Advancing Macomb works to be a community hub of resources for local nonprofitsThe Nonprofit Journal Project

Advancing Macomb, founded in 2015, is a nonprofit organization in Macomb County that provides the community with the leadership and resources needed to further its goals.
We act as a conduit in assisting residents, whether that sector be public, private, non-profit, government, individuals, or groups. Our organization identifies and attracts resources that help fund major projects and initiatives to enrich the lives of those in the community, and to create a healthy and thriving environment in which they can live and grow.

When I became executive director here in 2019, our board and I recognized the need for strategic planning. We focused on better understanding what our community needed most from an organization like ours. What we found was that the nonprofit sector in Macomb County is underdeveloped in comparison to other regions in Michigan that have a similar or larger population. Macomb is the third largest county in Michigan, and yet, we are sixth when it comes to the number and size of our nonprofit sector. As part of our efforts, we've worked with Oakland University on environmental scans, reaching out to local nonprofits and other stakeholders, to find out why this is.

We've found that, in Macomb County, there's traditionally been a much stronger focus on public sector programs and faith-based communities over the nonprofit sector. There’s also been an issue concerning data collection. Demographics have changed drastically here over the last ten years, and there hasn't been a focus on where the needs in our community exist. Until recently, there hasn't been a hub organization assessing what those changing demographics mean for our community, and how to connect that information with resources outside of government. Now that Advancing Macomb is that central hub, we can address these issues more effectively.

During the pandemic, we partnered with our county to ensure that our local nonprofits took advantage of CARES Act funding, a bill passed to help aid those negatively impacted by Covid-19. We worked with capacity builders in the region like Co.act Detroit, Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), and Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) to help disseminate important information related to COVID-19 relief funds and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), etc., and we played an integral role in making sure those funds were distributed to nonprofit agencies.

For the past few years, Advancing Macomb’s community-based engagement has been largely focused on Mt. Clemens, our county seat. We’ve held community visioning sessions here, working with both local governments and other nonprofits to find collaborative ways to address and solve problems. In partnership with others, we’ve worked on an interactive art mural project downtown, and a recreational program to provide equitable access to community sports and recreation for residents of Mt. Clemens, and its surrounding communities. We’ve also recently raised funds for a play fountain at one of our local parks. These projects wouldn't have come to fruition in the past without a central administrator to help convene the right people and resources to each project. The feedback we’ve received has been great! The community really appreciates a central hub that is able to bring these resources together. 

Some resources, such as volunteers, took a big hit during the pandemic. In response, we’ve tried to find ways to help our nonprofits incorporate virtual and skill-based volunteers. During COVID-19, we’ve hosted regular roundtable discussions with dozens of local nonprofits to talk over their challenges and brainstorm solutions. The convenience of meeting virtually has really helped nonprofits connect better with each other. The CARES Act funding provided opportunities for our organizations struggling with a lack of event revenues, and our conversations explore innovative ways to stay open and keep employees on the payroll.

Before Advancing Macomb existed, there wasn't an institution in our county outside of government that looked at ways to build a culture of giving through philanthropy to focus on community development needs.

Since we are a newer organization and lack the history of other well-known philanthropic organizations, we are still working on our visibility. Not just for Advancing Macomb, but also on behalf of the communities and organizations we serve. There are many small nonprofits doing great work, so making sure they are connected to donors, or potential donors, is very important to continue serving the community on a larger scale.

As a new organization in the midst of a challenging time, my staff and I strive to stay focused on the tasks in front of us. Though we experienced a shift in how we do things due to the pandemic, we are still committed to the goals of our organization, to collaborating, to growing our impact and tapping into our existing networks to further the scope of what can be done here in Macomb, as well as in our neighboring counties. Community engagement is vital. We need to always be asking the question, who is not at the table? It’s this passion for connecting with community that I and our board members share. Giving a voice to the voiceless, or to those who may feel disenfranchised, is what drives me to continue this work.

Diane Banks is the executive director of Advancing Macomb, an organization that provides the resources and leadership needed to solve community challenges in Macomb County. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19, a heightened awareness of racial injustice and inequality, issues of climate change and more are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.act Detroit.