Arizona Gives Day, interview with Kristen Merrifield

Q&A | Kristen Merrifield explains Arizona Gives Day

Every year, Arizonans dedicate Arizona Gives Day to donating funds to the non-profit of their choice. With more than 20,000 such organisations in the state they face no shortage of options. Beyond the often invaluable contribution non-profits make to Arizonan life related to the range of issues they represent, all up the sector employs more than 150,000 people and generates skyward of USD 27 billion in revenues per annum. Sarah interviewed Kristen Merrifield, CEO at the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, about the motivation behind AGD, which happens in 2016 on Tuesday April 5.

What’s your personal background? How did you end up at the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits?
I fell in love with non-profit work very early in my career, with my first professional job at the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 2003. After spending nine years at the Arizona Small Business Association, I had the opportunity to start a new journey leading the Alliance. I enjoy coming to work each day knowing I have the power to make a difference in the lives of the members we are serving. It has been a wonderful new adventure thus far, and I truly enjoy leading such a talented and passionate staff, board and group of volunteers.

What’s the Alliance about, and how is it connected to Arizona Gives Day?
The Alliance’ mission is to unite, strengthen and advance the Arizona non-profit sector. I believe that Arizona Gives Day is an initiative that truly embodies our mission in all of those ways. It provides an opportunity for non-profits to unite together to harness the power of collective giving, and, at the same time, helps advance their causes and impact to the entire state.

Arizona Gives Day is about advancing the impact of Arizona non-profits by cultivating a vibrant and growing spirit of philanthropy throughout Arizona. A gift can help build a new community centre, serve food to a homeless veteran, provide a scholarship to an at-risk teen, or even preserve the natural resources of this place we call home. But giving is just the first step. It is the beginning of what we hope is a long history of engagement and support of the non-profits that are critical to our communities, our cities and our state.

There are a lot of non-profits in Arizona! Do people find it overwhelming to choose which one to give to?
We have found that having the most non-profits to choose from actually increases donations. For instance, a donor might be visiting azgives.org to donate to their favourite cause, and then see several other causes that spark their interest, which then moves them to give to several organisations that they might have never known of without Arizona Gives Day.

Do Gives Days happen elsewhere? Did the idea start in Arizona?
There are actually quite a few states that operate Gives Days in similar fashion, with incredible results. Colorado Gives Day was what sparked us to consider starting a Gives Day in Arizona when our title sponsor, FirstBank, wanted to help support non-profits in their newly expanded Arizona market. Now in our fourth year, we have raised over $4.5 million for Arizona non-profits.

Arizona has one of the highest non-profit per capita counts in the US. Why do you think that is?
Although Arizona has one of the largest cities in the US, we truly have a tight-knit community feel. Arizonans have a passion for spending local and supporting local. It is so important that we take time to care for, preserve and support causes in our own backyards. This is critical to creating a place in which we are proud to live, work and play.

Is there a general trend in the kinds of causes Arizona non-profits focus on? 
We have a broad spectrum of causes represented by the more than 925 nonprofits participating in Arizona Gives Day. When you consider that there are over 20,000 non-profits in Arizona, it is easy to consider the breadth of the diversity from health and human services, to education, to arts and culture and everything in between.

Can you give examples of some non-profits that have benefitted from past AGDs, and how?
We actually had six non-profits, who won additional prize money for the most money raised in their respective size categories last year, send us articles on how they have used their additional funds. The prize winners are as diverse as the non-profit pool people can donate to. Some non-profits used the money to retire debt, while others use it to expand their programmes or create new ones. One non-profit was able to use the additional funding to establish a three-year plan and hire their first programme director to ensure the sustainability and future of their organisation.

How can people get involved in AGD – as donors or non-profits?
The easiest way for donors and non-profits to get involved is to follow Arizona Gives Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and then share, tweet and post about Arizona Gives Day through their social network before and on April 5. Today, and leading up to April 5, Arizona Gives Day will continue to have new and interesting content posted on its social media pages that can be shared.

Kristen Merrifield, CAE is Chief Executive Officer at Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. For more on Arizona Gives Day go to www.azgives.org.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.