February 16, 2009

Guest Post: Just A Regular Guy (Noir)

Hello all! My name is Aaron Stiner. I have the pleasure of serving as a Deserted After Dark guest blogger and I am very excited that Sam has allowed me this honor. Sam and I know each other through a couple of different nonprofit circles. We are both board members for YNPN Phoenix and are both connected to Arizona State University; Sam as a student and employee and me as a Master of Nonprofit Studies (MNpS) Fall 2008 graduate and a new employee at the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.

In January, I began work as the Program Manager for the brand new Advancing Philanthropy initiative at ASU's Lodestar Center, which means I am charged with connecting individuals and families to the knowledge, tools and resources which empower and inspire them to unleash their philanthropic investments. I am just beginning to figure out exactly what that means!

Right now, I am in the process of developing the business plan. Thankfully, ASU's Lodestar Center is full of very smart people who are helping me get started because, as with any new endeavor, I find myself with a lot more questions than answers.

I wonder, for example, what exactly are these services going to be and what kind of "support" do philanthropists need or want? I ask myself, once we develop the programs, how do we talk about what we do in a way that is easily understood and garners support? And, how will we work with other nonprofits and foundations in delivering our services? And, how do we measure our success? The questions just keep on coming...

I'm beginning to feel a little like Guy Noir, from A Prairie Home Companion. Always trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions, and rarely satisfied - but never because I give up searching. There is lots of stuff that needs figuring out. On top of the endless complexities wrapped up in the field of philanthropy, I am dealing with the ambiguity of a new initiative and the shifting sands of rapidly changing economic times.

Adding to the uncertainty is that I am only four weeks into working at the Lodestar Center and am still learning the ropes. Prior to joining ASU, I worked for six years at Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) – first as a workplace campaigner, then running fundraising trainings and finally as a major gift officer. After six years, you feel pretty solid in a place. You know why you are there and can easily explain the impact of the organization. So, as you might imagine, I am still settling into my new digs. It’s a little strange being in a place where I can’t whip off my elevator speech in three minutes flat!

Despite being at VSUW for what seemed an eternity in Gen X years (and loving every minute!), I still remember a lesson instilled in me from day one: a nonprofit is only successful because of the relationships the staff builds with the organization’s stakeholders – volunteers, recipients, businesses and nonprofit partners – and only with their support can we really make a difference. As such, it was a big part of my job to foster relationships with donors – obviously important stakeholders – on behalf of our organization.

There are some key points from that lesson that I find myself returning to in my new position. One, people want others to be successful and are willing to help when asked – either by providing time, money, talent or advice – and the number one reason people don’t help is because they aren’t asked (so you better ask). Two, it’s not about me (and this is important) it’s about the organization. People support an organization because they support the mission and because supporting the mission helps fulfill their own personal motives. Maybe they want help with advancing their own cause, maybe they want recognition, or maybe the mission touches their heart. It could be a number of things, but it’s usually not just because I ask.

It’s about the mission, not about me…hmm, if I were Guy Noir I would be reminding myself that the hot dame just showed up at my door because she needs help, not because she thinks I’m handsome…you get the point.

So, in that gumshoe spirit I am out pounding the pavement, meeting with the philanthropic thought leaders I know and working to connect with those I don’t. In each meeting I hope to twist my uncertainty to advantage by putting all my questions out on the table and asking these leaders what they think would be the best way to support philanthropists in our community. Everyone I meet with has been incredibly generous with their time and ideas, not because of me, but because they believe the mission is worthy.

I hope that by keeping the mission always at the front and center of my conversations I can gain ideas and assistance and achieve our goals: supporting individuals and families in unleashing their philanthropy and making our community healthier and more vibrant. Only with the support of the community can our new initiatives be successful.

Of course, if any of you have ideas, please send them my way at aaron.stiner@asu.edu or via the comments. I hope to see you all again here with occasional updates on our work.

Thanks so much!

Aaron Stiner

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."
Garrison Keillor


Anonymous said...

It's true — the Lodestar Center is a great place to get involved in helping the community. As a reporter for The State Press, I covered a few charity events organized through them.

ASU also has plenty of non-profit help organizations and a program aimed at non-profits located downtown.

The way you describe the friendly atmosphere of non-profits in the community really resonates with how I view the close-knit community in Phoenix. There are so many cool people and business working together — local, independent business that make the community unique.

I also enjoyed your Guy Noir metaphor. An important element is to view customers as members of the community, even if they are mysterious noir-esque clients.

Aaron Stiner said...

Thanks for the comments scenesterist!

I think Phoenix has a strong community and great networks. I think you have to work hard to connect into them sometimes. But, if you are willing do the work, and you demonstrate that you want to make a difference, you can connect in with lots of opportunities to make an impact.