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.

Monday, June 18, 2018

posted by
Taylor Polen
Class 11 and Class 12 Public Ally

My name is Taylor Polen, I was born and raised in Arizona and am passionate about finding creative solutions to inspire systemic equality and opportunity for all. I graduated from high school in 2016 and had little notion of what I wanted to do with my life until I joined Public Allies.

I found the program while searching for other sources of financial aid for college and applied late despite discouragement. My first term with Public Allies and the Alzheimer's Association began as an outreach specialist in December 2016. I became a program specialist my second year with Public Allies, in October 2017. Because of this program, I have been given the opportunity and guidance to achieve my life mission to create meaningful, positive and lasting change.

“To eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research: to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.”


Monday, June 11, 2018

posted by
Mamie Winkelman
Spring 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

The nonprofit sector is known for the good humanitarian work it aims to provide society.  Within the sector itself exist organizations that are run with the precision of any Fortune 500 company.  But, charitable organizations in general are thought to be lagging behind their for-profit cousins in some of the more basic areas of organizational operations necessary to grow and maintain healthy enterprises.  “Nonprofit organizations are as susceptible, perhaps more susceptible, to financial problems and insolvency than their for-profit counterparts,” according to Mark Melickian in " A guide for nonprofit organizations: Bankruptcy issues. " 

 With the complex arena that nonprofit organizations have chosen to be accountable for, it is imperative that healthy business practices become sector standards in order to ensure that necessary services do not disappear due to avoidable mismanagement.

Additional motivators beyond service commitment exist for nonprofit organizations to tighten up operational procedures. Weerawardena, McDonald, and Mort  credit increased opportunity of for-profit businesses to offer what was once largely nonprofit services, and the sheer number of charitable organizations chasing the same dollars, as two of the primary reasons for this emerging issue in "Journal of World Business."  “These changes have forced NPOs [nonprofit organizations] to adopt strategies aimed at building viable, sustainable organizations in order to continue to pursue their social mission."  Nonprofit organizations are being faced with the more competitive reality in which successful fundraising campaigns are no longer the answer for poor operational practices.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Seth Cothrun

posted by
Seth Cothrun
Class 9, American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center

I recently returned from New York City, where I was able to spend two incredible days with 72 fellow global nonprofit leaders selected to attend the fourth annual American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit. The theme of the summit was Leadership in Times of Transition. This year's summit featured a special livestream conversation with Angela Fernandez, Esq., executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, and Dan Parks, managing editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. They discussed leadership in times of transition, and how our sector can be effective under current conditions. You can watch the archived version of the conversation here, and I highly encourage anybody, whether you work in the nonprofit sector or not, do so.

Rather than spend time telling you what they said and why it’s important – thanks to modern-day technology, you can learn directly from them on your train ride home (you are using mass transit, right!?) – I thought I’d talk a bit about what I have learned through transitions in my career.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

posted by
Jill Robeck
Spring 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

If you research the topic of volunteer retention, you will find many lists of “best practices” or “high priority” tasks for nonprofit managers.  While these lists are valuable, and applicable to specific types of nonprofits, it is difficult to find a list that can be applied to the majority of nonprofits, regardless of mission and size.

The following list contains best practices that are easy to implement across a wide range of nonprofits.  They are also common-sense solutions, which can be easily understood and transferred into practice.  These practices are mutually beneficial to volunteers and nonprofit organizations.

1. Create Clear Job Descriptions – State the title of the position, what job duties are included, what type of environment volunteers will be working in, and the name of the person they report to.  Most importantly, state the mission of the organization, and show how the position directly contributes to the accomplishment of that mission. 

Why Is This Important? Volunteers want to know what they are getting in to before they sign on for a job.  Creating a clear, concise job description gives them a good idea of what will be required of them, and allows a chance to ask questions.  Nonprofit managers can save time and money by screening out volunteers who are not ready to commit to the task at hand.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

posted by
Damonte Johnson
Class 12 Public Ally

My story with Public Allies Arizona starts years before I even walked into a job fair and met my former program manager. For you to truly understand my impact with Public Allies, you must first allow me introduce my journey, my obstacles, and myself. You must first understand how having a village of leaders, nurturers, friends and loved ones all played a part in my journey to get this far. I was born the second oldest of six to a single mother on the north side of St. Louis, City. Where I lived, 16 family members in a three-bedroom home, mostly boys, you would think the house would be a rowdy environment. It was quite the opposite. The house was always full of love for each other, but outside the door was another story. I can still smell the lingering scent of a gun recently fired. I still feel the pangs of not eating and not being sure  when a meal would come. I remember how hard my mom had to work to provide for the household, and all of this was before my sixth birthday. 

When I joined Public Allies back in 2017, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. After meeting the strong men and women in my cohort, I knew I was a part of something special. I started working with Creighton Community Foundation, for two reasons. First, I wanted to impact the lives of the next generation through education. Second, the founder Jeff Boles, knows and lives the mission that my Godmother instilled in me, “it takes a village, to raise a child.” While working at Creighton, we worked heavily in the neighborhoods of the students who attended Gateway and Excelencia Elementary.



Monday, May 7, 2018

posted by
Jacque Ahrenberg
Senior Consultant
Rayvan Group

The one-size-fits-all mentality may work with buying a hat but it is not an effective way to attract new donors to your nonprofit. 

It is possible to diversify your revenue and bring sustainability to your organization by attracting new donors. These individual donors will want to support your organization and its mission. 

We have identified three key items that you can immediately implement to attract new donors to your organization.

1. Choose to engage the donor’s head and heart to make the investment decision. 

While some donors want to hear about the tear-jerking story, other donors gravitate to the infographic that clearly demonstrates the direct numbers impacted by the mission of the organization. And to make things a little more difficult, some donors appreciate both – the heart felt story and the hard facts combined with data. 

We have found that you will achieve your best results from a donor appeal letter when you genuinely know your audience. Keep in mind that this is not only the words on the paper – it is also how your solicitation letter made them feel. You want your donors (and prospective donors) to remember their feelings, even after the last punctuation mark on the paper. 

When marketing to a donor demographic that you have not identified their giving preference, go with the heartfelt story. Make sure you are able to clearly illustrate the impact numbers of your organization and, when possible, couple this with a client name, face and personal story. All the better to paint the picture for your donor to feel the impact of their donation. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

posted by
Disa McAlister
Fall 2017 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Nonprofit organizations have added pressure in the area of Leadership Development due to smaller staff sizes, with smaller salaries. This means people are expected to do more for less. Volunteer bases, while passionate, also sport high turnover. Volunteer managers are constantly training, on top of everything else they do. Between being understaffed, stretching resources and constantly training new people, little energy is left over to put into leadership development. 

 Even in the age of technology and virtual meetings, the most impactful moments of development happen in regular face-to-face meetings on a daily basis. Your conference room (or coffee shop table) is sacred space. Use the moments in and around meetings to foster the kind of leadership that will support your organization.

Here are a few toxic signs of ego to watch out for that will invade your sacred meeting space and derail leadership development:


To steamroll a conversation is to take the focus off a subject and turn it into being all about one person. If you witness a person is consistently taking over a conversation to talk about themselves, you can veer the focus back by kindly acknowledging what they were saying using reflective language, and then saying, “but this meeting is about X and we need to hear from Mr. Y.” It may not work the first time, but you’ve taken the first step to establishing a precedence for your meeting space.

Monday, April 23, 2018

posted by
Juhi Sharma
Digital Marketing
Give Central

When it comes to fundraising for nonprofits, donors are key. While reaching out to donors for funds, it is essential to treat them as partners. You should constantly keep them in the loop about things you are planning to do and how you plan to go about your campaign.

Donors have several motivations for choosing a cause. It could be something they feel passionately about, or it could also be their desire to be part of a community while sharing the vision of the leader of the project. It could be because of tax-deductible donations, or several other factors. You should be able to provide reasons to the donor for connecting with your cause. Once they are a part of your cause, it is equally important to reach out to them on a regular basis to make them feel a part of your community.

Here are a few ways to make your campaign more donor centric: 

Show donors how they can help solve a problem

Evidence shows that people are more likely to donate if they believe they can create a difference through their support. They strive to help solve something that they associate themselves with. Target your audience with a pitch that has specific requests.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Kristin Harvey

posted by
Kristin Harvey
ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management student

Nonprofits rely heavily on giving from private citizens to have the funds necessary to carry out their mission and strengthen their communities. The tax law and jobs act (TCJA) presents many changes for nonprofits to consider in 2018. Charitable giving provides necessary support to nonprofits by providing vital services to communities, and the most giving by far comes from individual donors.

The Tax Policy Center projects that individual charitable giving will decrease by between 4 and 6.5 percent in 2018. The following changes to the law are some of the most critical when considering the effect they may have on charitable giving to nonprofits. 

  • Standard deductions are increased to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples.
  • Exemption of estate tax has been doubled to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples.
  • State and local income and property taxes are now limited to a $10,000 deduction.
  • For those who itemize, the limit for cash donations is raised from 50 percent to 60 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).
  • The Pease Amendment, which limited overall itemized deductions, is now repealed.

Let's examine each of them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

posted by
Hallie Rexer
Fall 2017 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Among nonprofit organizations, human service nonprofits, in particular, serve public interests to improve the community. Each community brings diverse challenges for the government, nonprofit, and private sectors to address; and these complex social issues are rarely solved by single organizations. Aid programs may be necessary to benefit the individuals currently in poverty, but it does not provide a lasting solution (Dees, 2008). Many leaders are working towards collaboration; however, “larger cultural contexts remain firmly anchored to the myth of the heroic individual leader” (Senge, et. al, 2015). Understanding how a nonprofit leader can catalyze and guide systemic development to foster collaboration may lead to creating effective change on a greater scale. (Senge, et. al, 2015). 

Nationally and in Arizona, systemic challenges are present. For example, the poverty rate in the United States increased from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 15.5 percent in 2015; and was even higher in Arizona where the 2015 poverty rate was 18.2 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).  While poverty was rising, so were national high school graduation rates. In 2011, the U.S. graduation rate was 79 percent and the rate in 2015 was 83.2 percent. The Arizona high school graduation rate dropped from 78 percent in 2011 to 77.4 percent in 2015 (National Center for Education, 2016). Scharmer (2008) accuses these failures to the blind “deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change” (Scharmer, 2008). While these problems are seen by some as intractable, there are opportunities for innovation by nonprofit practitioners through leadership advancements. (Senge, et. al, 2015).   


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