Street Talk: United Way drives BIPOC initiative

Economic sense.
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As part of Heart of West Michigan United Way’s ongoing commitment to fund programs that invest in diverse populations and communities, United Way partnered with 15 local BIPOC-founded/led nonprofit agencies to support their work in the community with more than $300,000 in grants.

While research shows that hardship is pervasive across the state, United Way said inequity and widening disparities disproportionately affect people of color. A 2020 ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) report shows that 63% of Black households in Michigan are unable to afford basic household essentials in their communities, almost twice the rate of hardship for white households.

Initially, United Way partnered with Inclusive Performance Strategies to ensure that its grant-funding efforts provide equitable and accessible opportunities to leverage community resources for nonprofit agencies. As a result, United Way created the Opportunity Initiative to ensure that small grassroots and BIPOC-founded/led agencies have the necessary means to secure funding and resources.

“In developing this initiative and the new partnerships that came with it, we have learned even more about these small, but mighty, organizations and the wealth of lived experience they bring,” said Shannon Blackmon-Gardner, vice president of community impact at United Way. “It is uplifting to see what nonprofits are doing to meet people where they are and address community needs on a more personal level. The dedication these agencies have for helping their neighbors is truly inspiring, and we are grateful to them for making our community a better place for everyone to thrive.”

Fifteen nonprofit organizations, with budgets of less than $100,000 and services that aligned with one of United Way’s three focus areas, received a one-time grant for support in expanding their operations and programs. In total, United Way awarded more than $300,000, with grants ranging from $15,000-$22,000 each. Funding amounts were based on each agency’s self-reported financial needs through a short application process. These agencies included:

Along with financial support, the agencies had opportunities to attend skill-building workshops throughout the year to increase their knowledge related to nonprofit business and prepare them for future funding processes. Topics included forecasting cash needs, measuring metrics and outcomes, social media, grant writing, technical assistance, capacity building and strategic planning. Other partner benefits included access to additional resources and networks through United Way that were not available prior to the partnership. The workshops have helped agencies increase their long-term viability, management skills, and overall program effectiveness and, ultimately, expand their reach and help even more people.

“I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. I learned how to enhance every aspect of my organization. The resources that we received are going to change the dynamic of the programs that we offer,” said Henry Sapp, CEO of Better Wiser Stronger, an Opportunity Initiative partner.

Economic firepower

The Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) is lauding the passage of legislation that will allow Michigan to compete effectively with other states for new jobs and capital investment, and it is not the only organization that sees economic development help on the horizon.

For more than 100 years, Michigan has been economically and reputationally defined by the auto industry. Just as Michigan’s identity was formed by the transformation of the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile at the turn of the 19th century, Michigan is now faced with the imminent electrification of the automobile.

“As technological advancement drives new investment, our state must compete aggressively to retain new investment on our soil and maintain our national leadership in automobile development and production,” said John J. Walsh, MMA president and CEO. “The benefits of this effort will be felt throughout the manufacturing supply chain, and by families and communities throughout the state.”

Business Leaders for Michigan, a roundtable of leading executives with a mission to push the state to the economic development forefront, also praised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislators for their actions.

“We applaud the Legislature for passing an economic development package that will help Michigan win more projects and create new jobs. The strong bipartisan support shows the sense of urgency around economic development and a recognition that Michigan has struggled to be competitive with other states,” said Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “We commend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, House Speaker Jason Wentworth, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich and House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski for their leadership in getting us to this milestone. Michiganders have made it clear they want a long-term strategy and sustainable tools to be competitive over the long-haul. (The Dec. 14) action marks an important step forward, and we look forward to working with the administration and Legislature on additional measures to help Michigan’s competitiveness, including in workforce and talent development and customer service.”

The economic incentives should help more than just manufacturers.

“The Legislature is taking action to provide critical small business support that is going to be a game-changer for Michigan’s small businesses trying to recover from the pandemic,” said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“Earlier in 2021, pro-small business legislators proposed a thoughtful package of support to recognize and compensate for the extensive toll small businesses faced under the state’s pandemic response. SBAM was and is strongly in favor of that legislation and we are thankful to see it passed today alongside large deal economic incentives. Additionally, the House and Senate have worked together to pass a substantial increase of the small business exemption from the commercial personal property tax. This important action will exempt all parcels with up to $180,000 in value and save substantial administrative expenses.”

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