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, 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.

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.

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