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Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D.
ASU Lodestar Center
Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert from our academic faculty to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.
Where do nonprofit leaders, managers, volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders go when searching for information pertinent to their roles? This is a question our faculty, staff, and student team asks frequently in our quest to meet our Center's mission to help build the capacity of the social sector for those who lead, manage, and support nonprofits.
Through informal discussions we've had with stakeholders, it seems there are a few preferred sources of information. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Times, Social Innovation Review, and Nonprofit Quarterly are a few industry specific publications that are considered "go to" sources of knowledge. If you're looking for more scholarly contributions, academic journals like Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, and Voluntas provide just that, mixed with practitioner "from the field" perspectives, book reviews, and other useable knowledge that advances an understanding of our field in ways not otherwise possible.
Here at the Center, we offer several different informational sources. The ASU Lodestar Center Nonprofit News (LCNN) is a free source of information sent to your inbox bi-monthly, and it's stuffed with knowledge and tools. This blog is another robust source for ideas, dialogue, debate, and informed opinions that serves as an intersection between research and practice. Our Center's AZGates web-based knowledge platform is a free service that links grantmakers and grantseekers.
Beyond the Center, there are also dozens of listservs, blogs, and electronic "hallways" devoted to philanthropy, nonprofit leadership and management, volunteerism, and other facets of the social sector. For example, Blue Avocado is a nonprofit e-magazine, sponsored by the Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance - Risk Retention Group (ANI), Nonprofits' Insurance Alliance of California (NIAC), and Compasspoint Nonprofit Services. The collaborative touts its offerings as "practical, provocative, and fun food-for-thought for nonprofits."
Increasingly, sources of inspiration and knowledge come from outside our field. The writings of Nancy Lublin in Fast Company Magazine provide insights and perspectives that are fresh and provocative. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times routinely run feature stories about all aspects of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.
In this post alone I've listed 14 links to sources of potentially helpful content. Literally hundreds — make that thousands — of additional entries could be included. It's impossible to list all of them, let alone digest the growing "noise" of information in our field.
I believe that more "content curators" will need to surface to muffle the overwhelming informational noise. I am not talking here about aggregators of information. Those are folks who enlist search terms and "grab" information on the web that's automatically included on sites and other media forms without careful selection, vetting, and analysis. What I am talking about is the curator who deciphers relevant information, and then makes content easily available to those who need it.
Content curation is performed by credible individuals who serve as editors — they gather, organize, filter, and synthesize information that's subsequently deemed valuable to others. Content curators help organize and synchronize a community of people, such as nonprofit practitioners or philanthropists, around a common understanding of a particular subject.
One of the key roles our Center plays is that of content curator, and we’re always striving to hone our craft in response to stakeholder interests and requests. In addition to our Center, there are other nonprofit and philanthropic curators in our area, such as the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, which locates information for members and includes helpful resources in their e-newsletter. The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, one example of a funder who has chosen to play a curator role, also publishes their Piper Bulletin and Piper Notebook, filled with helpful resources for nonprofits.
It's likely that where nonprofit stakeholders go for essential information to lead, manage, and support their organizations is no longer about identifying single sources of helpful knowledge such as the one "go to" periodical. Rather, in this hectic, hyper-culture world in which we live, it's more about identifying and aligning with one or more credible content curators. These curators are the new "go to" sources for essential information, filtered from multiple sources of knowledge and tools.
What do you think? What sources of knowledge and tools do you find helpful? Please let us know what individual sources of information you find helpful, along with those aggregators and curators you deem essential to your work as a nonprofit leader, manager, volunteer, philanthropist, or other stakeholder.
Dr. Ashcraft is the executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University, and he is associate professor of nonprofit studies in ASU's School of Community Resources and Development, located at the downtown Phoenix campus.
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Click here to read "Better Together: Collaboration and Nonprofit Networking" — Jessica Sadoway's suggestions for cultivating collaboration.