Every level of government, and all of the nonprofit and foundation organizations, has at least one similar mission – improving the common good.
For governments, this role includes establishing the “rules” for society. In the United States, these rules are set with the input and consent of those who are governed. Governments (local, state, federal) also provide common goods and services such as defense, schools, roads, water and sewer systems, and other common functions that would be beyond the scope of any one person, business, or nonprofit to provide.
For the nonprofit sector, improving the common good includes provision of services and advocating for change, often in areas that are of a “niche” or minority interest. These might be areas of service or concern that would not involve enough people to get the attention of government, or a large enough market for business.
Sometimes there are goods, services, or issues where the interests of the government and the mission of charitable and foundation organizations intersect. On these issues, progress can be made through a “public/private” partnership. In this case, the public sector is a governmental unit, and the private sector is one or more nonprofit organizations.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the value of public/private partnerships.
In Michigan, at the local level – township, village, city, or county – there are too many public-private partnerships to begin to list or even typify by kind. The interaction is ubiquitous. At times, the partnerships are formal – with funding, goals, and explicit measurements of progress. For example, a local foundation could partner with a neighborhood school to improve the educational outcomes for children. A healthcare-oriented nonprofit could provide funding to the health department for preventative services for individuals with a specific disease; or education for patients; or for prevention programs. A group of volunteer advocates could work with the juvenile justice system to provide volunteer support for children and youth who come into contact with the court. A local scouting troop could provide stuffed animals to the police department to bring comfort to children who encounter policing situations.
At other times, the partnerships are informal and so integrated they’re nearly invisible. Youth character development organizations could prepare the next generation of effective citizens and government leaders. Advocacy organizations for clean environmental practices and sustainable communities could generate data and reports to be used by government to shape public policy. There is fluidity and collaboration between the nonprofits and their local government services. At the state level, Michigan has taken these close relationships and formalized them through the work of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC), and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy in an ongoing series of public/private partnerships.
Using Public/Private Partnerships to Grow Community Philanthropy
Examples of the public/private partnerships that have increased philanthropic resources in Michigan are:
The Community Foundation Energy Initiative
This was the first collaborative effort between the state of Michigan and Michigan’s community foundations, with the Council of Michigan Foundations serving as the intermediary and fiduciary. This effort resulted in $3 million in EXXON fine dollars, matched by $3.8 million in local donations, to assist community nonprofit agencies in paying their energy costs. Find out more about the Community Foundation Energy Initiative.
Historical Document: Read notes from a 1988 Council of Michigan Foundation’s board meeting where trustees discussed the Community Foundation Energy Initiative.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Community Foundation Energy Initiative.
Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit
Building on a tax credit available in Michigan for individual and small business donations to public broadcasting, colleges, and universities, the Council of Michigan Foundations successfully advocated for legislation to provide a similar tax credit for gifts to community foundations. The Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit was in effect from 1989 to 2012 when it ended due to the financial crisis in Michigan. Find out more about the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit.
Historical Document: Read these notes from a 1987 Council of Michigan Foundation’s board meeting where trustees discussed the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit.
Legal and Behavioral Definition of a Community Foundation
In order to effectively implement the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit, the Council of Michigan Foundations worked closely with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to define in observable, behavioral terms the specific characteristics of a community foundation. This definition was implemented by the state of Michigan in determining eligibility for the tax credit. Find out more about the legal and behavioral definition of a community foundation.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the standardized definition of “community foundation.”
Concerned about the fundraising ability of statewide programs to support volunteerism, leaders from the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Michigan Community Service Commission, supported by the Council of Michigan Foundations, worked to create a $20 million permanent endowment. This new ConnectMichigan Alliance was a public/private partnership of a $10 million challenge from the state of Michigan matched by $10 million from Michigan’s philanthropic community. Find out more about the ConnectMichigan Alliance.
Historical Document: Read the Case for Support from the Michigan Nonprofit Association for the ConnectMichigan Alliance.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the history and development of the ConnectMichigan Alliance.
Youth on Board Legislation Act
The Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project provided the financial resources for young people to become grantmakers of significant dollars. With this new empowerment, an interest developed among the young advisors to be legally able to serve on a nonprofit board of trustees with a vote. In 1998, after successful advocacy by the youth grantmakers, the Michigan Youth on Boards Act passed allowing young people ages 16-17 to participate as voting members of nonprofit boards in Michigan. Find out more about the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project.
Historical Document: Read notes from a Council of Michigan Foundation’s board meeting in 1996 where trustees discussed the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the movement to give youth a voice in the public and nonprofit sectors.
Using Public/Private Partnerships to Enable Legislation
Finally, Michigan’s nonprofit and foundation community has successfully worked with state government to build institutional ties that facilitate ongoing dialogue and partnership. These include:
Michigan Community Service Commission
The Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) was the first institutional partnership with board members appointed by the governor. MCSC provides a vehicle for federal funding that supports volunteering to flow into Michigan. AmeriCorps and the former academic service-learning school grants (Learn and Serve – Michigan, concluded in 2012) are examples of this money flow. MCSC operates a successful volunteer Mentor Michigan program, and provides awards for outstanding volunteer leaders. Find out more about the Michigan Community Service Commission.
Historical Document: Read this document to learn about the history, primary functions, roles, and programs of the Michigan Community Service Commission.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the development of the Michigan Community Service Commission.
Office of Foundation Liaison
Michigan’s Office of Foundation Liaison was the first structure in the nation to provide a formal relationship between the governor of a state and the foundation community. Through an initial assignment of a senior staff member of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to the governor’s office, a relationship has developed that facilitates public/private partnerships. Find out more about the Office of Foundation Liaison.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison.
Michigan Nonprofit Caucus
In 1992, Michigan voters instituted term limits for members of the state legislature. An unintended consequence was the loss of legislative history and experience with every complete turnover of the State House. To assist legislative leaders in their deliberations related to the interests of the Michigan philanthropic community, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Council of Michigan Foundations established the Michigan Nonprofit Caucus in 2009. Find out more about the Michigan Nonprofit Caucus.
Video: Watch Rob Collier discuss the Michigan Nonprofit Caucus.
Michigan Nonprofit Council for Charitable Trusts
The Michigan Nonprofit Council for Charitable Trusts is another joint venture between the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Council of Michigan Foundations, and the state attorney general’s office to improve and encourage philanthropy in the state. Find out more about the Michigan Nonprofit Council for Charitable Trusts.
Video: Watch Rob Collier discuss the relationship between Michigan’s nonprofit sector and the Office of the Attorney General.
Government and nonprofits both seek to meet the common needs of society. In Michigan, public/private partnerships have increased resources at the community level; new institutional vehicles have provided communication and strategy lines between the nonprofit sector and the state government.