Get to Know the Lodestar Center: Pat Lewis
Welcome to a new ASU Lodestar Center Blog series, “Get to Know the Lodestar Center!” We’d like to provide our readers with a peek into what we do each day to accomplish our mission by introducing members of the faculty and staff via short interviews and conversations. Meet the folks who are here to help you and your nonprofit succeed!
Patricia F. Lewis, ACFRE, serves as Sr. Professional-in-Residence at the ASU Lodestar Center. She is the longest-serving employee at the Lodestar Center with the exception of the Executive Director, Dr. Robert Ashcraft. She brings to the Center a wealth of knowledge and a wide array of experience in the nonprofit sector and beyond.
You are a Senior Professional in Residence here at the ASU Lodestar Center. What does that entail?
This is a very unique position. The overall purpose of the position is as a bridge between academia and practice, to bring professional experience to the academic area. There are many ways to do that. The Lodestar Center has two -- Anne Byrne is the other Professional-in-Residence who works with me. We are responsible for the Ask the Nonprofit Specialists program, in which we answer questions anybody may have about the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. I also work on curriculum development for our professional development courses and capacity building initiatives. I lecture in academic courses occasionally, and I do community teaching. I also do strategic planning here at the Center, working with the Leadership Council and the staff to help keep the strategic plan fresh and updated.
I’m here because of my somewhat unusual background having served in executive leadership and management positions as well as academia. That’s how Professionals-in-Residence get selected, because we have unique backgrounds, so we can contribute to the overall work of the Center, which is to do whatever is necessary to help build the capacity of the sector, its organizations, and those who work, lead and support them.
How would you describe yourself in 5-10 words?
Energetic, philosophical, and dedicated to the nonprofit sector and volunteerism.
What is your main area of interest?
I have two – governance and philanthropy. Effective governance and fulfilling philanthropy are the keys to the nonprofit sector. The sector is fueled by philanthropy, which is described as voluntary action for the common good, including volunteerism. That’s what also flavors it, and gives it its heart. The sector is responsible to the general public for the common good. In order to be responsive and accountable it needs good leadership. That comes from effective governance. So you can’t have one without the other; they are both key contributors to program delivery and mission development.
If you ask a group of people, “Have you been touched by philanthropy?” about three-fourths will raise their hands. But I suggest everyone has been touched by philanthropy, if you really think about it. If you learned to swim at the Red Cross, that’s supported by philanthropy. If you go to church, have been to a symphony, been in a hospital, participated in little-league sports, or attended a public or private university, you’ve been touched by philanthropy.
Philanthropy is not an action that is only for other people. I like to think of philanthropy as the right of the many, not only the privilege of the few.
Any secondary interests?
Good management. Financial management is important. But probably the most important part of all is understanding the role that the mission and vision have in the leadership of the organization. It’s easy to focus on the business aspects of the nonprofit, that they are businesses, but with a double bottom line. But we cannot forget about social good and program development, which is what it’s all about.
I’m very interested in social entrepreneurship, and have been since the early 80s. I’ve done some work with it. For all its opportunities it also has some challenges, but it definitely is changing the nonprofit landscape.
For how long have you worked at the ASU Lodestar Center?
What were you doing before this?
My initial background is in business and marketing, but I was a community volunteer and then I went to work in community relations and fundraising for a number of years in Seattle. From there I became the executive director of a nonprofit in Seattle. The whole time I was volunteering with what was a fledgling organization at that time, which is now the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). I was elected to the national board of AFP during that time. I then became the chair-elect, and from there I was asked to be the President & CEO. I am a strong advocate of volunteerism and have volunteered my entire life, so while I was at AFP I also volunteered at George Mason University to help it develop its nonprofit studies in its graduate program in Public Administration. When I left AFP I joined the faculty and became the nonprofit professional-in-residence at George Mason. When I retired from there I moved here.
What has been your most rewarding experience or the proudest moment in your career so far?
The further development of the Code of Ethics and the Donor Bill of Rights while I was at AFP. I was heavily involved in the development of both of those.
In philanthropy, unless we are steered by high ethical standards, we will move away from the beauty, and the fulfillment, and the opportunity of donor engagement and philanthropy. It’s very easy to be seduced into transactional fundraising rather than the transformative power of philanthropy. The Donor Bill of Rights provides information about what a donor can expect as part of a philanthropic relationship.
When I was with AFP we created the National Ethics Committee and the enforcement of the Code of Ethics. The development enforcement of a code of ethics for an association is very tricky. We made the decision to go through all the steps, and it’s a very carefully analyzed process. If you have a code of ethics and it’s not enforced, what’s the power of it? It’s a guide, it’s not a reality. In philanthropy, in order to perpetuate positive donor relationships that do not seduce or manipulate, but assure voluntary action, that ethical base is very important. So that was a very interesting process to go through. The wonderful members of the association that I worked with helped develop the AFP’s leadership in ethical fundraising globally.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
The importance of individual opinions and rights. The nonprofit sector is a tapestry of 40 million ideas and 40 million opinions, some of which I like and some of which I don’t agree with. But that’s the beauty of the nonprofit sector. To honor and respect the right that everybody has to see a problem and try to find a way to address it. We all view problems differently, we all view how you solve them differently, and they may be all right. The marketplace will handle the business aspects of it. The ideas all have a place. If they’re viable, and have good governance, good management, and good fundraising, they will be sustainable. That’s the lesson learned -- the beauty of the tapestry of the nonprofit sector.
What do you like to do when you’re not here at the Center?
I like the arts, golfing, visiting with my friends, and playing with my grandchildren.
What do you think people should know about your work, or about the Lodestar Center, that they might not be aware of?
They need to know the wide variety of resources the Center has available, but on the other hand they also need to understand that we are a self-sustaining, self-supporting center, so we don’t offer very much at no charge. We have to cover all of our expenses, and all of our investment in research, and all of the development of future programs, with our own internal generation of resources, which includes philanthropy but also includes entrepreneurial activities. We are not supported financially by the university.
This is a very unique center; it’s the only one of its kind in the country, with its strong relationship to academia and its role in building sustainable nonprofit organizations across many layers. We do everything from program evaluation to grant development and lots in between, plus all of the academic programs, etc. We are a very unique organization in the country, there’s none like it.
What are you most looking forward to with regard to your work and/or the future of the nonprofit sector?
I look forward to how nonprofits continue to develop and meet the social demands that are out there.
I would look forward to a greater recognition of the value of the nonprofit sector. I do not think that society as a whole fully understands the drive and the value of volunteerism and the value of the nonprofit organizations that make up the sector -- the human and financial value that we bring to society. So my goal is to look forward to a greater appreciation of the nonprofit sector.
The need for money today to run our programs sometimes drives short-range thinking. If we don’t have long-range thinking and generative governance we won’t have the strength that we need down the line. We need to be balancing our role in society as we grow, because we are growing constantly. What is the balance of philanthropy, revenue generated through entrepreneurial activities, and volunteerism? How do we balance all of that so that we keep that formative attitude that de Tocqueville wrote about when he said what a wonder it is, in the United States, to see a group of people who see a problem and go about taking care of it -- without government!
Do you have any advice for nonprofit professionals and/or aspiring nonprofit professionals?
Do not work for an organization where you do not have a strong affinity for the mission. The mission has to drive you and your relationship with the organization.
Be open to new changes and new trends; there are lots of changes going on within the sector. Change is ever present.
Understand the nonprofit sector, its limitations as well as its strengths. Study the sector, study philanthropy, study what it’s all about. Study the philosophy of it. That will deepen your ability to be a strong leader.