Ten Questions for the CEO: Donna Murray-Brown (President and CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association)

1) Detroit’s bankruptcy and the Flint water crisis were two of the biggest stories of the past few years. What role did MNA play? Does it continue to be involved?

Michigan Nonprofit Association’s (MNA) job is to support nonprofits so they can achieve their missions. In both Detroit and Flint, and across the entire state, we are committed to building the capacity of nonprofits to deliver programs and services with our membership program, resources, and advocacy efforts.

Nonprofits will continue to be invaluable to Detroit families as the economy is rebuilt and trust in local government is restored. Likewise, for Flint families, nonprofits are seen as trusted resources as citizens endure the ongoing crisis and work to mitigate the effects of lead-contaminated water in the years to come.

2) What was the biggest lesson you took away from either of those situations?

Like many Detroiters, the Detroit bankruptcy was personal for me. As an executive, a public policy advocate, and — to some extent — a player at the table in the discussions of what Detroit needs to do to recover, I had one perspective. As the daughter of a senior Detroiter whose retirement pension was reduced as one of the components of the “grand bargain” that became the blueprint for Detroit’s recovery, I had another perspective.

This contrast is the real challenge of Detroit. How does the city create a future for long-established Detroiters and new residents? My biggest lesson was realizing there is a role for me as a resident and as a professional to contribute to the success of Detroit.

3) What does your typical day look like?

I start my day at 4:30 a.m. with reflection and prayer. I check emails and then hit the gym for my 6 a.m. appointment with my trainer. During my commute from Detroit to Lansing, I focus on strategic priorities, which mostly include fundraising, meeting with partners, and analyzing nonprofit trends. On my way home I take a conference call or two before checking in with my husband about dinner. Yes, he cooks dinner for us daily.

4) The Flint water crisis was an outrage until something else came along. How do you maintain momentum in today’s relentless news cycle?

We’ve been very fortunate that our elected officials have kept the pressure on for funding even though the story is not in the news every day. Nonprofit leaders in the area will continue to work behind the scenes until every family can drink safely from their taps.

5) If you had to pick one song as an introduction, like when a batter comes to the plate at Comerica Park, what would it be?

I’m going to go with “8 Mile” by fellow Detroiter Eminem. I like the jangly guitar opening with the lyrics that have an urgency to succeed.

6) Michigan was one of the key states in last year’s election. Is there something about the Wolverine state that might be predictive to the needs or priorities of the general population?

There was a strong sense in the rural communities that the direction of the United States did not include them. In Michigan, it was generally divided by race and geography. I think much of the country, as in Michigan, did not take into account the strong sense of isolation many communities felt.

MNA will soon be putting a Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Assessment in the field. The D, I & E assessment is a tool to support nonprofits as they work to improve society by helping their communities be more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

7) If you could time travel, where would you go and why?

I would go to the future because in my heart I know everything we are working on will be realized. Oh, what a great world we will be living in!

8) With people coming back to Detroit after years of exodus, will there be more need for nonprofit services, and if so, how will the sector to build itself back up, or prepare for it?

I believe there will always be a need for nonprofits to enhance the quality of life in communities. We often think of nonprofits as organizations that serve basic needs yet there are so many other contributions nonprofits make to the quality of life — arts and culture, health, research, education, and community development — to name a few. In Detroit there will be a greater need to collaborate among sectors to continue the progress that has been made.

9) You previously had a career in banking. Why did you make the move to the nonprofit sector?

While I loved my job in banking as vice president of the Community Reinvestment Act, I jumped at the chance to serve the nonprofit sector as an executive at MNA. I knew there was no better way to make the impact that I wanted to achieve in my community.

10) Where do you go or what do you do to escape?

One of my favorite places to unwind is my husband’s family home in a small, rural community in Alabama. I love the clean air, the lush greenery, and the sky is filled with the brightest stars you will ever see. We eat fresh fish from the pond and collard greens from the garden. The best part is wearing jeans and T-shirts and giving my feet a break from wearing heels!