of the sector – these are critical components of Michigan’s experience that were accomplished in partnership with government for the citizens of the state.

VideoVideo:  Watch leaders discuss collaboration between the public and nonprofit sector.

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