Grants to help small nonprofits across Michigan

Creating the relief fund. Joan Gustafson, external relations officer, MNA; Kelley Kuhn, president & CEO, MNA; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Tammy Pitts, chief communications officer, MNA; Terri Legg, president & CEO, United Way Montcalm & Ionia counties.

Like other nonprofit organizations across the state, the Brain Injury Association of Michigan was forced to pivot during the pandemic.

The Brighton-based organization significantly downsized its office space,   reduced staff, and went virtual. One of its biggest fund-raisers, a black-tie affair in the spring that drew about 1,200 people and raised a half million dollars, was canceled. An annual conference, held at the Lansing Center in September and also well-attended, went virtual.

Nichole Shotwell“We have one of the largest brain injury conferences in the country. That was a really significant hit for us,” says Nichole Shotwell, interim president and CEO of the organization that provides services to brain injury patients across the state. “Our black tie event and our conference were our fundraising anchors – one in the spring and one in the fall. Those were big hits.”

Like other nonprofits, the Brain Injury Association of Michigan has not fully recovered from the pandemic, operating with fewer staff and far fewer dollars. The pandemic’s impact has been particularly hard on nonprofits in rural areas and those led by, and serving, Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Some help is on the way, however. The Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (LEO) are promoting a $35 million MI Nonprofit Relief Fund, encouraging small charitable nonprofit organizations to apply for grants. Small nonprofits are eligible for one-time grant funds from $5,000 to $25,000.

“We encourage nonprofits – especially those from underrepresented, underserved and rural areas – to apply. Michigan’s nonprofits have given so much to their communities every day, and this fund helps give back to those who give,” says Kelley Kuhn, who is president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, which is administering the relief fund.

The MI Nonprofit Relief Fund, financed with money from some of Michigan’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act, is designed to provide aid and recovery to nonprofits with annual revenues of less than $1 million that can demonstrate necessary expenditures and/or losses incurred after March 3, 2021, due to the pandemic. More than 90 percent of Michigan nonprofits fall into that less-than-one-million-dollar category.

“Nonprofits who are committed to lifting Michiganders out of poverty and removing barriers to economic prosperity are invited to apply for aid that will help them further serve hard-hit communities,” says Kim Trent, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Small nonprofits generally rely heavily on fundraising to finance their operations and to fund their community services. Many experienced significant revenue losses during the pandemic because they could not hold traditional fundraisers. At the same time, many organizations experienced an increase in demand for their services. 

There are more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations in Michigan; about 50 percent of them are focused on human and health-related services. The remainder runs the gamut, providing services of all kinds, everything from arts and culture to after-school programs and summer camps to food delivery and other assistance. 

In general, there are fewer nonprofits in rural communities and they often face significant fundraising and other barriers. They have fewer financial resources in terms of donors and philanthropic partners. In many rural areas, a few nonprofits are handling all the needs of the community. 

Those challenges were only intensified during the pandemic as the demand for services provided by nonprofits increased. The suddenly unemployed meant increased demands for food, housing, utility and other assistance.

“Our overall hope is to provide immediate support to nonprofits that have been hit hard during the pandemic,” says Kuhn, whose organization serves nonprofits through advocacy, training, and resources. “During the pandemic, we saw a loss of revenue for many small nonprofits as well as an increase in demand for services. We hope to provide much-need support for the work they’re doing.”

Because of those and other challenges, the road to recovery is also often longer for nonprofits in rural areas. 

“When we think about less advantaged communities, it takes them longer to come back online,” Kuhn says. 

Amy Quinn, CEO of Grow & Lead: Community and Youth Development, a capacity-building nonprofit aimed at helping youth, adults and organizations in the U.P.’s rural communities, has been working to spread notice about the relief fund, hoping hard-hit charitable organizations will apply.

Grow & Lead collaborates with nonprofits to promote #Give906, part of a Giving Tuesday campaign.“This funding is of great importance,” says Quinn, whose organization acted as a hub for U.P. nonprofits during the pandemic, providing technological support and other services. “Nonprofits are experiencing greater demand for services and receiving fewer donations. Fundraising efforts have been less successful because people are uncertain about the economy.”

Quinn says Grow & Lead will apply for a grant as well, but later in the process, so others can seek funds first. The grant would be used to replenish reserve funds and upgrade technology.

“That’s one of the needs I keep hearing from nonprofits – they need to upgrade technology,” she says. “It’s not uncommon for a nonprofit employee to be working on a computer that is over five years old."

Despite the need, that expenditure raises a question: Do you use the money to upgrade a computer when it could be used to help feed people? "In that case, it’s hard to justify the cost of a new computer,” she says.

The grants are expected to be distributed this spring and summer. The application phase for the grants will close on May 5, 2023. 

An additional $15 million MI nonprofit Impact Grant program will be administered by LEO and is designed for larger nonprofits to support programs that lift people out of poverty and above the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained, Employed) threshold. That program is expected to launch this spring.

Hundreds of nonprofits are expected to apply for the relief fund grants, according to officials, who have already conducted outreach to nonprofits across the state.

Among the organizations planning to apply is the Brain Injury Association of Michigan, which serves an estimated 200,000 brain injury survivors in Michigan, their family members and their caregivers.

Shotwell says the organization will apply for a $25,000 grant to help with staffing and to help offset other costs. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the organization’s staff has been trimmed from 12 – working in a suite – to just four, all working remotely. Its annual budget has been trimmed by nearly two-thirds, from $1.2 million in 2019 to $480,000 in 2023. The spring fundraiser has not been resurrected; and up until this year, the fall conference has been held virtually since the pandemic began.

“We have been able to sustain what we do, but we are keenly aware that to continue to sustain what we do, we need more steam for the engine, so to speak,” she says. “We need more talent to get the work done.”

Fitting a child with a bicycle helmet, one of the projects of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan.Besides providing services to those affected by injury to the brain, the organization also works to reduce the incidence and impact of brain injury through advocacy, education and support.

Shotwell is grateful for the opportunity to apply for a grant from the MI Nonprofit Relief Fund. Those efforts also have been curtailed by the pandemic.

“Nonprofits have held this country together for a really long time,” she says. “To have someone acknowledge that and want to provide some assistance is something we’re grateful for.  This will help us serve more people and help us to be able to get to people who are underserved.”

The application phase will close on May 5, 2023. The website,, includes resources and frequently asked questions. For additional questions, nonprofits can email Nonprofits are required to complete the application to be considered, regardless of whether they previously filled out the “intent to apply” form. Nonprofits do not have to be members of the MNA to apply for/receive grant funding.
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