Educate, Empower, Thrive: Providing Northern Michigan Families With the Tools to Reach Economic Independence.

NMCAA provides community members with knowledge, skills, and resources while walking alongside them on the path to Financial Freedom.

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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Michigan: Traverse City (49686) Michigan: Cadillac (49601) Michigan: Petoskey (49770)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $100k - $250k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

LinkedIn URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

NMCAA's Financial Management Services (FMS) Manager, Karen Emerson, developed the program in 2000 to help participants learn basic household budgeting techniques. She was inspired to do so when she approached NMCAA herself as a young mother, to learn of resources available to her family struggling to make ends meet. The solution she was given was a short answer - "get a job". She knew that the issue was deeper than this - she was searching for guidance. Many of us are not taught basic budgeting and financial skills such as savings, or the proper use of credit by our parents or schools. Since Karen started the program it has grown exponentially. In 2001, 564 households were served, and by 2017, that number has increased to over 5,900.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

According to a 2016 article on, "...nearly two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a basic financial literacy test, meaning they got fewer than four answers correct on a five-question quiz. Worse, the percentage of those who can pass the test has fallen consistently since the financial crisis to 37% last year, from 42% in 2009." Many adults were never taught basic financial skills in school or by a parent or gaurdian.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

NMCAA’s Financial Management Services (FMS) include: Financial Capability workshops (topics: Developing a Spending Plan, Banking Basics, Mastering Money Management, Insurance, Consumer Protection, Fair Housing & Lending, Debt Reduction, Improving Credit, and Student Loans), Individual Budget/Credit Coaching, Individual Development Account Matched Savings, Free Tax Preparation, Family Self Sufficiency, Homebuyer Education, Pre-purchase coaching, Housing Counseling, and Foreclosure Prevention. NMCAA, as a Community Action Agency, provides a wide variety of different services to families and individuals. These services include: Head Start/Early Head Start, Homeless Prevention, Weatherization, Home Repair, Meals on Wheels, Food Distribution. All of these programs and services provide a “captive audience” for Financial Capability service. The FMS programming has been working with management and staff in these programs to improve bundling of services, increasing individuals’ and families’ success rates.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

NMCAA's success are best told through our customer's own words. Here is an excerpt from Julie W's Individual Development Account success story (Julie followed through and purchased her own home with her savings): "The program also puts you in control of your finances with their mandatory 8 financially capability classes...taught by a few very laid back but very knowledgeable and professional people. One of the classes was all about Wants vs. Needs. This is something I had heard about but thought since I wanted it - I needed it. This simple statement was the one thing I could control about my cash flow. The result was that I had more money to pay my large credit card bills. I was able to reduce my bills from $4000 to currently just over $1000. In doing this my credit score went from the low 600’s to 755 within one year, with the wants vs needs system. I was adamant about it"

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

The FMS program works hard to reach the most underserved populations in our communities. This includes low-to-moderate income households, those with a disability, and minorities including the local migrant farm workers and Native American population. FMS is reaching these populations by engaging "captive audiences" - those already in the folds of other NMCAA services, referrals from partner agencies (such as Disability Network and other social services), and outreach on social media.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • geography
  • work status
  • age - youth
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are other organizations that offer financial education in NMCAA's service area, however not on the same scale. NMCAA has the distinct advantage of access to the industry's leading experts and training institutions as a Chartered Member of NeighborWorks America, holding U.S. Depart of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing counseling agency certification, and affiliation with the National Community Action Partnership. All of these networks allow NMCAA to keep up to date on financial curriculum, industry standards, and best practices from peers in the field.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

NMCAA's FMS program has had a profound effect on the lives of many in our communities. The following figures show participants' successes from the past three fiscal years: - 408 households created and maintained a budget for 90+ days - 1,167 individuals attended a Financial Capability workshop - 94 individuals purchased a home after receiving education and coaching - 85 households purchased an asset using their Individual Development Account matched savings - this includes home purchases, secondary education, or starting/expanding a small business - 7,920 households had their taxes prepared for free, bringing over $10,000,000 back into the community - 10 households graduated from the Family Self Sufficiency program, with escrow accounts totaling $39,379.00 “Thank you so much for everything. It actually feels like I'm getting my 'adult' life together" - IDA program graduate

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Federations, Associations
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Over the last few years. Federal, State, and local grants have declined and are no longer a steady source of support. We recognize that in order to continue serving the low-to-moderate income population and carry out our "mission work", we must evolve with the landscape. We are moving toward a Social Enterprise model including fee-for-service activities such as offering Homebuyer Education to households with income over 200% of the federal poverty guidelines at a cost.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The FMS team is currently comprised of 11 FTE team members. There is a healthy mix of old and new blood on the team. Half of the team has been with NMCAA for 9+ years and half of the team has been with the Agency for 3 years or less. This helps build a culture of both institutional knowledge and fresh, new, innovative ideas. Backgrounds are also varied including: banking, social work, technology, marketing, and accounting. The FMS team inspires to continue growing in numbers and experience.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Other

If you replied "Other" in the question above, please specify. (optional)

NMCAA's serves 10 rural counties (over 4,400 square miles) in Northwest Lower Michigan.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 66.7%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 66.7%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 66.7%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 33.3%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 33.3%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 33.3%

Financial Sustainability - 33.3%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 33.3%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 0%


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