Partners for a Healthy Environment

Don Henning
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly


Philanthropic support from foundations and individuals are important sources of revenue for an environmental nonprofit organization like the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MWRA). Along with membership fees, gifts from local businesses and corporations often provide essential operational funding nonprofits need to carry out their missions of service.

The business model for nonprofits can be confusing. Revenue from a diverse range of sources flows into our bank account every year. The key to understanding how we use the money lies in the difference between restricted and unrestricted revenue.

The largest share of our annual income comes from state and federal grants. Nearly all grant money is restricted revenue — funding used specifically to complete the project defined by the grant language. For example, last year the MRWA secured funding totaling more than $200,000 to replace an obsolete bridge crossing Bigelow Creek in Newaygo County. As project manager, we hired vendors and contractors, including the Newaygo County Road Commission, to do the heavy lifting. In the final analysis, very little of the federal grant money we received stayed within our organization.

Lynette Dowler

To commit the level of funding the MRWA received, state and federal agencies must be comfortable with the ability of our staff to deliver desired results. We must attract and retain capable people, and to that end we depend on support from companies who see value in our work.

For example, the DTE Energy Foundation is a steadfast supporter – and a great friend – of the MRWA, and environmental stewardship is one of its primary areas of philanthropic focus. The DTE Foundation believes in sustaining and protecting Michigan’s treasured natural resources and works to build a cleaner, greener Michigan for future generations. As such, the Foundation donates unrestricted funds to MWRA to help build this future.

Of course, we are all aware that effective leadership drives and defines good organizations. In the case of the DTE Foundation, president and chair Lynette Dowler, who is also vice president of public affairs for DTE Energy, has an in-depth understanding of the challenges and opportunities across DTE’s service territory, and works alongside the company’s employees, and community leaders statewide, to drive positive, meaningful change.

“The DTE Energy Foundation’s relationships with – and support of – organizations like the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly are critical in building a cleaner, greener Michigan for future generations,” said Dowler. “As Michiganders living and working in and around the Muskegon area, we salute MWRA for its leadership in preserving, protecting and restoring the Muskegon River, and for guarding – and advocating for – the natural resources that survive and thrive on its health.”

We value the faith the DTE Foundation has shown in our ability to do important work for the local environment; we also appreciate the work DTE Energy – and our region’s manager, Jon Wilson – does to support our friends, family members and neighbors in Muskegon and throughout the region.

Jon Wilson

“It’s an honor to work for DTE, a company that not only embraces giving back to the communities where we live and serve, but emphasizes the importance of a clean future as well,” said Wilson. “Serving on the board of the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly has played a crucial role for me; this work has broadened my understanding of the future of our environment and the role we can all play to take better care of it.”