ASU Lodestar Center


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Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at ASU certifies students to change the world

Members of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Student Association smile while outside. Behind them is a small artifical river with a bridge crossing over it.


by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center

October 23, 2019

McKenna Rodham started at Arizona State University without a major. Into her sophomore year, she was still trying to decide what type of career she should pursue. That was when she found the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Student Association (NLASA).

A friend told her about the NLASA, the ASU affiliate of the national Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, and recommended that she join the program and pursue the Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential that the Alliance offers. Eventually, Rodham’s curiosity won out, and she took one of the classes. She soon declared her intentions to complete the credential.

Rodham is now a senior, studying public service and public policy, and was recently elected to the national NLA student ambassador team. She’s already completed the requirements for the CNP, the only national nonprofit leadership credential program, and will receive the credential when she graduates.

As a veteran of the organization now, Rodham enjoys meeting the new students every semester, their experiences mirroring her own as she found her path.

"At first, they were just excited to be a part of this little organization,” Rodham said. “And they're obviously just so excited to do nonprofit work and service too."

McKeena Rodham smiles. Behind her are palm trees.

The NLASA is a student organization housed in the ASU Lodestar Center and the School of Community Resources and Development, part of ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Its main purpose is to develop students into skilled nonprofit leaders by assisting them in earning their CNP credentials. It was founded in 1980 as a chapter of the American Humanics program, which became the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance in 2011. ASU won the NLA’s Campus Program Excellence Award in 2018.

“The way NLASA helps our students attain the CNP is by providing relevant in-classroom and out-of-classroom experiences necessary to meet the credential's requirements that include real-world leadership and networking opportunities, as well as a community of like-minded people that is ready to support those who wish to change the world,” said Dr. Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center and Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise. 

”Our NLA students, supported by our outstanding faculty and civic partners, are improving the quality of life in communities as they graduate into careers of public service through the nonprofit and philanthropic sector,” he added.

The national student ambassador team that Rodham joined supports NLA’s many partners and events, such as the annual Alliance Management Institute (AMI) conference that credential-seeking students attend as a capstone experience. It is a large commitment, but Rodham is eager to tackle it head-on.

Rodham said she also very much enjoys the service events that they put on as a student association at ASU. She said she enjoyed seeing the impact they had on the people they were serving, citing the group’s Bingo Night as one of her favorites.

"We did an event with the Westward Ho [a former downtown hotel that is home to low-income people who are primarily elderly or have disabilities]... We did a Bingo Night with them," Rodham said. "We've done a few of them with them, which has been super fun. And they're all so nice, and it's like the highlight of their year."

Rodham was also intrigued by the program’s Career Field Experience (CFE) hours, in which students explore different career options at area nonprofit organizations.

Rodham said that her four semesters taking NLA classes and hearing countless guest speakers has had a massive impact on her by developing numerous professional skills such as fundraising, networking, nonprofit management and leadership. 

Last year, Rodham was NLASA’s director of development for its annual Alliance Management Institute fundraising campaign. On top of the conference itself – which brings together hundreds of future CNPs from across the country for an invaluable leadership-development experience – the NLA students get hands-on experience running a real, $25,000 fundraising campaign for the trip.

The NLASA will send 14 students to AMI in Kansas City this January. Their fundraising campaign began in September.

Rodham believes the CNP credential is useful even to those not pursuing a traditional nonprofit career. Many program alumni do spend their careers at nonprofit organizations, while others – like Bill Roske, who spoke at AMI 2019 – balance jobs in other sectors with service as volunteers, board members and more.

“It can benefit anybody who's interested in making a difference,” she said. “For me, for example, I want to go into more of a sustainability route and if I happen to work for a nonprofit, that would be great. If not, at least I can take kind of like the leadership qualities that I've gotten from the certificate and understanding of how nonprofit works with me anywhere.”

Magdelena Saucedo smiles while outside. Behind her is a garden.

Magdelena Saucedo, an ASU and NLA alumna as well as a previous president of the NLASA, said that the people in NLA – especially the president before her, Michelle Carag, who was also an older student – made her feel at home when she was having a hard time connecting with ASU.

“I went to ASU and I didn't know anybody... I was like, ‘I'm older, I don't belong here, what am I doing?’” Saucedo said.

“I was looking to find a way to fit in and be part of something else,” she added, previously having served as volunteer manager for her roller derby team. “And so that's when I was like, ‘Oh, this is a great fit.’”

Saucedo was originally a public policy major based on the Tempe campus. One semester she had a class on the Downtown Phoenix campus, which is where she met Anne Kotleba, program coordinator of ASU’s NLA program, who was a guest speaker that day.

Saucedo recalled Kotleba speaking on community work she had done in the past and then on the NLA organization. They talked after class, and Kotleba suggested she talk to other students, too.

“The following semester, I decided that I was going to join,” she said. “I felt like it was a good opportunity to step outside my box, and that’s when I changed my major from public policy to nonprofit [leadership and management] because I felt that was a better fit for me.“

Saucedo said she enjoyed the structure of the program..

“We took the core classes and then the NLASA was able to apply what we learned in those classes to real-life situations,” Saucedo said. “Being able to do fundraising, programming, the different challenges that you could get with nonprofits – I enjoyed that.”

Saucedo has since graduated from ASU and earned her CNP credential. She now works as the education and volunteer coordinator for Maryvale Revitalization Corporation through the ASU Lodestar Center’s Public Allies program.

Members of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Student Association stand side-by-side while outdoors. Behind them is a decorate white fence and palm trees.

Stephanie Pham (pictured above, at left, with fellow NLASA members) is a junior majoring in nonprofit leadership and management and, last spring, was voted the 2019-20 NLASA president. She came to the program already having multiple real-world nonprofit jobs, including at a nonprofit camp in San Francisco.

Pham says she always had a heart for volunteering, instilled in her by her mother. She decided that she wanted to turn this care for others into a career, so she came to ASU.

She discovered NLA when a student gave a presentation on the organization during one of her classes. Since then, she has made numerous friends in the organization, on top of all of the new skills and experiences.

"From all groups, all different backgrounds, everyone in the group is just so diverse, and everybody's so loving, we all have the same heart. That's what we're in the nonprofit sector for," Pham said. "It's good being connected with all these people who have a passion of helping others."

Pham identifies closely with many of her NLA friends. She said that she even has the same personality type (INFJ, the rarest of the Myers-Briggs Personality types) as seven of her friends in the program. The community has been very helpful, loving and open, which is especially beneficial amid a busy semester when everyone is tired.

"We're really tight-knit. We have each other's backs," Pham said. "Everybody... has a separate job on top of school, but we all kind of pick up and bounce off each other's energy. And if somebody needs something, then we're all there to kind of help support that person."

As the president of the NLASA, she has worked closely with Kotleba and the other leaders to get new students involved in the organization, especially freshmen and sophomores who can’t yet take many of the CNP courses but want to participate.

"I like coming up with ways to help engage people and make sure that everybody feels included, but at the same time, they are getting the most of what they're coming here to learn," Pham said. "I feel like I have a lot of that wisdom in me that I've learned over the years that I'd like to share with this next generation coming in."

Jill Watts, the director of capacity building initiatives for the ASU Lodestar Center and herself a Nonprofit Leadership Alliance alumna, said the future is bright for NLA, the students and their communities.

“A wise person once said, ‘The planet doesn’t need more ‘successful’ people; it needs more people of moral courage who are willing to join the fight to make the world more habitable and humane,’” Watts said. “The students and alumni of NLA are answering this call, and the world will be a better place because of it.”