Leading With Heart

The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits helps organizations maximize their good works

Many nonprofit organizations are revered for the great work they do in the community. But what’s often overlooked is how much good they do for local and state economies.

In Arizona, the economic impact of the more than 21,000 registered nonprofits—including hospitals, human services organizations, arts and cultural groups, and membership associations, among many others—is compelling. These organizations generated approximately $28 billion in revenue in 2014, according to a study released by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, the L. William Seidman Research Institute in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and the Phoenix Philanthropy Group, along with other sponsors.

More than ‘doing good’

“Nonprofits aren’t just feel-good, do-good organizations,” says Kristen Merrifield, chief executive officer for the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. “They are a critical piece of the communities they serve, and they help power the economy in Arizona.”

Until 2004, nonprofits in the state didn’t have a unified voice to champion their goals and accomplishments. Three years before that, Merrifield explains, a fact-finding mission began to determine whether there was a need for a structured, statewide association to represent the aims and interests of nonprofits across Arizona.

As a result, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits was incorporated in September 2004. Its mission is to “unite, strengthen and advance the Arizona nonprofit sector,” Merrifield says. “It functions like a cross between a trade association and a chamber of commerce, but exclusively for nonprofits.”

Today, the alliance has 1,000 members. As a National Bank of Arizona (NB|AZ) client, it receives top-notch service from the bank’s nonprofit division.

“The goal of the alliance and its members is to make the world a better place,” says Pamela Keefe, vice president and nonprofit relationship manager with NB|AZ. “As a community bank, we try to create value in our relationship with every nonprofit, whether small or large. We strive to assist them with their financial or operational needs in any way we can.”

Making the most of generosity

To maximize the economic impact of nonprofit organizations in Arizona, the Alliance will sponsor Arizona Gives Day on April 3. This will be the sixth year for this event that’s designed to raise additional money for nonprofits. The Alliance’s partner in this endeavor is the Arizona Grantmakers Forum.

“We produce a statewide public relations and marketing campaign to encourage the public to make donations,” Merrifield says.

In the past five years, this annual event has generated more than $10 million for hundreds of Arizona nonprofits. According to Merrifield, any nonprofit can participate in the event, not just Alliance members.

Here’s how it works: The general public make donations to their favorite nonprofits or causes, and the Alliance awards prizes to those organizations based on categories or how much is donated under certain conditions, including which organization raises the most money within a specific number of hours.

Last year, Merrifield says, Phoenix Rescue Mission raised $100,000, the most of any nonprofit participating in Arizona Gives Day, and was awarded a $10,000 prize from the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits.

“Last year, we awarded 90 prizes ranging from $250 to $10,000,” she says. “We try to keep the day fun and exciting, so donors open their pockets.” For the upcoming Arizona Gives Day, the Alliance will award $175,000 in prizes.

The bottom line

Nonprofits’ dramatic impact on Arizona’s economy occurs within this reality: Among Alliance members, 90 percent of the nonprofits operate with fewer than 50 employees. In fact, 27 percent of nonprofits in the Alliance have no employees; they carry out their functions with only volunteers. Another 34 percent have five or fewer employees. “Whether a nonprofit has more than 50 employees or no employees, they’re all contributing in some way to the state’s economy—through donations, revenues, fees generated, salaries or indirect or induced employment,” Merrifield says. “They are a vital engine of progress here.”

The Faces of Arizona’s Nonprofits

Based in Scottsdale, Smiles Beyond the Bars (Smiles) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to embrace formerly incarcerated men and women by working closely with dentists and other oral care professionals “to give these deserving recipients the gift of a new smile,” says Linda Parker-Smith, founder and CEO of Smiles. With more than $450,000 in dental procedures contributed annually since 2009, 250 Smiles recipients “have successfully transitioned into society with a one-tenth of 1 percent recidivism rate.”

“[The Alliance] is an amazing resource for any nonprofit,” says Parker-Smith. “The staff members are advocates and a voice for all of us. The Alliance holds informational seminars for nonprofit CEOs, staff and board members, and helps us be the best we can be.”

Gabriel’s Angels evolved from the experiences of founder Pam Gaber, who volunteered at Crisis Nursery in Phoenix and often took her dog, Gabriel, with her on visits. Other agencies became interested in what Gaber and Gabriel were doing and in 2000, Gabriel’s Angels was formed.

Gabriel’s Angels has grown to 185 registered pet therapy teams serving more than 14,800 children annually in Maricopa and five other counties in Arizona. Teams visit crisis nurseries, domestic violence and homeless shelters, group homes, and at-risk children in after-school programs to intervene in children’s lives and enhance their emotional and behavioral development.

“The Alliance is a highly valued resource for the nonprofit community,” says Michele Shipitofsky, chief development officer of Gabriel’s Angels. “They give strength to everyone participating in this sector, thus improving the offerings to our communities.”

Tu Nidito in Tucson was originally established in 1994 to help seriously ill children discharged home with no support. Tu Nidito (“your little nest”) merged with Children to Children in 2000 and now jointly offers a range of services that include bereavement support groups, groups for families and seriously ill children, and support for children who have an adult family member with a serious medical condition. It also offers a young adult bereavement support group and a weekend bereavement camp, in addition to one-on-one support services.

“The Alliance is important to Arizona nonprofits, bringing exposure and funds from Arizona Gives Day and exposure and advocacy for public policy,” says CEO Liz McCusker. “The Alliance brings together the nonprofit community so that we can learn from and about each other.”

The Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) was established in Phoenix in 2002 by Dr. Lattie Coor, President Emeritus of Arizona State University, and Dr. Sybil Francis, a public policy architect with leadership experience at the White House Office of Technology Policy. CFA is a non-partisan “do tank” that combines research with collaborative partnerships and initiatives to drive the state’s economic prosperity, quality of life and civic health and create a better future for all Arizonans.

“The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits provides a suite of supportive services that keep us informed about funding trends and legislative issues that may affect our core initiatives and program activities,” says Joseph Valdez, director of strategic marketing and communications for CFA. “Our membership helps us to better collaborate on operational functions and increases our community profile statewide.”


Story by Debra Gelbart
Photography by Mark Lipczynski


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