Arizona Giving & Leading: ASU Lodestar Center

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Dr. Robert Ashcraft, Director of the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, talks about what the Center is doing to advance and support Arizona’s nonprofit sector.

Ted Simons: Running a nonprofit can present a unique set of challenges. An Arizona State University center is working to sharpen the skills of philanthropic organization leaders through research, education, and outreach activities. Here to talk about the ASU Lodestar Center for philanthropy and nonprofit innovation is its executive director, Dr. Robert Ashcraft. Good to have you here.

Robert Ashcraft: Glad to be here.

Ted Simons: What is the lodestar center?

Robert Ashcraft: In a nut shell, our mission is to built the capacity of the social sector for those who lead, manage, and support nonprofits. From there it's a wide ranging broad portfolio of activities but that is our core mission.

Ted Simons: it sounds like it's nonprofit assistant, it's basically information on the basics of running a nonprofit.

Robert Ashcraft: That's part of what we do. We also engage in conversations and research around the role of nonprofits, as a vibrant part of the economy, as a part of building civil society. The study of philanthropy, the getting of time, money, and know how to causes people care about, while the bull's eye clearly is the nonprofit form, how they are managed and led, there's really a broader construct here around the quality of life in communities.

Ted Simons: If I am thinking of starting a nonprofit or if I have started one and I am running into some difficulties. Do I come to you, a? B, if I do what do I get?

Robert Ashcraft: Yes, however, we wish you had come to us prior to starting the nonprofit. And i say that because we actually have training programs and all kinds of research around the issue of nonprofit forums and also want people learn in the process is the last thing they should do is start a nonprofit. Rather what they should do is think about the idea that they have, do an environmental scan to figure out, are there other resources in the community? Are there other organizations, people that actually address those issues? And become a part of that. Now, the answer sometimes then is, we need to start a nonprofit. Because there's a gap in the community and so on. But from there, once the nonprofit is started if there are issues and there always are, then our center is a resource around the range of competencies, knowledge and tools that are needed for effective enterprise work.

Ted Simons: Common questions, common concerns that you hear from those running nonprofits?

Robert Ashcraft: So here's the number one. Because we have frequently asked questions and we have a way in which people tell us what their issues are. The current trend has been board governance. Issues of boards, issues of leadership, and it seemed to be because boards are destiny for nonprofits. Seemed to be the number one kind of question we have. So we have launched an entire array of board governance training. Where i am going with this is not just the professional. The practitioner or the paid, salary, the staff member. There's also the volunteers, the leadership and the boards and we have learned you can't separate the two. They both have to be in the mix of capacity.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Board governance, is it a question of trying to figure out who is what, who does what? Who leads? Who follow, the whole nine yards?

Robert Ashcraft: Well, and is the board doing its job? And some that join nonprofit boards have either not been oriented or fail to realize this serious responsibilities they have. The legal, fishery and other responsibilities of board, good board stewardship, good board boardsmanship. So this is something that in the beginning of our center, we were not as involved with. But we are very responsive to the marketplace. As we think about nonprofit capacity building and we have moved heavily into board governance training.

Ted Simons: And you mention training. Not only training but there are courses, instruction, there are certificates, those things as well?

Robert Ashcraft: Within our center we also have the nonprofit management institute which has been a long-standing institute inside our center. Found by the community. It was a project of Valley of the Sun United Way and Arizona State University when, as United Way looked across the community and the organizations they fund, there were issues of capacity and technical assistance and knowledge and tools. And really turned to the university to say, what could you do? So through that apparatus we train well over 1,000 practitioners and leaders a year in the core competencies of running a nonprofit. We have our academic programs for students and so on that the center helps facilitate.

Ted Simons: You mentioned before you have research programs. Talk about the programs. Talk about what your research?

Robert Ashcraft: Right. There are two or three core commission research projects that we do routinely. One is giving and volunteering, that is to say, how do we understand the concept of giving of time, money, and know-how across Arizona? We have been a go to place for that. That's currency in time and money that fuels the nonprofit sector. It's very unique that way. We have a compensation study that we do that is increasingly popular particularly with IRS scrutiny of nonprofits, issues of executive compensation. We provide that as a tool source as well. And then the third is the scope, what we call scope of the sector. Monitoring and looking at the size, scope, scale, much descriptive, others of it deep inner certain subsectors around education, the environment, health and so on to try and understand what is this social sector? What is the nonprofit sector?

Ted Simons: Can you get tangible results? How do you quantity what you are doing and the results you are seeking?

Robert Ashcraft: Right, right. So it's the same question we would ask of the very nonprofits that we serve. It's not just about being in business. What difference do you make? What is the impact? Our center itself has quite a sophisticated evaluation plan which is to say, if this is our mission, how do we meet our mission? I feel very good that we practice what we teach in that way. For the nonprofits them sells the move is very much to impact. We have gotten away, we know what inputs, the volunteers, the staff, the money, and programs. What's the output? Number of kids served. Number of meals, whatever. But that's insufficient to measure true impact. The move is, yes, input, output to actual impact. It's changing how nonprofit leaders and managers think and act.

Ted Simons: I would imagine the quantification is changing as well.

Robert Ashcraft: Indeed. As methodology evolves, as the environment in which nonprofits find themselves evolve to be sure.

Ted Simons: the last question. Talk, if you would, about the challenges in these tough economic times at nonprofits are facing, it's one -- you are talking about just surviving, self-examination. They are dealing with the real world throughout.

Robert Ashcraft: No question about it. I know you have had other guests from the nonprofit sector on "horizon" who have spoken about the tough years in the economy. Particularly nonprofit who is serve the most eventual inner their service demands have gone up at a time when resource constraints and other things have shrunk. Here's where the needle seems to be moving and it's in the language of collective impact which is to say that the individual is important. Individual leader, manager, supporter is important. So, too, is the individual nonprofit to be led effectively and well managed. And be efficient. But even more important is the collective impact. The way in which we can work together, collaboratively around social issues, and that's where the opportunities are.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Robert Ashcraft: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Friday on "Arizona Horizons" journalists' roundtable, Pinal county sheriff Paul Babeu defends himself over prematurely linking five deaths to drug cartel violence. And a judge halts pay for phoenix police officers doing union work. That's Friday on the journalists' roundtable. That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Dr. Robert Ashcraft:Director, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation;

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