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, January 12, 2022

Employee engagement illustration

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 Sabrina Esquivel

posted by
Sabrina Esquivel
Spring 2021 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management

No matter the industry, success is made possible by the individuals hired to achieve results. Employees are frontline; their talents and efforts determine success within any organization. Employees choose specific nonprofit organizations because they have a personal connection or emotional attachment to the nonprofits mission. Even though motivation and passion are high amongst employees entering the nonprofit sector, there seems to be high burnout and a desire to leave nonprofit work behind all together after a short amount of time.

Nonprofits can lower the risk of burnout and turnover by strengthening their employee engagement strategies. Strengthening employee engagement can enhance morale, lower the turnover rates, strengthen teamwork, preserve consistency and, overall, cause success toward the nonprofit’s mission. Employees should be equipped with the proper tools needed to run the programs and projects expected to be successful while feeling confident and appreciated. Three key tools are discussed below that can help organizations boost their employee engagement.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Fish swimming in shape of a fish

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 Apryl Calaci

posted by
Apryl Calaci
Spring 2021 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management

What is workplace diversity and where did it come from?

Diversity has become a central topic in every environment over the last couple of years. This is due to the injustices coming to light within our society; it is no different in the workplace. Since the 1960s, people of color and women have fought for equality at work, leading to laws being passed prohibiting discrimination (1964), increasing advancement opportunities for the underrepresented (1965), and allowing those who have been discriminated against to prosecute (1972). To have a truly diverse environment, an organization must develop an intentional focus to hire people from groups that have been systematically discriminated against and oppressed at work. This includes, but is not limited to, people of color, women, various religious groups, non-heterosexuals and people with disabilities.

Why is workplace diversity important?

Creating diverse workplaces has played a large role in the rise of African Americans in the U.S. middle class, and has created benefits for women of all races. As high as 80% of people now entering the workforce are non-white, women, or immigrants. Developing a diverse work environment has been shown to decrease turnover rates, increase job performance, help organizations exceed their financial goals, and promote creativity, which leads to greater innovation. Employees often relate their satisfaction and quality of care to how inclusive and diverse the organization is. The more diverse an organization, the more resources will be available and the more ties it will have to influential people and institutions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Illustration of happy volunteer amid a crowd

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 Brian Hetzer

posted by
Brian Hetzer
Spring 2021 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Most nonprofit organizations in the U.S. rely on volunteers to provide their critical mission-focused services. These important team members give their time, talents, and resources, unmotivated by financial compensation or contractual obligations. So, what do these volunteers get out of serving? Do they continue to come back, and if so, why? The answers stem from how volunteer management and key organizational leadership view volunteer retention - the ability to keep volunteers long-term. Simply recruiting volunteers does not always equate to the ability to keep them.

For most nonprofit organizations, volunteers serve in capacities that are vitally important to the organization’s impact. They are often the catalyst that propel a mission from just surviving to robust thriving. The importance of volunteers cannot be underestimated. A volunteer’s significance goes far beyond just saving nonprofits money in wages; they bring experience, knowledge, and lots of passion. Well-managed volunteers provide incredible value, giving organizations the ability to strategically position themselves for continual growth and impact.

Regardless of the number of volunteers, having a thriving team requires intentionality on the part of key leadership to minimize the reasons why volunteers leave. Research has shown that these reasons often fall into four general categories.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Crisis management

Illustration by Yuxin Qin

 Natalia Hurley

posted by
Natalia Hurley
Spring 2021 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the nonprofit sector and many organizations have had to undergo massive staffing cuts, eliminate programs, and struggle through maintaining minimal viable operations to avoid closing permanently. Many nonprofits are still unsure if they will ever be the same or even operate again. In April of 2020, Charity Navigator surveyed over 4,000 nonprofit representatives and learned that of those surveyed, 83% reported suffering financial hardship due to the pandemic and the economic shut down. About 70% stated that the organizations either suffered cut backs, or was planning on cutting programs all together. For a sector that provides pivotal services to the public, the impact is difficult to comprehend.

Last year also brought with it civil unrest, a rise in the call for social justice, and decentering of white supremacy culture. Many organizations are now finding that a crisis management plan is not the whole story. Organizations also need to consider who is leading the organization, and if their leadership style is effective. The expectations of our employees are shifting, which then impacts the way in which nonprofit leaders need to manage through a crisis. Employees are expecting authenticity, transparency, flexibility and collaboration from their leaders, characteristics of which are not typically written into crisis management plans.

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).

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