NMC and Rotary Charities Team Up for Nonprofits: College now hosts classes previously offered by NorthSky


Top: Laura Matchett, Joey DiFranco and Amanda Kik. Bottom:  Becky Ewing and Evan Gray.

New learning opportunities could be in store for area nonprofits, under a partnership between Northwestern Michigan College and Rotary Charities of Traverse City.

The college is now in charge of technical and operational nonprofit classes previously offered by Rotary’s NorthSky Nonprofit Network, an arrangement that began this fall.

“The two most important things, whether offered by NorthSky or NorthSky at NMC, are that the content be high quality and timely,” said Evan Gray, nonprofit portfolio partner with NMC’s Extended Educational Services (EES). “[T]his is information that people are asking for, or that we recognize people might need right now.”

Gray was part of NorthSky’s group of nonprofit consultants and most recently director of organizational capacity at Rotary Charities, managing NorthSky’s consulting practice and handling other grant-making duties. He came to EES to help with the transition of classes and to coordinate and develop the nonprofit portfolio of courses and provide other assistance, as part of a two-year, $25,000 annual grant from Rotary Charities to the NMC Foundation.

Fall term’s eight offerings range from short workshops to sessions held on two days. Topics include: communicating a purpose; marketing; QuickBooks accounting; crafting a compelling personal or professional story; tracking the experience, commitment and interests of volunteers and supporters; nonprofit lobbying; and nonprofit board basics.

The classes include some of the same content, topics and instructors previously offered through NorthSky.

Amanda Kik, co-director of the Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology in Bellaire, said she and husband Brad have taken NorthSky classes throughout the life of their 13-year-old organization. Crosshatch focuses on making the region stronger and more self-sustainable, through resources touching art, farming, ecology and economy.

The couple began with basics like how to build a board, QuickBooks and budgeting, and then advanced over time into other areas like volunteer recruitment and management, partnering with other organizations, and fund raising.
“The classes were great both because of the content and because of the community that was built around nonprofit management,” Kik said. “Meeting folks dealing with similar issues in their organizations was valuable.”

She said the classes contained “lots of good information, presented clearly,” and instructors left time for questions and answers from participants.

Kik said such classes can help equip nonprofit professionals to carry out their mission.

“Like me, many nonprofit professionals come to the work because of a passion for helping their communities thrive – not necessarily a passion for nonprofit management,” Kik said. “These classes give us the tools we need to make a real impact in the communities we serve.”

Gerri VanAntwerp, executive director of Benzie Area Christian Neighbors (BACN) in Benzonia, said she and others at BACN have taken NorthSky classes, perusing the schedule when it came out and looking at how offerings would “fit into the organizational needs and personal development” of staff.

BACN assists those in need with food, clothing, financial assistance, education and social support. She said classes have been affordable and of value, helping BACN develop or address areas that needed attention.

“I think it just really helped us focus a little bit more,” VanAntwerp said.

BACN board members also have tapped classes. It can help existing board members as well as those considering board service understand the role, VanAntwerp said.

Gray said instructors are a mix of experienced working professionals; some are independent consultants, some work for nonprofit or for-profit entities, and each “is truly a content expert” in their subject field. One instructor is Joey DiFranco, the creative director at Traverse City’s TentCraft who volunteers with nonprofits to share his marketing knowledge and creative talents.

DiFranco leads a marketing for nonprofits class that he said is an information-packed, “tight 90 minutes,” targeting what he said is a vital but often under-supported area of nonprofit operations.

“I feel marketing, from a nonprofit standpoint, that it sometimes is the most fundamentally important thing to their mission – to be able to tell their story – but it gets the least resources,” DiFranco said. “The idea for the class kind of came from, how can you do a lot for a little.”

The course looks at core marketing fundamentals through a nonprofit lens, such as identifying and understanding who a nonprofit is trying to engage and crafting a message to fit that audience and be effective. DiFranco said there are many parallels between business and nonprofit practices, including the need for communication and story-telling. “You have to be able to tell your story,” he said. A nonprofit “can have the best mission in the world, but if you can’t explain your story … you’ve lost,” he said.

Through NorthSky, some 600 attendees annually filled seats of nonprofit courses, and the Rotary/NMC partnership could boost attendance and visibility further. Becky Ewing, executive director of Rotary Charities, said the NorthSky’s market has been the approximately 1,800 people who receive its newsletter, while the reach of NMC’s extended-ed catalog – where the classes are listed and co-branded with the NorthSky logo – is far greater. The printed catalog goes out three times a year to 45,000 people, said EES Director Laura Matchett.

Matchett said the nonprofit courses fit well into EES’ professional development portfolio, which includes classes in areas like business, leadership, technical skills, certificate programs and continuing education for teachers. The NorthSky nonprofit courses bolster that umbrella of offerings, she said.

“It adds to an area that we would like to grow – reaching people who are out in the workforce,” Matchett said. She said NMC’s extended education brings together skilled instructors with cutting-edge facilities and resources. “I’m pleased with the Rotary Charities partnership and how well it fits NMC’s mission of offering lifelong learning opportunities to our region,” Matchett said.

The partnership arose as Rotary Charities shifted its strategic focus toward being a catalyst for community transformation and aligned NorthSky with that vision and mission. Rotary continues to design and house various professional development opportunities, like a leadership coaching program and an “adaptive leadership” series aimed at giving leaders at all levels of organizations practical tools and tactics for becoming more adaptive amid change and challenges.

In NMC, Rotary Charities saw a likely partner in which to transition the technical and operational classes offered nonprofits, Ewing said.

“We gave them two years of funding to continue to offer what we’re offering, and build on other opportunities,” she said.

Discussions have been underway with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) about offering new courses in the area of fund development, utilizing curriculum from AFP that is used throughout the country. Options being explored include classes that would count toward maintaining Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credentials, a worldwide certification program through CFRE International.

Deborah Allen, a Traverse City nonprofit executive who has maintained CFRE designation and taken AFP classes through continuing education offered out of state, said having such classes at NMC would ease long-distance travel considerations and make it more affordable and feasible for local nonprofit professionals to enhance their skills and knowledge.

“I think it’s a way to elevate professionalism, elevate nonprofits, and elevate the overall benefits to the community,” said Allen, executive director of the Grand Traverse Pavilions Foundation, which raises funds to support programs, services and operations of the county-owned Pavilions, as well as programs to serve aging adults in the region. The Pavilions provides long-term care, short-stay rehabilitation, assisted and independent living as well as home and community-based programs.

Under consideration at NMC is a class Allen recently took through AFP called the fundamentals of development, which Allen said provided a comprehensive overview of fundraising and is helpful to professionals starting out as well as those who have been in the industry for a while and want to hone their skills.

Gray said one of his goals is to continue to deliver courses that meet the needs of the nonprofit community, but also add depth to content. “The idea here is to elevate everybody’s knowledge and skills,” he said.

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.