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, July 22, 2019

Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz

posted by
Jennifer Brauer
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Rusty Morgen Stahl, in an article examining research on nonprofit hiring strategies, wrote for The Foundation Review, “It is reasonable to ask what has been done to tackle the talent challenge. At the sector level, reports have provided data and recommendations; unfortunately, many of these ideas have not been implemented effectively into the field.”

It is apparent that the nonprofit sector is going through a time of difficulties and change when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees. Nonprofit organizations are often not able to have separate human resources departments due to budgeting and staff restraints. This issue can lead to a lack of recruitment and retention techniques. Employees at nonprofit organizations who are in charge of HR or recruitment must place utmost importance on recruiting and retaining high-performing and high-impact employees in order for their organizations to be successful. 

According to HRZone, a high-performing employee possesses traits such as self-motivation, ability to take ownership, ability to be a team player and adaptability. There are two main areas that nonprofit organizations should be focusing on to improve their HR departments – recruitment and retention.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Illustration by Jocelyn Ruiz

posted by
Heather Aal
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Not all revenue streams are created equal in the nonprofit sector. They are often riddled with limitations and unrealistic expectations. Rarely do funds cover operational or administrative costs and often they may have additional matches or indirect expenses needed to fulfill all requirements. The long-term sustainability of a charity is dependent on unrestricted funding sources allowing the organization to determine how and where resources should be focused. 

Restricted Funding

Restricted funding has been the standard for many charities to accept with a smile while figuring out how to work within the limitations set forth. This can lead to skewed budgets, falsified accounting practices and loss of stakeholder trust. Restricted funds can be a result of grants, donor requests or specific fundraising campaigns. John Fisher of CHARISM learned a lesson in restricted funding when he accepted a grant for new computers. Unfortunately, the grant only covered the hardware, not the software, furniture or education. This cost his organization thousands of dollars in indirect expenses, leaving him frustrated and fiscally short for the year. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

posted by
Shannon Bailey
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

I am a busy working mom, wife and student. My current personal mission is to raise good human beings and successfully launch them into adulthood. My relationship with my children is paramount in my life right now and requires a high degree of focus, attention and trust. However, my life would be in great imbalance if while focusing on my children, I didn’t work to foster good relationships with my husband, my parents, my family, my friends, my co-workers, my fellow students, my children’s teachers and coaches, etc. These people are stakeholders in my life and the lives of my kids. My children’s lives are better, richer and more meaningful because of stakeholder involvement. There is a well-known proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It does indeed.

Nonprofits work in the same way. Nonprofits exist to meet the needs of the people and/or the community they serve. Nonprofits are mission-driven and constituent-focused. However, nonprofits cannot do it alone and should not neglect important stakeholder relationships with employees, volunteers, the Board of Directors and donors. Nurturing these stakeholder relationships in pursuit of mission will increase performance and strongly enhance impact.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

posted by
Bo Buchanan
Spring 2019 Alumnus, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

A 2015 Stanford study on boards of directors in nonprofit organizations found that “over two thirds (69 percent) of nonprofit directors say their organization has faced one or more serious governance related problems in the past 10 years.” In fact, according to management consultant Peter Drucker, “Boards of nonprofit organizations malfunction as often as they function effectively.”

So how does an organization improve effectiveness and increase board performance? Earlier research focused more on improvements of procedural documents, structures, policies and bylaws. As one author put it, “earlier works examined how the governance game was organized; we concentrated on how it was actually played.” Most current recommendations can be boiled down to the three P’s of board performance: People, Process and Planning. 


Author and consultant Jim Collins calls this the who, then the what: Getting the right people on the bus first, and then figuring out what they are going to do. The right people can mean those with competencies that can help advance the mission of your organization, but it can also mean people who will actively participate and try to be a part of the “team” rather than just sitting on a board for the title. It also means getting rid of the wrong people.  

People also refers to the concept of developing meaningful relationships with board members, executives and committee members. This “interpersonal dimension” is key to creating a sense of inclusiveness among trustees and cultivating leadership within the board.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

posted by
Cordelia House
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Many organizations in the nonprofit sector rely on the help of volunteers. Whether this is in office work, stocking inventory or helping to prepare for an event, the volunteers are a highly valuable asset. Skilled volunteers are a special type of volunteer. These volunteers are individuals who volunteer in the capacity of their everyday work or with skills that they are specifically trained in. The difference between a skilled volunteer and a non-skilled volunteer is that skilled volunteers have education, training or abilities that a volunteer from the general population would not have. Often times the skilled volunteer also has skill sets and trainings that most paid staff within the nonprofit do not have. For this reason, skilled volunteers are highly valuable - and as such managing them effectively is essential. 

 Aaron Hurst, founder of the Taproot Foundation, notes that skilled volunteers are essential to helping nonprofits become self-sustaining and they help the nonprofit put forth the biggest impact in the communities they serve. Hurst also explains that nonprofits from a wide variety of backgrounds are looking for skilled volunteers to help their organizations stay active and to grow from good to great in the community. The skilled volunteers provide opportunities for the organization to acquire help and labor that they would not normally be able to afford. According to Scott Chin, president of the Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, without the dedicated dentists, chefs and lawyers that offer their education and training as skilled volunteers, some of their programs would cease operation. Chin also notes that skilled volunteers are an essential component to the nonprofit and that the skilled volunteers fill roles that would otherwise be empty due to restricted budgets. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

posted by
Samira Amin
Class 13 Public Ally

Public Allies Arizona’s 13th class will graduate on June 28, the completion of a 10-month AmeriCorps program that places emerging young leaders at local nonprofits for full-time paid apprenticeships. (Find out how you can get involved as an Ally or a Partner Organization.) In this post, meet Class 13 Ally Samira Amin, who was placed at Mesa Arts Center Foundation.

“A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow. They must be aggressive, but not overbearing. A leader must be calm, but not robotic. They must be confident, but never cocky. A leader must be brave, but not foolhardy. They must have a competitive spirt, but be a gracious loser.” –Jocko Willink

Why did you want to join Public Allies?

 I was seeking an opportunity to gain experience in community development. What made me want to join Public Allies was learning the skills to develop and grow as a leader, which I knew would benefit me personally and professionally. After receiving my bachelor's degree, I knew I needed guidance to figure out what direction I could head in with the skills I have.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

posted by
Tomasa Ravines Burga
Fall 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Apple, Google and Starbucks all are famous brands in the for-profit sector. Goodwill, AmeriCorps and Girl Scouts are good examples in the nonprofit sector. These are big ones, with big brands. But what about most nonprofits, without national recognition? There are more than one million nonprofits in the U.S. Why is building a strong brand important for them? 

There are some remarkable authors, like Peter Frumkin, who consider that a nonprofit brand is the principal asset of the organization. An effective brand can be a positive influence on an organization’s assets (human and financial). It can impact their capacities to achieve goals, their social impact and their missions. 

A strong brand is important because it facilitates opportunities, resources and results. These nourish the brand to attract more funding, helping the organization become stronger and more successful. Professors Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone state that a strong brand is critical to attracting donors and key stakeholders.  

Additionally, having effective branding benefits nonprofits in other ways, such as credibility, authority, recognition and consistency. It helps nonprofits maintain a good reputation with stakeholders. Matthew Schwartz, the founder and executive director of Constructive, stated that an effective brand helps organizations earn trust, increase loyalty, develop new opportunities and strengthen organizational leadership. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

posted by
Catherine Friederich Murray
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

A windfall is fabulous, right? After all, what nonprofit leader wouldn’t want to walk into work one Monday morning to find a pile of money, an unexpected gift, on their doorstep? Think of all that you could do with those extra funds—give your hard-working staff a well-deserved raise, pay off your organization’s debt, replace your cobbled-together computer systems, serve 10 times the number of clients whom you served last month, even provide the employee training and education that you’ve deferred for the past decade. In reality, however, a windfall is often accompanied by a unique set of challenges. Take for example what happened to Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a small nonprofit that has been serving immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Texas for decades. 

One Monday morning in June 2018, RAICES’ CEO, Jonathon Ryan, awakened to find an email message notifying him that his organization was the recipient of a fundraising campaign to reunite asylum-seeking families who had been separated at the border. The timing was fortuitous, as he had recently learned that the federal government was canceling the primary source of RAICES’ funding, contracts to assist unaccompanied minors with legal representation during their immigration hearings. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

posted by
JeKaren Olaoya
Spring 2019 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

Have you ever gone through the process of baking a cake from scratch? Pulling out all the ingredients, measuring everything, mixing, scraping the sides of the bowl, mixing again? Pouring the batter into the pan, sliding it into the oven and then just when it begins to rise a little, pull it out of the oven? Before it’s done? No? That is what diversity is without inclusion, a half-baked cake. A cake that will not stand on its own, that would probably make you sick if you tried to eat it. 

How then, can we expect diversity, one-half of a process, to be enough to keep organizations sustainable and relatable? Diversity is great for getting many different experiences and voices in the same room, but inclusion is making sure they all have what they need to be successful. That process would look like hiring someone in a wheelchair but not installing ramps that would make getting inside the building easier or hiring someone who is Muslim but not providing a private, quiet space for prayer. The old method of introducing diversity with outdated trainings and threats for non-compliance have proven to not work well, so what is the new way?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

posted by
Iyamidé May
Class 13 Public Ally

Public Allies Arizona’s 13th class will graduate in June, the completion of a 10-month AmeriCorps program that places emerging young leaders at local nonprofits for full-time paid apprenticeships. (Find out how you can get involved as an Ally or a Partner Organization.) In this post, which appeared in condensed form at, meet Class 13 Ally Iyamidé May  , who was placed at Experience Matters .

What were you doing before you enrolled in Public Allies? What drew you to Public Allies?

Before Public Allies I was working as a program manager for an environmental & infrastructure company in the disaster management sector.

What drew me to Public Allies was that it was an answer to a prayer; my life had been centralized around pursuing more, doing more, being more--all related to being “successful”- well at least my perceived ideas of what success looked like by societal standards. I reached a pinnacle point in my life, where I felt empty in the midst of being busy and full of tasks. I was yearning for something that could cause me to grow into more of a servant leader, to be selfless, to pour out the love that overflows from within my heart and to really be stretched to expand in humility. The leadership development and building capacity focus within the Public Allies description pulled me right in.


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