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Chapter 4

About Michigan's Nonprofit Sector

Giving and Volunteering for the Common Good


[APRIL 1, 2002] Michigan's nonprofit sector involves a wide range of services and activities that make a significant difference in the quality of life in the state. The sector commonly is recognized for its public spirit, service to others, altruism, and ideals. Nonprofit action can occur unobtrusively, among individuals, or very publicly and visibly through the work of statewide, national, or international organizations that meet complex health, education, or cultural needs. This chapter examines the scale and scope of nonprofit action in Michigan, with emphasis on the contribution it makes to daily life, and the significance of giving and volunteering in Michigan.

Formal Entities

Nonprofits operate under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) definitions that classify tax-exempt organizations under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. A group deemed tax-exempt may operate for a purpose outlined in one of the 27 section 501(c) categories (see Exhibit 1). A group also may choose to incorporate as a nonprofit in Michigan by submitting a formal document of organization, such as articles of incorporation and bylaws, to the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services. Any group that holds assets in Michigan or solicits funds in the state must register with the Charitable Trust Section of the state attorney general's office.

An organization recognized as nonprofit under 501(c) is exempt from federal income tax. Depending on state and local laws, these nonprofits also may be exempt from sales, use, income, and property taxes. The largest percentage of the sector is comprised of 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which must operate for charitable, religious, scientific, literary, or educational purposes. Also referred to as charities, these organizations may benefit from national, state, and/or local tax deductions/credits that provide an incentive for people to engage in charitable giving: federal income-tax deductions for donations and, in Michigan, an income-tax credit for gifts to certain types of charities.

Informal Entities

The legal and tax definitions tend to capture only the largest and most active nonprofit organizations, but Michigan's nonprofit sector far exceeds the officially recognized organizations. There are thousands of local and informal groups undertaking nonprofit action that neither have nor need legal recognition. Any formal analysis of the sector relies on valid data, which can be gathered only for formally organized organizations, and this means that much of the nonprofit sector—the informal component—is statistically invisible. Nevertheless, there are some data that provide insight into the scale, structure, and character of the Michigan nonprofit sector as a whole.

Range and Location of Nonprofits

Michigan nonprofit organizations provide a wide range of services; most may be grouped into six major categories.

  • Arts and amusement nonprofits include radio and television broadcasting, dance education, orchestras, amusement services, museums, and art galleries.
  • Recreation nonprofits include camps and membership hotels.
  • Health nonprofits include medical instruments producers, doctors and other health practitioners, nursing and personal-care facilities, hospitals, medical laboratories, and home health care services; health nonprofits employ more people than any other component of the state's nonprofit sector.
  • Education nonprofits include elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, libraries, and vocational schools.
  • Social services nonprofits include individual and family services, job training, child daycare services, and residential-care programs; social service nonprofits are the second largest employer in Michigan's nonprofit sector.
  • Membership nonprofits include business associations; professional, labor, civic, and social organizations; and religious groups.

The number and activity level of nonprofits varies from place to place. Where one lives determines the type and range of services that are available. Southeastern Michigan and major metropolitan areas host the full range of nonprofit services, while less populous and more remote areas have more a limited range.


Nonprofit organizations, through employment and spending, are important to the Michigan economy. At the state level, an economic-benefits study of the nonprofit sector (Public Sector Consultants, 1999) finds that

  • the assets of Michigan nonprofits exceed $60 billion;
  • the nonprofit community spends about $28 billion annually, of which nearly all (95 percent) remains in the state; and
  • the sector directly provides about 380,000 jobs for Michiganians and nearly $10 billion in personal income annually (only durable manufacturing, services, government, and the retail-trade sectors provide more Michigan jobs).

The National Center for Charitable Statistics (Washington) finds that in 1999 there were 23,640 registered 501(c)(3) organizations in Michigan, but only 7,498 meet the financial threshold that requires that they regularly report to the IRS. (The wide difference in the numbers illustrates the absence of common definitions for and data collection on the nonprofit sector.) The counties having the most reporting nonprofits are Wayne (1,254 organizations), Oakland (1,081), Kent (653), Ingham (436), Washtenaw (415), Kalamazoo (282), Genesee (256), and Macomb (233).


Nonprofit finances derive from many sources—for example, service fees, grants, and donations from the public, corporations, and foundations. Donated resources often allow nonprofits to reduce the cost of their services, permitting more people at all income levels to benefit. Details about household giving in Michigan are available from public opinion surveys, most recently, Giving and Volunteering 2001, which was commissioned by ConnectMichigan Alliance, the Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan Association of United Ways, Michigan Community Service Commission, and the Michigan Nonprofit Association and conducted in October and November 2001.

  • Almost 90 percent of Michigan adults made a charitable contribution during the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • Men and women are equally likely to make a charitable contribution.
  • Giving rates are similar across all major religions.
  • Giving is strong across all age groups, with the 60–64 group having the highest rate (96 percent).
  • Giving tends to increase with income, but there also is high participation among people in the lowest income groups: Of people with annual household income under $10,000, 78 percent reported making a charitable contribution during the year preceding the survey, and of those with annual household income of $10,000–19,999, the figure is 74 percent.
  • Most survey respondents (64 percent) say that in 2002 they plan to give about the same amount they gave in 2002, 27 percent plan to give more, and 10 percent believe they will give less.
  • Government financial support (e.g., contracting for services with faith-based organizations) is supported by 59 percent of Michigan residents.
  • Of the respondents who are Internet users, 25 percent said they have gone on line to learn more about a charitable organization, and 6 percent have made a charitable donation on line.


Michigan has a long history and strong commitment to volunteerism and frequently is cited as one of the leading states in the nation in this regard. This proud distinction reflects Michiganians' high degree of collaboration and innovation in their approach to volunteer service. The distinction is no accident—it grew from many years of effort and innovation and a willingness to put aside the partisan political agenda to serve the common good.

Although the greatest strides in volunteerism have come in the last decade, the foundation of the modern volunteer movement was laid more than 30 years ago when George W. Romney was elected governor. He lived the concept of citizen service and championed its cause throughout Michigan and the nation. Governor Romney saw volunteering as vital and necessary to community problem solving and considered it to be the responsibility of every individual. Few who met him failed to be moved by his passion for service or challenged by his conviction. Among his permanent contributions to the field of service are establishment of the Volunteer National Center (1970) and the Points of Light Foundation (1990). He also receives credit for conceiving and kindling the Presidents' Summit for America's Future (1997). Although the summit occurred after Governor Romney died, it is testament to his legacy that the event marked the first time in U.S. history that all the living presidents joined forces to address a volunteer issue.

Today Michigan has an extensive network of public and private organizations that support volunteer service, and these are supplemented by the work of national, regional, and local affiliates. To name but a few, statewide organizations include the ConnectMichigan Alliance, Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), Michigan Association of United Ways, Michigan Campus Compact, Michigan Community Service Commission, Michigan League for Human Services, Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), and Volunteer Centers of Michigan. Although each serves a particular constituency (with some small overlap), all work closely at the state level to coordinate their efforts and foster community collaboration. As other state networks and organizations evolve to promote volunteerism, they inevitably become part of this growing circle of support.

Voluntary action is popular in Michigan, but its nature is difficult to formally capture. Many volunteer activities are so central to daily life—such as helping in a school—that they are seen not as volunteering but as routine. Whether a given activity is seen as “volunteering” is a matter of personal interpretation, and such designation varies by culture, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic group. Volunteering also is affected by a number of societal phenomena, including single-parent families, dual-income households, family and corporate volunteer programs, national service, and changing lifestyles.

Sometimes there is confusion about the difference between volunteerism (something one does because s/he wishes to) and community service (something one does because it is mandated, usually by a school or court). Often, however, the terms are used interchangeably, and there certainly are no boundaries restricting what may be considered “volunteering.” The tasks one may volunteer to do are unlimited, ranging from raking a local park to helping organizations raise funds to advocating for a cause to serving on a community organization's board. Moreover, people become involved in volunteerism in any number of ways: at their own initiative, as part of an elective group (e.g., family, youth organization, service club), or as part of a prescribed group (e.g., classroom, workplace). However people come to volunteer, their efforts generally fall into one of three categories: service learning, service corps, or mandatory/compulsory service.

  • Service learning is tied to an education curriculum or has a specific education component. Not only is a service rendered for the greater good, but the volunteer gains from the personal development that comes from helping others.
  • A service corps is a team of volunteers organized to perform service over an extended period. Full-time corps members may receive living allowances and/or education awards; examples are AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, National Civilian Community Corps, and the Peace Corps. Programs involving a shorter commitment, such as the Youth Volunteer Corps, may offer no financial support.
  • Mandatory or compulsory service is carried out when an authoritative body, such as a school or court, requires such service as a way to earn credit or discharge an obligation.

Volunteering is a popular way to make a difference in one's community. It is promoted through such large-scale national events as Make A Difference Day (annually, in October) and National Volunteer Week (annually, in April) and through such individual organization and local efforts as Day of Caring, Alternative Spring Break, and Nickelodeon's Big Help Day. As the nonprofit sector takes on new and expanded functions, the role of volunteers is likely to increase. In addition, welfare reform and other initiatives are drawing volunteers from nontraditional sectors, and this will increase the frequency of volunteering. All indicators point to volunteerism continuing to have a strong presence in Michigan, with volunteers becoming more active, vocal, and selective (that is, they look for opportunities through which they may help to meet real community needs) in their efforts.


A number of surveys have been conducted to ascertain the extent of volunteerism in Michigan and gain information about the people who do it. The 2001 survey on giving and volunteering in Michigan reveals the scale of volunteering in the state.

  • Fifty percent of the adult Michigan population volunteered during 12 months prior to the survey, with men and women volunteering at the same rate.
  • The age groups most likely to volunteer are 40–49 years (55 percent volunteer), 18–24 years (54 percent) and 50–59 years (54 percent); the age group least likely to volunteer is 25–29 years (41 percent).
  • Volunteering occurs most in the northern lower peninsula (57 percent of residents) and least in the southwest (47 percent).
  • Among survey respondents who are Internet users, 19 percent have searched on line for volunteering information or opportunities.
  • Almost two-thirds of volunteers seek out volunteer work on their own.
  • Common ways of learning about volunteer opportunities include friends and family (55 percent) and advertising (29 percent).
  • Almost 15 percent of volunteers use a referral organization, such as a volunteer center, to locate their volunteer position.
  • The most common reasons for volunteering are to give back to the community (96 percent of volunteers) and to express compassion for those in need (98 percent).
  • There is a strong association between volunteering and giving: 96 percent of volunteers also make charitable donations.


The nonprofit sector is heavily influenced by local, state and federal public policy. Government affects the daily activities of charities through regulation, contracting, tax breaks, incentives for charitable giving, in-kind donations, and more. This interdependence is most evident in four categories.

  • Regulation    As mentioned earlier, the federal and state government regulates charities' finances and operations, ensuring accountability through IRS Form 990, and state requirements for financial and operation reports, lobbying registration, and solicitation licenses.
  • Client    Government often contracts with nonprofits to provide training, housing, food, medical care, and much more to state and local residents.
  • Funding    Public funding is important to nonprofits; contributions from government currently comprise 32 percent of nonprofit support.
  • Partnership    To solve today's most pressing social needs, government, nonprofits, and also the business sector must work together. As partners, these sectors can provide the legal, financial, and "people power" necessary to keep a civil society running.

Today and throughout history, charities have acted as a voice for sustaining their own work and as a voice for those who do not have one—children, the elderly, the sick, and so on. The Michigan Nonprofit Association represents the interests of nonprofits across the state in enhancing the relationships listed above. The public policy priorities of the MNA and its members are federal, state, and local government actions that will serve to

  • encourage tax incentives for charitable giving to Michigan nonprofit organizations;
  • permit nonprofits to continue to communicate and interact with elected or appointed officials;
  • continue funding for national service programs;
  • maintain and extend sales, use, and property tax exemptions;
  • increase volunteerism;
  • eliminate fraudulent nonprofit fundraising; and
  • monitor government activity that regulates the activities of nonprofits.


A foundation is a nongovernment, nonprofit organization established to aid social, education, charitable, religious, or other activities serving the common welfare, primarily through making grants. Foundation funds and programs are managed by the foundation's trustees or directors.

There are over 50,000 grant-making foundations in the United States; 1,980 are located in Michigan.

  • Michigan foundations have total assets of $22 billion and in their last reporting year made annual grants totaling $1.2 billion.
  • Over a third of Michigan foundations have assets under $200,000.
  • The great bulk of the assets held and grants awarded in Michigan are by the 720 foundations that have assets exceeding $1 million.

Foundations are characterized both by flexibility and diversity in their giving. Requests to foundations vastly exceed their funding capability, obliging trustees to define specific programmatic and geographic areas to which funding will be directed. Exhibit 2 presents the findings of a recent sample of the annual giving of 46 of Michigan's nearly 2,000 foundations: a total of $787 million during 2000. Because the sample is based on only one year's grants, the figures may not accurately represent the continuing pattern of giving by Michigan foundations, but they do give an idea of the foundations' major areas of interest.

Council of Michigan Foundations

The Council of Michigan Foundations is a membership association of more than 490 private, family, community, and corporate foundations and giving programs. The CMF's mission is to improve, increase, and enhance philanthropy in Michigan. For more than 30 years, the organization has offered one-on-one, on-site consultation to individuals, families, corporations, and communities interested in establishing a foundation and setting up grant programs. The council's publication, Establishing a Charitable Foundation in Michigan, explains the laws and regulations pertaining to foundations and presents the advantages of each type of foundation.

People desiring information about a specific foundation or corporate-giving program may communicate directly with the foundation or corporation or visit a Michigan Foundation Center cooperating collection library. Foundations and corporate-giving programs will be pleased to send an annual report or an informational statement if one is available. In addition, the CMF, in association with the Foundation Center (New York), publishes The Michigan Foundation Directory.

The Michigan Foundation Center Cooperating Collections are an excellent resource for grant seekers. The Foundation Center gathers information on philanthropy nationwide and disseminates it through its publications and through cooperating libraries. The library reference collections are available to the public without charge and offer a wide range of materials, including books and periodicals about foundations and philanthropy as well as foundation annual reports, newsletters, and press clippings. The 11 Michigan libraries listed at the end of this chapter have Michigan Foundation Center reference collections.

Types of Foundations

There are different types of foundations. Although they have different structures and intent, all serve the common interest. The leading forms of foundation organization are private, community, and corporate.

Private/Independent Foundations

A private foundation (also may be called an independent foundation) is a fund or endowment so designated by law that has grant making as its primary function. Such foundations' assets most commonly are derived from a gift by an individual or family. Many function under the voluntary direction of family members and are known as family foundations. Others, which may bear a family name, have an independent board of trustees and are managed by professional staff.

Typically, private/independent foundations have a broad charter but in practice limit their giving to a few fields of interest, although they may move into new fields in response to changing priorities. Depending on their range of giving, they also may be known as general purpose or special purpose foundations. Some private foundations are operating foundations, which means their primary purpose is to operate research, social welfare, or other programs determined by their governing body. Such foundations may make some external grants, but the number generally is small relative to the funds directed into the foundation's own programs.

In the United States, of the 50 largest private foundations having assets of over $1 billion, four originated in Michigan, including the nation's third largest, the Ford Foundation, now headquartered in New York.

Community Foundations

Community foundations receive and administer endowment and other funds received from private sources; funds are managed under community control and directed to charitable purposes that focus primarily on local needs. Community foundations are characterized by multiple funding sources, and their expenditures benefit a specified geographic area.

Internal Revenue Service regulations (1) require a community foundation's governing body to represent broad community interests and (2) classify the foundations not as private foundations but as public charities, the same category into which it places churches, schools and colleges, hospitals, and certain other nonprofit organizations.

Community foundations are growing in importance not only as professional grant-making organizations but as a flexible means to administer many kinds of charitable funds for local benefit.

Michigan is fortunate to have 65 community foundations and 34 affiliate funds (subfunds established by community foundations to serve specific locales within their service areas), and in total they cover all 83 counties. For a listing of the community foundations and their service areas, see the CMF Web site, www.cmif.org. This statewide coverage is due largely to a major challenge grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to give every state resident access to benefits and services of a community foundation. The same challenge grant resulted in the endowment of 86 community foundation youth funds statewide; these funds are directed toward the needs of youth and are overseen by youth advisory committees, annually involving more than 1,500 high schoolers as grant makers.

The statewide growth of community foundations and the involvement of youth as grant makers has led the state, through the Michigan Community Service Commission, to contract with the CMF to distribute a portion of the interest earned on Michigan's share of the national tobacco settlement. These funds go to community foundations, based on the population of youth and seniors in their service areas, to be used for Healthy Youth and Healthy Seniors programs. To date, the 65 community foundations have received more than $20 million, and 50 percent of the funds have been permanently endowed. The governor's proposed FY 2002–03 budget recommends an allocation of $4 million to continue this unique partnership.

The state provides a tax credit to individuals and businesses that make a gift to an endowment held by a community foundation. Michigan is one of only three states to offer this incentive to charitable giving, which rewards thousands of state taxpayers annually for helping to build the nonprofit endowment funds held by their local or regional community foundation. The maximum tax credit allowed is

  • $100 for individuals,
  • $200 for families, or
  • $5,000 or 10 percent of single business tax liability, whichever is less.

Company/Corporate Foundations

A company-sponsored or corporate foundation is classified as a private foundation under the tax law and derives its funds from a for-profit company or corporation. It is independently constituted, and its purpose is to make grants, often on a broad basis. Company officials as well as people not affiliated with the company may serve on the board. It is not uncommon for a company-sponsored foundation to assume responsibility for the parent company's giving in locales where offices, production or service facilities, or distribution outlets are located. Such a foundation makes it possible for a company to set aside funds for use in years when company earnings may be lower than normal, which may coincide with a general economic downturn that generates a greater-than-usual need for charitable spending.

Company-sponsored foundations are different from “corporate-giving” programs, which are administered within a corporation and may make grants for limited purposes closely associated with the corporation's interests, although this is not always the case. In some instances, the two types of giving are coordinated by a company under one general policy; in others, there may be a private foundation that bears a name associated with the corporation but has few if any ties with the original source of its funds.

In Michigan there are 29 company-sponsored foundations that have assets exceeding $1 million. The largest, in terms of annual grant making, is the Ford Motor Company Fund (nearly $1 million).

State/CMF Collaboration

The CMF first partnered with the state in the late 1980s, on the distribution of Exxon settlement funds. In addition to the tobacco-settlement partnership mentioned above, the CMF also works with the Michigan Department of Community Health through the Michigan AIDS Fund, a collaborative response by foundations and corporate givers to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and help those affected. The CMF also assists the Michigan State Housing Development Authority in partnering with 20 community foundations to help create permanent endowments to support homelessness emergency programs.

The most recent collaboration, the Michigan IDA Partnership, is with the Family Independence Agency. This five-year, public-private effort matches the contributions that up to 2,000 low-income working families make to their individual development account (IDA), a savings account that they may use toward buying a home, obtaining advanced education, or starting a small business. In 51 program sites, participating families complete financial-literacy training as they save up to $1,000, which will be matched, to put into their IDA.


The nonprofit sector is an important vehicle in delivering services that people and communities see as important to themselves and others. Michigan's nonprofit sector is a vital force in meeting the social, spiritual, and service needs of the community, but the sector is more than just a collection of organizations. Nonprofit action takes many forms, from simple acts of kindness to informal networks and associations to the formal world of nonprofit organizations. The continuing growth of the sector is testimony to its dynamism in the face of changing economic, social, and political conditions.


National Organizations

Aspen Institute
Nonprofit Sector Research Fund
One Dupont Circle, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 736-5800

BoardSource (National Center for Nonprofit Boards)
1828 L Street, N.W., Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036
(800) 883-6262
(202) 452-6262

Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
The Urban Institute
2100 M Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 833-7200

Charity Lobbying in the Public Interest
2040 S Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 387-5048

Independent Sector
1200 18th Street, N.W., Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 467-6100

National Center for Charitable Statistics
The Urban Institute
2100 M Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 833-7200

National Council for Nonprofit Associations
1030 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 962-0322

Michigan Organizations

ConnectMichigan Alliance
1048 Pierpont, Suite 3
Lansing, MI 48911
(517) 492-2440
(517) 492-2444 FAX

Council of Michigan Foundations
One South Harbor Avenue, Suite 3
Grand Haven, Michigan 49417
(616) 842-7080
(616) 842-1760 FAX

Michigan League for Human Services
1115 South Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 202
Lansing, MI 48912
(517) 487-5436
(517) 371-4546 FAX

Michigan Nonprofit Association
1048 Pierpont, Suite 3
Lansing, MI 48911
(888) 242-7075 (Michigan only)
(517) 492-2400
(517) 492-2410 FAX

Michigan Association of United Ways
1627 Lake Lansing Road, Suite B
Lansing, MI 48912
(517) 371-4360
(517) 371-1801 FAX

Volunteerism Resources

Association of Volunteer Administrators
P.O. Box 32092
Richmond, VA 23294

Corporation for National and Community Service
1201 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20525
(202) 606-5000

Michigan Campus Compact
1048 Pierpont, Suite 3
Lansing, MI 48911
(517) 492-2430
(517) 492-2444 FAX

Michigan Community Service Commission
1048 Pierpont, Suite 4
Lansing, MI 48913
(517) 335-4295
(517) 373-4977 FAX

Points of Light Foundation
1400 Street, N.W., Suite 800
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 729-8000

Volunteer Centers of Michigan
1048 Pierpont, Suite 3
Lansing, MI 48911
(517) 492-2424
(517) 492-2444 FAX

Michigan Foundation Center
Cooperating Collections

Alpena County Library
Reference Room, 2d Floor
211 North First Avenue
Alpena, MI 49707 (989) 356-6188

Farmington Community Library
32737 West 12 Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
(248) 553-0300

Grand Rapids Public Library
1100 Hynes Avenue, S.W., Suite B
Grand Rapids, MI 49507
(616) 988-5400

Henry Ford Centennial Library
Adult Services, 2d Floor
16301 Michigan Avenue
Dearborn, MI 48126
(313) 943-2330

Michigan State University Library
Social Science and Humanities Reference
Michigan State University
100 Library
East Lansing, MI 48824
(517) 353-8700

Michigan Technological University
J. Robert Van Pelt Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
(906) 487-2507

Northwestern Michigan College
Mark & Helen Osterlin Library
1701 East Front Street
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 955-1540

University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
209 Hatcher Graduate Library
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
(734) 764-9373

University of Michigan–Flint
Frances Wilson Thompson Library
303 East Kearsley Street
Flint, MI 48502
(810) 762-3408

Wayne State University
Purdy/Kresge Library
5265 Cass Avenue
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 577-6424

Willard Library
Funding Resource Center
7 West Van Buren Street
Battle Creek, MI 49017
(616) 968-8166

By Mark Wilson, MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research; Rob Collier and Jeri Fischer, Council of Michigan Foundations; and Robin Lynn Schultheiss and Erin Skene, Michigan Nonprofit Association

Click here to download the Adobe Acrobat version of this article.

© 2002 Public Sector Consultants, Inc.
Sponsored by the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Council of Michigan Foundations

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