The nonprofit sector must be focused on serving needs in their communities, even if that means taking big steps and thinking outside of the box, according to Carrie Pickett-Erway, the president and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
How does the new administration and changeover at the state government level affect the nonprofit industry?
In Kalamazoo County, millions of dollars come through state and federal funding, so when changes happen at the state level, it can really help or hurt a nonprofit’s ability to help our most vulnerable residents. We’re really focused on strengthening relationships with policymakers, regardless of their political affiliation. Our job is really to educate them about the impact of any changes. We’ll focus on strengthening those relationships and really lifting up the impact of how what happens at the state levels affects us.
Will we see more examples like Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence in which municipalities rely on the backing of philanthropy to expand services?
Smaller local cities, counties and townships were really finding it really hard to create a funding scenario to respond to the infrastructure needs of the community. Most cities are really struggling and this requires some radical thinking to make that model work. The Foundation for Excellence was one bold and creative solution, but it’s not realistic for most communities because the fundraising can be a huge effort. I don’t know that we would see it replicated widely, but I think it has inspired lot of communities to think differently.
Is the practice of relying on philanthropy to fund government healthy in the long run?
It has and always will be the role of nonprofits to pay very close attention to the needs of the community as ideas and common practices start to shift in one direction or another. Nonprofits have always been looked to to fill gaps in areas such as workforce development, early childhood education, or the need for food and clothing. Donors who live in our community have made their fortunes here and raised their families here and know they have to fill those gaps. Sometimes it’s financial and sometimes it’s their time.
We have to work to make sure donors see the impact of their investing, so they know their giving is worthy and meaningful, but we have to hold our elected officials accountable to do their fair share. It’s always a touchy balance.
What’s the outlook for consolidation in the nonprofit sector?
We are thrilled when we see our local nonprofits turn to one another and try to find even greater efficiencies in an underfunded process. In some ways, the only way for them to do this is when they hear that they only got partial funding and the only way they will make a little bit go a long way is through collaboration. The more efficient the sector itself can be through collaboration, the further our funds can go.
Will we see more nonprofit mergers in 2019?
I think in every sector, it’s a requirement for agencies to be watching for how the market is changing. Whether you’re talking about retail clothing or early childhood agencies, they need to adapt. I think that we’ll see agencies that are failing to adapt or lacking diversity in their board or staff becoming less and merging with one another. I don’t think it’s going to be a common occurrence or big deal in 2019.
Interview conducted and condensed by Jane Simons.
MiBiz new coverage of Michigan’s nonprofit sector is made possible through a generous sponsorship by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, a leader in funding, initiating and leading programs that benefit the Grand Rapids area in the arts, community development, education, environment, health, and human services. For more information, visit grfoundation.org.