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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


posted by
Henry R. Steele
Managing Editor at


There are more than 1.3 million nonprofit organizations in the United States that employ more than 12 million people, with $340 billion in annual budget outlays. As the primary goal of nonprofit organizations is to advance, advocate or pursue a cause, it is understandable that many professionals want to focus their long-term career goals on nonprofit management. 

If that describes you, there are several things to know to accelerate your career in nonprofit management. They are: 

Understand the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit organizations offer services to the public that governments and businesses do not. Hospitals, universities and religious organizations have long been the center of much nonprofit activity, but nonprofit structures are continuing to evolve. New investors and for-profit professionals are starting to work in this sector, and the line between businesses and nonprofits is beginning to blur. 









Tuesday, September 11, 2018

posted by
Jessica Yaffa
President and Co-Founder at No Silence, No Violence 

Raising money is tough, no matter how important the cause. 

According to, only half of U.S. nonprofits survive past five years, and of those that survive, about one third are in financial distress.

I’ve spent several years figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to raising money for a nonprofit. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that getting private funding comes down to four things: persistence, creativity, existing relationships and talking.

Be Persistent

Many people express excitement and intention to donate to the cause, but then don’t follow through. We can decrease this, somewhat, by capturing the donation while excitement is still high. For our regular donors, a recurring donation program helps get donations from those who have agreed to donate on a monthly or yearly schedule.

If someone hasn’t agreed to donate the first couple of times you asked, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. If they’ve expressed interest, continue following up (without annoying them). Persistence is how we got funding from Wells Fargo. After applying for several grants, we were declined every time. We maintained the relationship and were eventually funded through one of their private foundations, and they became one of our biggest supporters. Persistence pays off.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

posted by
Cindi Phallen
President, Create Possibility

Have you ever made an announcement at a board meeting and everyone is excited and pledges to be involved in this new plan or initiative? WOO HOO!

Then, a little time goes by and it’s like crickets.  Nobody is doing anything and you feel like you’re in it all alone. Where did everyone go?

When you work with a nonprofit board, creating an environment where participation is valued is essential. Reflect on this a minute and ask yourself, “How have I encouraged and supported the success of each volunteer?” 

You want to be sure you’ve created a true partnership where both staff and volunteers are holding each other accountable and are there to support each other.  When you do, you’ll see volunteers leaning in and following up, asking you what you need, requesting information or guidance and performing at a higher level than before! All that leads to more money, more people and more community awareness. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Monday, August 27, 2018

posted by
Cindi Phallen
President, Create Possibility

Let me guess. You need your volunteers to spread the word about your good work, to connect you with their networks and generally be the amazing gatekeepers to the community you know they can be.

And, they seem willing. However,…very little is happening. What the heck? Are they trying to make you miserable? Do they not care about your mission after all? What can you do to change this?

First, check your mindset and think about how you’re thinking about your board. They have good intentions and are NOT trying to ruin your day. Nevertheless, there is a disconnect somewhere so let’s try to figure it out.

Here’s the truth about why your board members aren’t actively serving as community ambassadors:

  • They don’t know what that specifically means
  • They are motivated, but don’t have everything they need to start
  • They don’t understand why they need to do so

It’s time to figure this out and facilitate their success so you aren’t frustrated. Here are three ways to support your volunteers so your amazing team of confident ambassadors raise awareness for your cause:


Monday, August 20, 2018

posted by
Cindi Phallen
President, Create Possibility

Most nonprofit leaders have complained at some point that they need their board to be more engaged in fundraising.  And yet they keep doing the same things, expecting different results.  You know the definition of insanity, right?  

So consider making a shift.  If your board members aren't fully engaged in your fundraising efforts it's because they:

  • are afraid of rejection
  • are inexperienced and insecure
  • don't understand what you need or
  • don’t know why you need to raise more money in the first place

It’s time to focus on lowering the barriers that block their success.  Let’s start here:

1. Commit to a Culture of Philanthropy. If you want to raise more money and retain more donors, start by looking at your collective mindset toward philanthropy – that’s where a culture shift begins.  

According to the report “Beyond Fundraising,” a culture of philanthropy is when everyone in the organization can serve as ambassadors for your cause and there is a focus on strong donor relationships. 

How well prepared are your volunteers to tell your story?  Does everyone understand that philanthropy supports your mission work?  It’s not about asking for money. 

Step1: Educate them on what a culture of philanthropy is and their role in it.  (There are some great tools in the report above).


Monday, August 13, 2018

posted by
Angelina Magerl
Class 12 Public Ally

"Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation which is not nourishing to the whole woman.” -Maya Angelou

Coming into Public Allies, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I thought I would do was learn about nonprofit organizations or maybe do some volunteering. Mostly, I just wanted to get my foot in the door of the nonprofit sector. After graduating from MCC, I was confused about what I wanted to do with my degree. I knew I was supposed to have all of these new opportunities open up for me, but I didn’t even know where to start looking. When you spend all your adult life working a job you hate because it provides the income needed to support your family, you don’t really think about what you would do if you could do anything else. I came across Public Allies and it looked like a great program. It was like a paid internship where I would learn about nonprofit organizations, and receive an education award at the end. I was more than excited to apply.

 “Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.” -Roy T. Bennett


Monday, August 6, 2018

posted by
Jarrett R. Ransom, MBA
President & CEO, The Rayvan Group

Skip the resolutions and let’s talk about goal setting for your nonprofit. July 1 represents a new fiscal year for many nonprofits, a time to review programs and previous goals to be sure they’re aligned with the mission and to establish new benchmarks. Without a clear plan, your nonprofit will likely serve less people than you intend. Where do you begin?

Start with WHY.

The reason we say ditch resolutions is because they’re often not well thought out so they fail. We want your nonprofit to be successful in its mission. 

Simon Sinek reminds us to think about why we’re doing what we’re doing. Honestly, whether you’re in nonprofit or for-profit work, remembering the reason you’re serving a particular group is vital to moving the organization forward. 

What will you do differently this year? Review the mission statement - cure cancer, end homelessness, provide affordable housing for working families - whatever it is, ask yourself if the programs from last year helped the organization reach its goals.  

Monday, July 30, 2018

posted by
Charlaina Baker
Spring 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Nonprofit executives play a critical role in the performance of the organizations they lead. Executive turnover can be tumultuous and costly for an organization in terms of money and effectiveness. By planning for the transition, organizations can minimize the risks and costs while taking advantages of the opportunities it brings. Several strategies can help nonprofits to plan and manage a successful leadership transition:

Build Board Capacity

Hiring and supervising the executive director is one of a board’s key responsibilities, yet many boards are underprepared for the transition and lack the experience needed to manage the process, according to Michael Allison in “Into the Fire: Boards and Executive Transitions."

Training and educating board members on the executive transition process can help prepare them for this important responsibility. Organizations can also seek to recruit board members who can be strong leaders during the transition. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

posted by
Suzanne Durkin-Bighorn 
Spring 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Member based nonprofits and trade associations have been consistently losing ground in the volunteer sector and are challenged with remaining relevant and retaining members. In a field that is known for the lack of capacity building and infrastructure funding, nonprofits must be strategic in how they allocate time, treasure, and talent. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “nonprofit leaders must focus more attention on innovation, measuring the impact of their efforts, and creating funding structures that encourage risk taking, according to a report  from Independent Sector." An approach that member-based organizations may consider from the private sector is Lean Startup, which provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups in order to get a desired product into customers' hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup: how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development. Applying this concept to nonprofits is another accepted means to include the nonprofit sector as a viable player in the business sector, with management capabilities that are equal or exceed the private sector in efficiency.

Taking risks in the business sector is considered research and development. It can drive up costs (pharmaceuticals) because of research and development. Often if a drug trial fails the public is unaware of the failure or the associated cost. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

posted by
Jarrett R. Ransom, MBA
President & CEO, The Rayvan Group

If your nonprofit is serious about long-term sustainability, succession planning needs to be part of the overall plan for the organization. The team has poured their hearts and souls into setting goals, developing strategies, and recruiting staff and volunteers, only to have all that work potentially go to waste when a leader leaves the organization. Disruption happens and the more prepared the organization is for change, the better for long-term success.

Write it down:

BoardSource reports that only 27 percent of all organizations have a written executive succession plan. That means nearly three quarters do not. In the event the executive director leaves, there will be a transition time to not only figure out an interim leader but a process to identify a new one. Without a written plan, assumptions may be made that aren’t aligned with the overall vision and resources spent to start a process that should have already been happening. 



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