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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

posted by
Angela Francis
Senior Associate
Nonprofit Finance Fund

Welcome to Research Friday! For this week's post, we welcome Angela Francis, Senior Associate, from Nonprofit Finance Fund to discuss NFF's recently released State of the Sector survey findings. We've had a great response thus far to Research Friday, our weekly series on nonprofit research. We welcome your comments, feedback, and suggestions!

At Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), we use data and capital to drive our work with nonprofits and their funders nationwide. One source of data informing this work is our annual State of the Sector Survey. Earlier this year, nearly 2,000 nonprofit leaders completed the survey, and the results help us to better understand and communicate the economic reality facing nonprofit practitioners on the ground. In a previous Research Friday post, I covered some key survey takeaways on the increased demand for services in 2011, and how this is communicated to funders. This week, I want to delve a little deeper into the survey responses that we received in another key area: cash available to manage risk.

As we work with clients, provide workshops, and present on nonprofit finance issues, one question pops up again and again: how much cash cushion should a nonprofit have? One of my NFF colleagues recently explained why the answer is different for every organization and depends on a number of factors. As a rough benchmark, though, NFF recommends nonprofits should have enough cash to sustain operations for at least three months. Having less than one month of cash at your disposal is generally considered a cash crisis.

A more ideal situation is holding three to six months of cash, which makes it easier to start thinking long term and building up reserves: a rainy day fund, facility reserves, etc. Organizations with reserves are better prepared for an emergency (major building repairs, loss of a primary funding source, severe economic upheaval), and, in a crisis, it's more likely that they can continue providing their services uninterrupted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

posted by
Laci Lester
Public Allies Arizona
former Program Manager,
ASU Lodestar Center

There are people who think of work-life balance in a Utopian way — where work and life responsibilities are lines in the Zen garden of life. When those same people realize how fictionalized that image is, they often give up on the daydream and get back into the thick of their work. But it doesn't have to be this way!

In Spring 2010, I administered an informal survey as part of a Public Allies independent study project. I asked nonprofit professionals about their views on work-life balance and how it effects their day-to-day lives. I have to say, the results were pretty fascinating.

People responded in every way possible. Some outright claimed that their organizations hinged on staff being overworked and underpaid. Some acknowledged their efforts to make balance more a part of their supervision style. Others responded that balance is dependent on very personal practices.

So, how can nonprofit professionals realistically tackle work-life balance? Ultimately, it's a tight rope act. And, by thinking this way, we can begin to gain some much-needed perspective:

A strong foundation and set-up is crucial.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

posted by
Clyde W. Kunz, CFRE,

ASU Lodestar Center
NMI Instructor /
Clyde Kunz and Associates, LLC

Most people, by their very nature, want to help others. Though not universal, it's true that people continue to volunteer and contribute money in support of organizations doing good work in our communities.

Periodically I run into someone (and even at times a fellow fundraising professional!) who argues, "People aren't as giving as they used to be." Data about giving suggests otherwise. In fact, Americans' giving over the past 40 years has averaged 2.2% of household income. Even today, in the midst of what many are calling "the Great Recession," giving hovers at the same rate as a percentage of income.

So, why do individuals contribute money to nonprofit organizations?

Each of us has different interests and concerns. While most of those concerns are focused on our own needs (I have to remember to pay the mortgage this week. What am I going to feed the kids for dinner? I'm late for work and almost out of gas!), we also have individual concerns that are more outwardly-focused (Why are there so many homeless people on the street these days? I wonder how my church can pay for its new roof? Who will take care of kids who are taken from dangerous family situations?)

Friday, July 8, 2011

posted by
Marla Cornelius,
Senior Project Director

Welcome to Research Friday! This week we welcome Marla Cornelius, co-author of Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership. If you're interested in learning more, this topic will be explored in more depth in the upcoming Daring to Lead 2011 brief: Inside the Executive Director Job, which you can find on the Daring to Lead website next month.

When asked what aspects of the executive director role leaders find most depleting, Daring to Lead respondents named human resources more often than any other job function. One-third of executives said that they do not spend enough time managing and developing staff. And, among all domains of leadership that the role requires (leading self, leading others, leading the organization, and leading externally), executives believe they are least effective when it comes to leading others.

In the words of one executive, personnel management is a "sucking bog."

Yet, executives also report enormous satisfaction in working with talented, dedicated, and inspiring staff members. Leaders are proponents of professional development, and the vast majority of them value shared leadership — meaning an approach that is both inclusive and collaborative, and shares decision making and authority with others throughout the organization.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

posted by
Maria Rainier
Freelance Writer & Blogger
First in Education

Social media is a powerful marketing tool for businesses of all types, and it is especially useful for nonprofit organizations, which typically struggle more to reach a large audience on a tighter budget. Facebook is a leader in social media, with approximately 500 million users across various demographics. It's an especially valuable tool for nonprofits, since it's free and offers a large, accessible audience.

By using Facebook, nonprofits can connect with other organizations and reach supporters. They can raise money, recruit volunteers, or spread awareness about their cause. However, simply signing up for an account and posting some information about the organization is not enough to make Facebook an effective marketing tool. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of Facebook:

Create a Page, Not a Group

Monday, July 4, 2011

posted by
Dianna Schwartz,
Public Allies Arizona Alumna /
Program Associate,
New Global Citizens

About eighteen months ago, I was standing outside a Thai classroom in the open courtyard of an elementary school in Bangkok, watching from a second-story perch as Thai children "marched" in the center recreation area. As an American who had traveled extensively in Europe before, I often harbored the telltale sign of a Catholic — guilt — when representing my country on foreign turf.

The U.S., known for having a culture of excess, had often given me reasons to feel apologetic when interacting with foreign civilizations. I had learned to keep my head down, to speak quietly and thoughtfully, to keep my opinions to myself, and, when all else failed, to tell people that I was Canadian.

I was poised to enter a classroom and represent my country again, this time to forty third-graders who might never make it to the U.S. on their own. I had just been told that part of the value I brought as an English teacher was being Goodwill Ambassador, bringing U.S. culture to a generation of Thai youth. If they never travel abroad in their life, this will be all they know of the U.S. I watched the marching students below and mulled over that awesome responsibility, and, oddly enough, felt the dawning of a supremely foreign thought.

While we certainly have reasons to be reluctant to announce our U.S. heritage loudly, we also have reasons to be proud to call ourselves U.S. citizens. Not every country exports volunteers in the way our country does — the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Cross Cultural Solutions, Atlas Corps, Global Leadership Adventures... the list continues on ad infinitum.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Stephanie La Loggia, M.A.

Manager of Knowledge Resources
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. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Thanks to the 100 people who took our nonprofit sector quiz! In the quiz, we asked a few questions about Arizona's largest nonprofit organizations, in terms of assets, grantmaking, and donations. Some of the answers may have surprised you, so let's talk about a few of those trickier questions.

Who grants the most?

The term grantmaker typically refers to a nonprofit organization that grants money to other nonprofits. Most of the grantmakers in Arizona are private foundations. Even though they're nonprofits, private foundations are a little bit different, legally, than other nonprofits. They file a different 990 form (the 990 PF) and are also subject to additional rules and taxes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

posted by
Todd Hornback,
Director of Community Life
DMB Associates, Inc.

"Your board is your destiny." You could have heard a pin drop when this simple, yet elegant answer was given to an apparently complex question.

When fundraising legend Jerry Panas was the featured presenter to a small group of nonprofit CEO's and board chairs in Phoenix, those in the room hung on his every word. I mean, why wouldn't they? Mr. Panas has raised something like a gazillion dollars through the years. In fact, with over thirty years of proven fundraising success, he certainly knows a little something about that complex question: "So, what is the board's role in fundraising?"

Your board is your destiny.

It's brilliant. It's brilliant because it's so true. It's also brilliant because it's compelling. Whatever your past accomplishments, whatever your organizational journey, be assured that the makeup of the group sitting around your board table is a direct precursor to where your organization will end up — for better or for worse.

Your board is your destiny.

It's shocking to me how many nonprofit boards are unaware of the power and importance they possess. Worse, some are outright shirking their primary responsibilities, leaving all faith (and important decisions) in the hands of their CEO. I mean all due respect to the abundance of massively talented leaders in the nonprofit community. But left alone, even the most successful CEO's could be creating an unsustainable enterprise. Without broad-based community support, an abundance of boisterous stakeholders, and support from multiple consumer markets (all work that should be driven by the board), organizations with leadership models containing narrow distribution of meaningful roles do not survive over time.

Your board is your destiny.

Board development is the most important work of the nonprofit enterprise. Yet, it is largely under-valued, under-resourced, and under-appreciated for its potential. So, here it is. Developed over the past decade with broad support and inspiration from a variety of friends, trusted colleagues, and published wisdom: Board Development 101 — Building Better Boards in 10 Easy Steps:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

posted by
Robert F. Long, Ph.D.,
Senior Fellow
ASU Lodestar Center

There is no leadership, as typically defined, today! The models, theories, and approaches to leadership that have been espoused over the past 100 years have steadily lost effectiveness around the globe. While many will suggest that the traditional frameworks for leadership have never worked, I only suggest here that they no longer work for the changing contexts in which people find themselves. The failures of leadership are found at every turn — from the need for attention of those who aspire to lead to the need to control those who do take the lead.

The "great man theory," among others, is irrelevant in modern context. So, for purposes of this post, let's focus on what leaders should and shouldn't do. I will leave it to you to see the differences in those who you've identified as leaders. Let's talk about what the world needs of future leaders.

Leaders should listen — not talk. They should ask questions and listen all the way to the end of what others have to say. They shouldn't have "the" answers and be valued for being "right." Instead, leaders should have the capacity to discover great answers and amazing ideas. They should also be skilled at helping those ideas become a reality.

Friday, June 24, 2011

posted by
Mary McGillicuddy,
Nonprofit Leadership
& Management
Arizona State University

Welcome to Research Friday! This week we welcome Mary McGillicuddy, one of the researchers who worked with the ASU College of Public Programs on a project that analyzed and mapped the social network of downtown Phoenix nonprofit organizations.

I've heard that the ASU Lodestar Center gets a ton of calls from nonprofit organizations looking to partner with other organizations. The Center works like a hub in that way, connecting the dots between the sector. In fact, the Arizona sector works that way, too — we often connect to each other through hubs.

Contrary to popular belief, social networks and social network analysis (SNA) both existed long before Facebook. SNA is a visual, quantitative measurement tool that has been used across disciplines since the 1950's. Recently, ASU's College of Public Programs used SNA to assess its impact on nonprofit organizations in the downtown Phoenix area. This kind of analysis fascinates me, and I think it can really help others understand what's really going on in the Arizona nonprofit sector. But, before diving headfirst into the research findings, there are a few important terms that merit a little explanation.

Very simply, a social network depicts patterns of social interaction between entities (Tichy Tichy, Tushman, and Fombrun, 1979)[4]. These entities, also called "nodes," can be individuals, groups, and/or organizations. An identified connection between two nodes is called a "tie." A tie varies in its strength, direction, and content, all of which depend on many independent factors, such as reciprocity and intimacy within the relationship. The type of tie depicted in a social network map depends on a study's content and purpose (Knoke and Yang, 2008)[3].

Our ASU study, led by former College of Public Programs Dean Debra Friedman, populated a social network map of Phoenix nonprofit organizations, including their relationship to ASU. Organizations were selected based on their proximity to the downtown Phoenix campus. Executive directors were contacted and asked to list the organization's five most important nonprofit partners within the last year; they were also asked to describe the nature of each partnership, such as resource sharing, along with the perceived importance of each partnership.


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