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, 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.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Volunteer management blog

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Mark Hager

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

Big news! Results from my most recent Volunteer Management Capacity Study are now posted at the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE) website. If the details on the investments, challenges and practices in volunteer administration are something you are interested in, then please go take a look at the new report. It follows up on a study that I conducted back in 2003, when I reported the country’s first national snapshot on the readiness of nonprofit organizations to provide good experiences for their volunteers.

If you really want to dig back, you can also page through the briefing report from the original 2003 Volunteer Management Capacity Study. That study was the federal government’s idea, and I was in the right place at the right time when they were looking for somebody to do it. President Bush (the younger one) had given a State of the Union address where he encouraged everybody to go volunteer more, and that prompted the White House to want to get a better handle on the topic. The national survey of nonprofit organizations provided our first benchmark insights into the nation’s readiness to handle an onslaught of new volunteers.

Should we expect that much has changed over a 20-year period? There’s a post going around my Facebook right now that notes how almost all of humanity lived through periods of nearly imperceptible social change, whereas the first flight at Kitty Hawk (1903) and Armstrong’s walk on the moon (1969) are only separated by 66 years. And since that moonwalk, smartphones and the internet have put the preponderance of human knowledge into our pockets. The world is moving fast. Is that the case for volunteer administration?

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Network and inclusion

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Mitch Menchaca

posted by
Mitch Menchaca
Fall 2020 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

This past year’s social justice movement has caused many organizations to take a leap and highlight their key values for society to take notice of and support. Statements of unity, anti-racism, and DEI commitments have been established by nonprofits of all subsectors and have been posted on websites, social media, and through the mainstream press. However, according to the National Council of Nonprofits, values written on a page are not authentic until an organization’s actions demonstrate them. This act of solidarity is a starting point, but not valid unless the organization takes intentional actions to progress their mission to commit to DEI.

The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not new, but integrating DEI into organizations can be daunting, especially when contemplating where and how to start. A nonprofit has many facets of the organization to consider when starting DEI work, including the board, staffing, programs, and how it connects to the greater community. An organization should hope to accomplish how it can lead with their values, understand and agree on key terminology, and build a process with authenticity at the core. This will lead to a starting point that will create DEI strategies to ensure impact.

Where to start? These five actions will get your nonprofit started, or help to transition into DEI work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Water spigot

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Katie Peterson

posted by
Katie Peterson
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Nonprofit organizations love the idea of improving their infrastructure, and according to Stanford Innovation Review, organizations who invest the proper resources into infrastructure are more likely to produce efficient charitable outcomes in regard to their missions than those who don’t. If investing into nonprofit infrastructure will help advance organizations to that next level, then why do nonprofit leaders loathe the idea of putting any money into infrastructure? The answer is simple, the nonprofit starvation cycle and unrealistic donor expectations.

The nonprofit starvation cycle has haunted the nonprofit sector for years, but as the sector becomes more professionalized, it is now more important than ever for leaders in the sector to begin taking the steps necessary to overcome this vicious cycle. The unrealistic expectations that have been created through the nonprofit starvation cycle by donors only continues to rise as nonprofit efficiency is judged on financial ratios.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Marina Sandoval blog

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Marina Sandoval

posted by
Marina Sandoval
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on nonprofits nationwide. Organizations that rely on donations and grants for funding are being forced to look at their revenue portfolios and determine whether their revenue streams will be sustainable in the foreseeable future. Experts are not sure when it will be safe to hold large gatherings again, which hinders nonprofits that rely on an events-based structure to generate donations. The pandemic has impacted unemployment rates, thereby limiting household income available for donations to charity. A recent survey of Arizona’s nonprofits conducted by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits found that, as a result of fundraising and program cancellations due to the pandemic, Arizona nonprofits have lost an estimated $53 million in revenue. The survey also revealed that 25% of nonprofits indicated that they have had to lay off or furlough employees and 69 % reported a loss of critical program volunteers. Last spring, the ASU Lodestar Center found that 11% of over 400 nonprofits surveyed were not able to operate at all during the first months of the pandemic.

Nonprofits are reimagining funding models and will have to think innovatively to ensure their mission continues. Several organizations across the U.S. have successfully adopted social enterprise strategies to diversify their revenue portfolios and create sustainable revenue streams, such as the YMCA and Goodwill Industries. Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good operated within a nonprofit or as a wholly owned subsidiary of the nonprofit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Jessica Tudyk blog graphic

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

Jessica Tudyk

posted by
Jessica Tudyk
Fall 2020 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Grantmaking foundations have the financial resources that nonprofit organizations need to accomplish their work. Nonprofit organizations are doing the work essential to further the grantmaking foundation’s mission. “The power and influence that flow from money, combined with the near absence of a negative feedback loop in philanthropy, result in potential manipulation of and control over nonprofit organizations,” Janice Pettey of Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy said. Foundation leaders need to understand how grantmaking practices affect nonprofit organizations and structure grantmaking practices in ways that best support nonprofit organizations.

According to The Independent Sector, funding-related practices and relationships are one of the challenges that the nonprofit sector faces, and there are myriad reasons that funding-related practices and relationships are challenging for the nonprofit sector. These include the lack of funding and difficulty securing adequate funds, funding structures that incentivize counterproductive practices, strained relationships between funders and nonprofits, and shifts in funding models and strategy. Mowrer’s Grant-seeking Challenges highlights that funder practices and requirements are considered one of the greatest challenges for grant-seekers. Foundations leaders need to recognize and understand how grantmaking practices can negatively affect nonprofit organizations and can lead to mission drift.

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