ASU Lodestar Center


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In the news: Dr. Ashcraft on how the most innovative nonprofits stand out

April 2, 2024 ( — There are upwards of 1.7 million nonprofit organizations across the country. But that figure includes everything from public foundations to private charities to your hometown’s little league team, as long as it has a tax-exempt status. It’s a crowded field, and nonprofits are addressing a wide range of issues—from forever chemicals and data privacy to workplace mental health and medical debt.

So how can a nonprofit stand out and, most importantly, succeed? For many, success means having the biggest impact possible for its desired audience. And in order to do that, a nonprofit has to have clarity around its purpose and mission.

To Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University, a guiding principle for nonprofits has to do with something former Girl Scouts CEO Frances Hesselbein said. Hesselbein, who passed away in 2022, was considered a thought leader in the nonprofit space and had described her organization as “mission-focused, values-based, and demographics-driven.” Those parameters are key to any not-for-profit—and a common thread throughout Fast Company’s list of most innovative nonprofits of 2024.

Take USAFacts, which aims to make government data accessible. Its "America in Facts 2023: A Data Driven Report" for Congress did just that, unearthing data from more than 100 government sources. Or Consumer Reports, which wants a “fair and just marketplace for all“—and which empowered people to protect their private data from companies through a simple app. “There’s not noise,” Ashcraft says. “It’s crystal-clear mission driven.”

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