Grants available to small nonprofits in the U.P.

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 small nonprofit organizations in the Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw Family Resource Center in Houghton faced its share of challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

The center, which provides a host of mostly free services and programs to about 600 families of all income levels a year, wrestled with unexpected expenses, stemming from a high turnover in staffing and adapting to provide services, including organized playtime and diapers, because of state indoor restrictions.

Many families accessed much needed supplies like diapers through the Keweenaw Family Resource Center’s Baby Closet during the pandemic
Meanwhile, demand for its services, which include home-based visits and education – increased.

“It was a very challenging time,” says Iola Brubaker, director of the Keweenaw Family Resource Center, noting the staff turnover was especially daunting. “We have a highly trained staff. To train new people is costly and takes time. It’s one of the biggest expenses for any business or organization. It was just challenging.”

Like other nonprofits in the U.P. and across Michigan, the Keweenaw Family Resource Center is still recovering from the pandemic.

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 available, 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.

“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.”

Grow & Lead collaborates with nonprofits to promote #Give906, part of a Giving Tuesday campaign.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.
The Keweenaw Family Resource Center’s Brubaker plans to apply for a grant to help diversify the nonprofit’s funding sources. 

“The one thing the pandemic has taught me is that we need to diversify our funding so when we reach a crisis point like we did in 2020, we have multiple funding sources to keep us sustainable,” she says.

Resilient families and staff moved activities and lessons to the outdoors even during the cold snowy months.The organization also hopes to build better donor relationships to maintain that funding stream as well; there was a decline in funding from those donors during the pandemic.  The center was able to maintain its $500,000 annual budget thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and money from the state of Michigan. 

Brubaker, noting the need for child-related services in the region, also wants to expand the services provided by the Keweenaw Family Resource Center.

“We need to expand our programming,” she says. “We have a very small facility and some days we do have to turn people away. There’s a big demand for additional high-quality childcare in the community. We’re working on a project to address that; we’re building a foundation to address long-term childcare needs.”

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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