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, May 24, 2011

posted by
Hannah Humphrey,

Public Allies Arizona Alumna /
Outreach Coordinator,

Xico

What does it mean to be a community organization? Nonprofit professionals use the word "community" a lot. We talk about serving the community, building community, and engaging community. But sometimes we forget that "the community" is not just an abstract demographic.

I'm lucky to live and work in downtown Chandler, a community with an active merchants' association and a city that is very interested in creating a sense of place. What I've learned from Chandler is that community is not a place — it's a practice. This community works because we know our neighbors, because we look out for each other, and because, sometimes, we care enough to argue with each other. I see community when the barber shop next door to my office holds packages that were delivered when we were out. I see community when business owners get up early to go to a meeting about parking restrictions. I see community when someone asks me for a recommendation, and I can say, "Sure, I know exactly who can help you. They're just down the street."

If you're looking for ways to find community, the best strategy I've seen is Asset Based Community Development (thanks Public Allies!), which uses the strengths that already exist in a community to effect positive change. You can click here to read more about the theory, or you can start exploring the resources near you with an asset map.

Friday, May 20, 2011

posted by Pat Lewis,
Senior Professional
in Residence
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.



"None of us exists independent of our relationships with others. In each of these relationships we are different, new in some way." [1]

The relationship between a nonprofit Board Chair and the CEO is an incredibly important one. I have found no studies that dispute this. In fact, it ought to be a fun, exhilarating, rewarding experience for both members of this important leadership team. So, are we accomplishing this goal?

ASU is a research university that puts significant effort into true academic research. However, there are times when simple surveys produce very meaningful information — and can provide the basis for deeper research projects. And it is a simple (and small) survey upon which this blog is based.

The Organization for Nonprofit Executives (ONE) recently performed a survey of its members to help gather information for my presentation on the Board Chair/Chief Executive relationship. Thirty-two CEOs responded, and the results were extremely informative, leading to the greater question of how often this relationship is fun, exhilarating, and rewarding. The answer? For the CEO, not as often as one might imagine.

When asked their feelings about this relationship, approximately 1 in 4 CEOs responded with very positive statements (paraphrased) such as:

  • Chair is supportive and helpful.
  • The challenge? Keeping up with the Chair.
  • Chair is very busy, but very accommodating.
  • Relationship built on mutual trust and respect.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

posted by
Lyn McDonough,
American Humanics
Program Coordinator Senior,
ASU Lodestar Center

"The few, the proud..." Okay, okay — I stole this slogan from the U.S. Marine Corps. So, sue me! But I think it fits the graduating class of American Humanics (AH) students, all 18 of them.

The 18 students being recognized at the annual graduation celebration will have completed all requirements during the spring, summer, and fall semesters of 2011. Requirements not only include courses towards their degree program, but also 30 additional hours of coursework and 200 Career Field Exploration (CFE) hours — designed to assist students in "trying out" different nonprofit organizations and the jobs within them before they make any decisions about full-time employment. Once students complete the AH certification, which also includes a full-time, 600-hour semester as an intern, they have the tools and confidence necessary to begin working for a nonprofit organization and immediately make a significant contribution.


We held the American Humanics Senior Recognition Dinner on Monday, April 25th at the George Washington Carver Museum and Community Center, led by a first-generation AH alumna, Princess Crump. This year's theme, "Remember our Past, Recognize our Successes, Rediscover our Passion," was designed to highlight the successes of over 400 ASU/AH alumni working in the community to make a positive change. Princess exemplifies the work of a successful community leader with her help in renovating the Museum and her efforts over the last 10 years to develop a true community center in the Central Neighborhood. Her words to the graduates were, "You never know where your skills will take you, so learn all you can about whatever you are interested in doing." She is proud that she now understands how to read blue prints (and even has her very own hard hat and steel-toed boots)!

Dr. Bob Long, Distinguished Visiting Professor in Youth and Nonprofit Leadership from Murray State University, delivered an inspirational keynote address to graduates. He noted the importance of listening and shared his philosophy on being a good leader. Dr. Long joined Don Lindner (Chair of the ASU Lodestar Center's Advisory Council) and Dr. Robert Ashcraft (Director of the American Humanics program at ASU and Executive Director of the ASU Lodestar Center) in congratulating the graduates. Friends, family, ASU faculty, and AH students also attended in the recognition of the following graduates:

Friday, May 13, 2011

posted by
Robert Duea,
Professional-in-Residence
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.

Last year, I was introduced to a report called "Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector." Intrigued by the title, I decided to throw it in my "read while on an airplane" file. Once I finally packed my bags, boarded, and had a chance to read through the report, I immediately felt it was one of the most important monographs in the last two decades. Having been a member of the World Future Society for the past thirty five years, I have read a lot of literature focusing on trends, and I know it can be overwhelming to sift through all of the dialogue about what nonprofits should expect to see in the future. To alleviate some of this pressure, this week I will introduce you to one of the trends described in "Convergence," which was compiled by La Piana Consulting and commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation. The report was completed and published in November of 2009, and you can click here to download a copy.

Here's what we know: Many in nonprofit leadership positions have been hanging on by cutting more than they even thought possible. We in the academic community are likewise witnessing a Draconian withdrawal of public dollar support. In order to cope with the economic climate and achieve sustainability, we'll need to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and respond to sector changes, like shifts in giving and volunteering. Here's what we need to know: What can we expect the social sector to look like in the future? To answer this question, we need a meaningful understanding of what trends are going to have the most impact and reach. "Convergence" is a great place to start.

The report discusses the following five specific trends:

  • Demographic Shifts Redefine Participation
  • Technological Advances Abound
  • Networks Enable Work to Be Organized In New Ways
  • Interest in Civic Engagement and Volunteerism is Rising
  • Sector Boundaries are Blurring

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

posted by Aaron Stiner,
Senior Program Manager,
Paths of HOPE, Catholic Charities

I am at one of the most intense, rewarding, and sometimes frightening times in my nonprofit career. And I don't think I'm alone.

As Senior Program Manager of Paths of HOPE at Catholic Charities, I am preparing to lead my team and a group of cross-functional, internal stakeholders, along with our CEO and Senior Management, through a two-day program planning session. With our CEO's support, this is my team's best opportunity to gain commitment from stakeholders on resourcing and supporting our program's priorities.

I'm a new leader, managing a young program with high expectations. It's fantastic work – very intense and rewarding. But it can be scary at times – looking at a mountain of work, thinking there has to be a better way to manage – because if we don't, we can't improve lives. No pressure there, ha!

As Board President of YNPN Phoenix, I often hear from other emerging nonprofit leaders – including our board – a shared desire to perform with high standards in the face of huge workloads, while at the same time wanting life/work balance. We love our commitments, but it can sometimes be a challenge to hold it all together!

But fear not, nonprofit professionals! There are ways to work through even the toughest times that don't always need to include escaping to an undisclosed tropical location and leaving your smart phone at home with your cat.

Facing a challenging situation at work? Access resources! The ASU Lodestar Center, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, YNPN Phoenix, my fellow MNpS graduates, my coworkers, boss, friends, and professional mentors are all resources I access to get me unstuck on my quest to improve the common good.

Monday, May 9, 2011

posted by
Brittany Fasnacht,
Office Assistant
ASU Lodestar Center

Today's youth generation has been stereotyped as the "me" generation — as obsessed with technology, social media, and constantly checking Facebook news feeds. However, technological advancement and social media are the key factors of this generation when it comes to giving back. Nonprofit organizations all over the world have become accustomed to the social media franchise: People are now able to donate online, view volunteer opportunities on the web, follow charity updates, and much more. Having access to this information through social media is one very large reason I believe that today's youth are becoming more involved with giving back to their communities.

Now, technology and social media aren't going to be the only things that help keep the younger generation involved with volunteering and donating to nonprofit organizations. This is where strong family ties can make a big impact. Instead of spending your "family time" watching television, give volunteering a shot! It's a fantastic way to pass the volunteering torch on to the next generation. While growing up, I spent a lot of time with my family volunteering and giving back to various organizations such as the Special Olympics and St. Mary's Food Bank, and it's had a significant impact on my life, even inspiring me to join the American Humanics program.

Friday, May 6, 2011

postedby
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.

It was a great week for learning and connecting, with over 500 people attending the Phoenix Business Journal's Fourth Annual Nonprofit Business Summit, which engaged nonprofit and business leaders in dialogue and educational sessions. And on April 29-30, nonprofit scholars came together at the 8th Annual West Coast Nonprofit Data Conference to share current research and discuss methodological developments in the field.

In the spirit of learning, we've put together a fun quiz on Arizona's nonprofit sector. Take this quiz to test your knowledge. We'll report the overall scores in a future blog post.

Click here to take the 10-question quiz! (This link will take you to a new page. At the end of the quiz, you'll find a link to get back to ASU Lodestar Center blog.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

posted by
Mark Hager, Ph.D.
,

Associate Professor,

ASU School of Community
Resources & Development

This post is about a bad dog and the role that a class of ASU students is playing in its quest for redemption.

Back in the early 1990s, I had a day job studying nonprofit spending and reporting as part of something called the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study, a joint project between the Urban Institute and Indiana University. The project grew out of the observation that nonprofits were not tracking their spending very well, and many were putting down some pretty crazy numbers on their annual reports and Form 990s. It seemed that the world wanted nonprofits to spend nothing on administration and fundraising, and many were reporting just that.

Turns out that part of the problem was that many nonprofits didn't understand functional expense accounting or reporting rules. Another part was that many nonprofits didn't have systems in place to track and allocate expenses accurately. However, story after story pointed to pressures from donors for nonprofits to invest as little money as possible in administration and fundraising. After all, people want their contributions to go to programming. The average donor doesn't want to pay for "frilly" stuff like accounting software, talented executives, and fundraising campaigns. So, to conform to expectations, nonprofits had three bad options. One was to keep making necessary investments in overhead and potentially have donors walk away. A second was to trim administrative and fundraising expenses to the bone. The third was to fudge the accounting.

Where do donors get trained to think that investment in administration and fundraising is bad? Well, lots of places. In their quick-takes on "making smart donations," media stories frequently tell donors to pick the charity that spends the least on administration and fundraising. Magazines like Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and Money routinely publish stories that emphasize program spending and fundraising cost ratios. Federated campaigns often "help" their donors make giving decisions by prominently publishing such ratios next to the organization's names. And those ratios are two of the accountability standards at the Better Business Bureau.

Friday, April 29, 2011

postedby
Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D.

Executive Director
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.

In a prior post titled, "Really, How Many Nonprofits Are There?" my colleague Professor Mark Hager dissected the conundrum faced by nonprofit researchers in answering that question. To a casual observer, it seems so easy to answer, and yet, as Mark explained, it is quite complex. As researchers attempt to explain this and other questions, they are sometimes charged with the claim, "Oh, you people are just too academic!" I always find that exclamation amusing, since truth-seeking is about understanding complex phenomena and overcoming huge methodological challenges—explanations of which are not always welcomed in a world that places a premium on superficial sound bites and speedy, surface-level interpretation.

Determining the number of nonprofits is even more challenging when considering the question, "Where do nonprofits operate?" Often, funders and others ask this because they want to know to what extent various nonprofits serve a particular geographic location (e.g., city, county, etc.). While there may be value in knowing where building-centered nonprofits (e.g., museums, recreation centers, etc.) exist, the analysis falls apart when considering nonprofits that provide services instead (often to our most vulnerable citizens). For example, a study done several years ago in Los Angeles suggested that South Central Los Angeles is devoid of much-needed services provided by nonprofits (such as domestic violence shelters) because census track data did not reveal any located in the area. Using geographic information system (GIS) mapping, the report depicted a rather bleak picture of "nonprofitness" in the area as compared to other regions.

However, those "on the ground" who know our field realize that where a nonprofit is headquartered may not at all describe where their activity takes place. For example, domestic violence shelters are, by design, quietly hidden and not widely publicized by street addresses. In the case of Los Angeles, a node of domestic violence shelter mailing addresses actually led to a Post Office located in a high-wealth area of the city. To suggest that domestic violence shelters are only clustered in high-wealth areas and do not serve people in lower socioeconomic areas would be a flaw in data interpretation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

posted by
Sarah Hipolito
,
Program Coordinator, Senior
ASU Lodestar Center

If I've learned anything in my brief six years, 10 months, and 27 days of marriage, it's that, in addition to love, communication is key in growing and maintaining a good relationship. Funny thing is, I learned the exact same thing in just one day while attending the ASU Lodestar Center's 2011 Forum on Nonprofit Effectiveness. Well, we all care deeply for the missions of our organizations and those we serve — you might even call that "love." But, without good communication, we may fall short of our goals. With keynote speakers Travis Manzione (Director of Assessment Tools for The Center for Effective Philanthropy) and Charles Best (Founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org), and a panel representing local nonprofits and funders (including Ear Candy, Phoenix Youth at Risk, SRP, and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust), you could not miss the message: Ongoing communication between grantees and funders is an absolute must.

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