Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"If you have to leave, why did you bother coming in the first place?"

posted by
Laura E. Tan
,
Public Allies Arizona
Program Manager
ASU Lodestar Center
As I've done every March for the past four years, I participated as a Team Leader in United Way's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in the metro Washington D.C. area. ASB is a great opportunity for college students who choose to spend their spring breaks volunteering in communities across the country. Since 2006, nearly 2,000 students have participated in ASB, volunteering over 64,000 hours of service.

For part of this year's ASB service, my group got to work at an after-school program for at-risk kids, ages 5-11, to help them with their homework. Our team noticed that many of the older kids struggled with basic reading and math concepts, even though they are at an age when fundamentals should be well established. We were only at Beacon House for four short days, but after working hard with the kids, many of us got attached to our new friends.

One of the participants in my group, Shelina, formed a particularly close bond with an 11-year-old girl who, for privacy reasons, I will call Zee. At the beginning of the week, Zee told Shelina that she wanted to be a hairdresser when she grows up. After observing the girl's clear talent at math and science throughout the week, Shelina encouraged her to think about other careers that would make use of her skills. By the end of the week, inspired by Shelina's support, Zee began to consider the possibilities of being a math teacher or a fashion designer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Research Friday: State of the Sector 2011: All quiet on the nonprofit front

posted by
Angela Francis
,
Senior Associate
Nonprofit Finance Fund
Welcome to Research Friday! For this week’s post, we welcome Angela Francis 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!

Nonprofit Finance Fund recently completed its third annual "State of the Nonprofit Sector" survey with the help of nearly 2,000 nonprofit leaders nationwide. Respondents came from large organizations and small, and from all sub-sectors, and include a small sample from Arizona.

Since we started this undertaking in 2009, we've heard each year that demand is on the rise, and that remains the expectation for 2011. To meet this growing demand—which comes on top of each previous year's increases—nonprofit managers continue to be resourceful in their efforts to balance mission, capacity, and capital. From collaboration to cost management, nonprofits are trying to protect their (precious little) infrastructure and enterprise while serving even more people.

This balancing act becomes increasingly difficult when organizations experience upheaval—whether due to a recession, the loss of a funding source, or unexpected expenses. Yet even smaller changes, such as a program expansion, can quickly overwhelm a nonprofit operating on paper-thin margins with no cushion to absorb the risks and expenses associated with growth. In Arizona, 35% of our survey respondents reported having less than 1 month of cash on hand (10% had none), which is fairly consistent with results nationally.

Nonprofits put their long-term mission in jeopardy by repeatedly agreeing to do more with less. So why do we do it? Often, perceptions about support from major funders will influence a nonprofit's management strategies and how it addresses challenges. This year, our survey asked nonprofit leaders to indicate what topics they felt comfortable discussing with their funders, with the option to "check all that apply."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Picture This: A Look Back at This Year's Spring Forum

posted by
Kayla L. McKinney
,
Project Specialist
ASU Lodestar Center
Attending this year's Annual Forum on Nonprofit Effectiveness for the first time, I was really excited to see the communication between grantees and funders. The Forum, which was presented by the ASU Lodestar Center and the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, enabled the two groups to meet on equal grounds and see things from a different perspective. It was also fun for me to meet some other students who attended. They were happy to share stories about all of the great connections they were making, which, for me, showed how valuable the Forum is for a variety of nonprofit professionals.

If you weren't able to attend, you can still catch a glimpse of the action by checking out our Forum slideshow below.

I hope I see you there next year!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Research Friday: "Really, How Many People Volunteer?"

posted by
Mark Hager, Ph.D.
,

Associate Professor,

ASU School of Community
Resources & Development
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.

A couple months ago, the ASU Lodestar Center released its 2010 report on Arizona Giving & Volunteering. The data were collected in the summer of 2009 by asking people to reflect on their volunteering during all of 2008. On one of the pages, amid all the charts on who volunteers and what they do, is a big banner depicting the following result: "33 percent of Arizona adults volunteered in 2008." One in three. The number seems high to some people and low to others. But is it right?

The main point of comparison is information on volunteering from the Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides the basis for regular reporting on volunteerism by the Corporation for National and Community Service. For 2008, the CPS put the Arizona volunteering rate at 25 percent. One in four.

That’s a pretty big difference, between 33 and 25. The ASU Morrison Institute presents both numbers and asserts that both survey methods have strengths and weaknesses, likely leaving the true rate somewhere “between these two estimates.”

That’s probably a fair guess. We might think that figuring out how many people volunteer over the course of a year would be a pretty easy task, but it isn’t. Through the 1980s and 1990s, such outfits as Gallup, Westat, and Princeton Survey Research Associates reported national volunteering estimates north of 40 percent and sometimes higher than 50 percent. Nobody thinks that volunteering behavior has really changed that much over the past couple of decades. Rather, the differences are mostly due to how we collect the information. What we ask and how we ask it makes for a big difference in estimates.

The ASU Lodestar Center study was conducted as a dedicated wave of the Arizona Indicators Panel Study. These data are collected periodically through Knowledge Networks, a reputable firm that specializes in panels of Americans who respond to surveys online. Approximately 1,000 Arizonans sit on their KnowledgePanel, and 687 of them took the time to respond to the Giving and Volunteering Survey questions.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How my mother and AmeriCorps made me a better man

posted by Michael Soto,
2nd Year Fellow –

Public Allies Arizona /
Arizona Citizens for the Arts
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to serve my country. My mother served her country by joining the Army at the age of 18. She served at Carlisle Barracks and the Pentagon in the Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War. As a child I remember sneaking into her bureau to pin her Army medals on my chest and parade around like a soldier.

Her service didn’t end with the Army. She was an example for me throughout my childhood, bringing me along as she volunteered at soup kitchens, with the LDS cannery, and in the Scouts. My desire to emulate my mother through service to my country only increased as I grew older.

When I was a junior in high school, I received a recruitment call from the US Military Academy at West Point. My mother tried to hide her excitement as she handed me the phone, but her eyes lit up. What mother wouldn’t proud for their child to attend West Point?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Research Friday: "Is Religious Giving Increasing or Decreasing?"

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.

Much like Robert Ashcraft's previous blog post, this is a glass "half full" or "half empty" question – for research provides evidence on both sides. Giving USA began tracking U.S. giving in 1955. Since that time, as a share of total giving, religious giving has decreased from approximately one-half of total giving to just under one-third today. However, in real dollars, religious giving is growing… slowly … by about 2 percent a year over the past 40 years. These data are provided by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (hereafter referred to simply as "the Center") in Giving USA.

In the Center's publication, Philanthropy Matters, Executive Director Dr. Patrick Rooney tested eight myths about religious giving.[1] Some myths are upheld and some are dispelled.

In summary:

Myth I: Religious giving is falling. Not necessarily. As one can see from the explanation above, it depends upon your perspective!

Myth II: Americans tithe. Not really. Less than 3 percent of Americans tithe (giving 10 percent or more of income to religion) and more than half don't give to religion at all.

Myth III: Some faith groups are more generous than others. True. When controlled for income discrepancies, religious giving varies substantially among different faiths. Here are some data about the average percent[2] of income given to religion:
  • Latter-day Saints – 5.5 percent
  • Pentecostals – just under 3 percent
  • "Other Protestants" – 2.7 percent
  • Baptists – 2 percent
  • Other affiliations (Jewish donors, mainline Protestants) – between 0.5 and 1.5 percent.
  • Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists – less than 1 percent

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forum Follow-up

posted by
Travis Butterfield,
Project Coordinator
ASU Lodestar Center
As has previously been mentioned, the ASU Lodestar Center recently collaborated with the Arizona Grantmakers Forum to present the 13th Annual Forum on Nonprofit Effectiveness, "Nonprofit Grantees & Funders: Building Strong Relationships - Assuring Community Impact." We feel that the success of this event was directly related to the active participation and shared wisdom of its attendees.

Over the next few weeks we would like to document and share some of the ideas and insights gleaned from our participants and presenters through a series of short video montages. In this way, we hope to preserve some of these important insights and observations, keeping the topic fresh and relevant, as we attempt to implement what was learned into new and innovative paradigms of the funder / grantee relationship.

If you attended the Forum, we would love to hear any success stories you may have as a result of what you learned.  We would also be interested to hear any ideas or suggestions you may have for future events of this kind, whether you were able to attend the Forum or not.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of the post!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Research Friday: "The Art of Data Interpretation"

posted by
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.
 
As a knowledge enterprise, the ASU Lodestar Center seeks to produce and disseminate relevant, high-quality research to our stakeholders. Whether practitioners, volunteers, or donors, we want our end-users to understand issues in ways that help them become more efficient and effective within their nonprofit organizations and across their networks of nonprofits.

Resources are a huge challenge to any research effort. High-quality nonprofit and philanthropic research requires financial investments at a level few funders are willing to support; yet these investments are a must. If our research is to be valid and useful, the design, data collection, and analysis must be meticulous and exacting.

Another vexing challenge to researchers is the interpretation of data. Research isn't just the science of collecting data, it is also the art of interpreting, within the context of all other available information, what that data actually mean.

Consider the following: On the same day in the fall of 2007, two contradictory newspaper headlines accompanied high profile, front-page articles in both the East Valley Tribune and the Arizona Republic. The stories were about Arizona schools and the state of education pertaining to the academic achievement of students and their schools.

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