Alicia Skillman, executive director of Equality Michigan for the past two years, resigned Nov. 22, effective Dec. 31. Former board chair Denise Brogan-Kator has taken the reins as the chief executive officer, and will lead the organization during the search for a new permanent director.
“I just believe that it’s time for me to pursue new opportunities,” Skillman told BTL. She said she does not have another job lined up yet, but expects she will remain in Michigan. “I gave what I could give and now I need to do something else. I know the work will continue.”
“I am as excited as I can be,” said Brogan-Kator. “I am sad to see Alicia go, but I am excited about our plan for 2011 and I’m looking forward to its implementation. I think people will be surprised. I’m not saying that at the end of 2011 we will have more protections than we currently have, but we will be visible, educate and we will fight for our rights.”
Equality Michigan was formed last year through a merger of the former Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality. The merger resulted in the new organization having three key elements under one roof. First is the tax-exempt organization (501c3 under the Internal Revenue Code), second is an organization that can do direct political work because donations to it are not tax-exempt (501c4), and third is a separate political action committee that can raise funds and contribute money to specific LGBT-friendly political campaigns.
Asked why Equality Michigan was not more impactful in the recent mid-term elections, and why Brogan-Kator thinks she can lead the state’s LGBT political organization forward more effectively, she said, “There were lots of distractions around the merger. It was the right thing to make happen (merge the state’s two competing political groups), but it took time and energy. Then, the two cultures coming together needed to develop a strategic plan and be really clear about what we are trying to do. We now have that plan, a clear mission and a vision to where we are going, and we didn’t before.”
Skillman said that the merger was her greatest accomplishment as director. “Being able to sit down with the two groups and merge, and come up with a cohesive plan for the state to move forward, and to move forward into strategic planning and to really develop that plan – that’s what was my accomplishment,” said Skillman.
Brogan-Kator stepped off the board six months ago to become a paid consultant to the organization. Upon accepting Skillman’s resignation, the board voted to extend the consulting contract already in place with Brogan-Kator.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I’d like to be considered for the permanent executive director position,” Brogan-Kator said. “The board hasn’t decided yet what direction they will take. Options include a national search, hiring a search firm, perhaps hiring from within.”
For now, Brogan-Kator said she intends to fill some open positions, including the communications director, development director and a field director. When asked whether that should be delayed until a permanent director is hired so that person can have input into the other new hires, she said, “I’ve spent 30 years working for small organizations and entrepreneurial types of companies, and finding strong fits that work together well. We can’t really wait to fill these positions. I will hold off if it makes sense to wait for the new executive director to be involved in the hires. But we have a really strong strategic plan and I think we have a clear vision of where we are going.”
Brogan-Kator said Equality Michigan is financially able to make new hires. “I’ll tell you, Alicia did some good stuff while she was here. One of the things she did really well was raise a good amount of money through grants, so we have a pretty stable financial situation right now. We still need community involvement. For whatever reason, the individual support since the merger has not been as strong as we would like, so we need to demonstrate to our community the important work we are doing and why they need to support it.”