ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Hands raised

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 David Ross

posted by
David Ross
Spring 2021 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Nonprofit leaders play an integral role in the promise of social equity. While nonprofits may aim to achieve an equitable mission for the community, nonprofits also draw in donors, board members, and employees. Without leadership prioritizing equitable practices, class representation suffers in these roles and lessens sector diversity.

Donors

Charitable giving, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, shrunk down to 73% in 2020, from 87% in 2005. Yet, charitable giving in the sector has continued to expand rapidly, with expectations of its first $500 billion haul in 2021. Contributions from high net worth individuals are concealing declines in middle and lower class giving. Capitulation to this style of philanthropy further neglects millennials donors, who lag behind the financial impact of previous generations.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Power lines illustration

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 Shelbee Axsom-Anderson

posted by
Shelbee Axsom-Anderson
Spring 2021 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Most in the nonprofit sector have heard the question, “How much of my donation will go toward programs?” This may be a triggering question, but with good reason. There are many implications that this question brings, but when it is asked by major funders it causes a ripple effect within the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits depend on sustainable revenue sources to ensure their mission is fulfilled. Therefore, when a funder requests administrative costs lower than what is needed, or state they will not fund administrative costs, organizations make it work. The Overhead Project speaks to the difficulties that organizations can face when they do this: “Community nonprofits typically have overhead that is much too low. They often underspend on essential, basic costs such as rent and insurance. They can't afford adequate accounting staff, good technology, or human resources management. They often try to compensate for under-funding of programs and systems by having too few staff or paying staff poorly. The consequences of under-investing in overhead are financial weakness and inefficiencies at the nonprofit, and as a result, fewer services or lower quality services.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Pieces fitting together

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Karyn Cooks

posted by
Karyn Cooks
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Nonprofit interest in cross-sector collaboration is ramping up due to evaporating resources and increased demand for services. In 2018 analysis by Ben Gose, a reported 57% of nonprofits doubted their ability to continue meeting demand, motiving many nonprofit leaders to consider collaboration with other nonprofits and across sector lines in order to increase organizational capacity. “Resources, symbolic attraction of alliance members, and expanded networks” as stated in a review from AIM Alliance, are all compelling benefits to joining forces, however, organizations should proceed with caution as these solutions are not sole problem solvers. The Bridgespan Group reminds leaders that “cross-sector collaboration is a complicated and time-consuming process, given the complexity of the issues and range of stakeholders involved.” So where should nonprofit leaders begin?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

DEI blog

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Rosario Espinoza

posted by
Rosario Espinoza
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Ask yourself: Has there ever been a time when you sought the services of a nonprofit organization but something just didn’t feel right? Unfortunately, this is a common dilemma for minority groups and various ethnic populations.

For example, consider you’re a Spanish-speaking customer from a neighborhood that as of recently is facing a housing crisis due to COVID-impacted job losses. You find a local nonprofit in your community that you think might be able to help you find and utilize resources relating to rental assistance. You are hesitant to enter the organization because of the lack of Spanish-translated flyers, information posted outside, and because the individuals pictured do not represent you or those from your community.

Upon entering, you are greeted by an individual who does not speak Spanish. You kindly ask for assistance in Spanish, but are told they do not have anyone who speaks your language; you are worried and in need of assistance, but are just not comfortable speaking in English. With an attempt nonetheless, you begin to explain in English your needs and the struggles that your community is facing with the hopes of receiving useful support. The employee is unaware of the issues you face, and is unsure on how to help. You are disappointed that the nonprofit was unprepared to serve your community, and lacked the resources and information to genuinely help.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Board diversity blog

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Jennifer Nation

posted by
Jen Nation
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

With the recent pandemic, civil unrest and racism conversations front and center, nonprofit organizations are working overtime to serve communities deeply affected by these issues. On top of it all is the reality that the diversity needle has not moved much in board of directors’ positions at nonprofit organizations. A 2017 survey from Board Source shows that 84% of members on nonprofit boards identify as Caucasian, which does not sway far from the 2015 survey.

A board of directors is a legal requirement to establish and maintain a nonprofit organization and helps to ensure the organization achieves its stated mission and meets the expectations of stakeholders, according to Nick Price. Yet, many nonprofit boards do not reflect the communities in which those same organizations are serving.

As our country continues to diversify, our nonprofits should strive to achieve a level of diversity on their boards that meets that of their current constituents and community. What can organizations do to amplify their diversity? The following five recommendations can help a nonprofit establish diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies that can help with overall success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Capacity building blog

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Emily Grunspan

posted by
Emily Wojcik Grunspan
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

The 2018 State of the Sector Survey from the Nonprofit Finance Fund found that 86% of nonprofits saw increasing demands for services and 57% would not be able to meet those demands. Investments in capacity building infrastructure can ensure that nonprofits can meet this demand while growing sustainably.

The Council of Nonprofits defines capacity building as “whatever is needed to bring a nonprofit to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future.” Nonprofits can build capacity through investments in infrastructure. Infrastructure has three main components: administrative (technology, systems, and software), human capital (people, paid and volunteer, and their knowledge and experience), and financial capital (money for short- and long-term operations).

From the funder’s perspective, the components not directly related to program delivery are many times labeled “overhead.” The problem of overhead funding has been a decades long issue within nonprofits. Gregory and Howard conceived the cycle of nonprofit starvation. The cycle begins with funders that can have unrealistic expectations about what nonprofits should be spending on overhead. On average, funders allow 10-15% of funds to go towards overhead, but most nonprofits need to spend at least 20% for effective program delivery, according to the Bridgespan Group (PDF).

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Volunteer management blog by Mark Hager

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Mark Hager

posted by
Mark A. Hager
Associate Professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Arizona State University

And *poof*… the volunteers were gone.

In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how to react spread across the United States and Canada, people holed up in their houses and apartments. Many people worked from home, if their work could be done that way. They ordered goods from Amazon rather than drive to the store. Students gravitated to online classes. Restaurants shut down. As nonprofits limited worker contact, many shuttered or adjusted programs and asked their volunteers to stay away. Even if volunteering was an option, many volunteers opted to stay home, either to protect their health or to help take care of their stay-at-home family. Our routines were disrupted, and volunteerism was a casualty.

On the other hand, in this age of electronic networking and virtual technology, we shouldn’t say that the volunteers disappeared. The COVID-19 pandemic heralded the boom of Zoom, when people who had never been in a video conference before were suddenly in them all the time. And while most volunteering is traditionally in-person and face-to-face, many organizations have been hosting virtual volunteer assignments for several decades. What was new in the spring of 2020 was the scale of need to adopt information technologies to do our work, including providing opportunities for volunteers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Digital strategy

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Josh Haynes

posted by
Josh Haynes
Fall 2020 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

The reason that we begin with the question – How can nonprofits strategically implement digital tools to achieve impact? – is because our society has shifted from being a “civil society” and into a “digital civil society,” according to a report from the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Technology and connecting digitally are no longer optional, and rather have become essential disciplines for every industry and nearly every person. If nonprofit organizations are going to thrive while accomplishing their missions, then transforming their systems and using ever-evolving digital tools is required in today’s world.

According to an article from the Public Administration Review, to “improve organizational performance,” nonprofit leaders should dedicate adequate money and resources to information technology .This means that each nonprofit must be technologically educated, have the needed digital infrastructure, budget for future needs, staff appropriately, and use digital analytics for highest impact. These disciplines are not what we have seen in much of the American nonprofit world, as 72% did not have a digital strategy before the coronavirus pandemic. Not surprisingly, those that did have a digital strategy have done far better. “Larger, contextual shifts” (e.g. pandemics, climate change, economic variations, and donation ups and downs) should be assumed as inevitable future dynamics.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hands

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Laura Grosso

posted by
Laura Grosso
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, most found that their typical and secure lifestyle came to a halt, and many of the employed were re-assigned to work remotely, or joined the increasing statistics of those unemployed. Questions arose within the human resources industry regarding the impact of this COVID-19 isolation, and its impact on the holistic well-being of employees. Many of us find enjoyment and purpose in our daily routines, and when our access to these familiar activities is limited or lost entirely, we notice the emotional toll. For those individuals that have been re-assigned to work from home, the isolation can quickly become overwhelming, especially if one is also trying to manage the responsibility of caregiver aside from their usual job duties.

On the other hand, workers who were obligated to report in-person to their job, such as those within the healthcare and human services sector, faced a level of uncertainty about the prospects of falling ill or being able to meet the new overabundance of demands of today’s world. These stressful experiences create a burden that nonprofit workers are bearing, but it is the responsibility of leaders to find feasible ways to support their well-being as much as possible.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Jennifer Kirksey blog graphic

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Jennifer Kirksey

posted by
Jennifer Kirksey
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

In a survey of the charitable community through the Independent Sector (PDF), nonprofit professionals admitted that they need more engagement with their stakeholders. Yet, when looking at literature about stakeholder engagement, namely beneficiary engagement, very few nonprofits are actually being intentional about their engagement. Great evidence exists that nonprofit professionals face obstacles, mostly their own preconceived ideas, around proactively involving program beneficiaries in their program practices. These program practices include needs assessment, decision-making, program implementation, and evaluation.

However, after looking at the benefits that might arise, leaders in the sector may change their mind. Let us take a look at some of the common obstacles and see how investing in beneficiaries could change that perspective.

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