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Business students launch nonprofit alliance

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Public Administration graduate students Kari Beardsley, left, and Kevin Muir discuss plans for their nonprofit organization in a meeting with their adviser.
By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 16, 2003

Two UA graduate students are applying their class work to the real world in a major way ¸ creating a nonprofit organization that services all of Southern Arizona.

Kevin Muir and Kari Beardsley, both graduate students in the Eller College of Business and Public Administration, have organized the Southern Arizona Alliance of Nonprofits.

The goal of the alliance is to encourage collaboration among southern Arizona's nonprofits and provide them with the information and resources they need to serve the public, said Muir.

"It truly is a grassroots effort to organize these people," said Beardsley. "We're not starting an organization saying, ╬Here's the services we're offering.' We're starting a new organization asking nonprofit organizations, ╬What do you want?' And that's what we're going to provide."

The fledgling organization hopes to encourage networking among nonprofits, improve the public image and awareness of nonprofits in the community, and strengthen their influence in the state Legislature.

"It's makes a lot of sense for NPOs to work together and address problems that are common to all of them," said UA professor Keith Provan, whose expertise includes networks, collaboration and partnerships among community organizations.

Though nonprofits in Arizona pump billions of dollars into the state's economy, many are caught in a mindset of "struggle and survive."

"It was obvious there were not services for nonprofits," said Muir. "Just via the Internet, you could see it. And there was no centralized place. The gap was there. You could see there was a need for sources here."

By doing an Internet search, Muir is usually able to find places where people communicate and organize, but when he searched in Arizona it yielded almost nothing. Even when he found a nonprofit Web site, Muir said the site was underdeveloped and limited.

"I started to see this need in our nonprofit community," he said. "I had all these personal things going on in my life that were challenging, and I thought to myself, ╬Well, how can I have the largest impact? Where can I really have an effect?'"

Muir has fought very personal battles in the past three years, contributing to his interest in nonprofit services and his desire to centralize their resources.

His father passed away at University Medical Center during open-heart surgery three years ago, and in 2001, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. While living in Boston where his mother was receiving successful medical treatment, Muir began looking for Tucson jobs in the nonprofit community.

Before moving to Tucson, Muir had 10 years of experience with the nonprofit sector on a national scale, including supervising more than 15 directors in 12 different cities that oversaw more than 4,000 volunteers.

That experience allowed him to spot the weak structure in Arizona's nonprofit organizations.

From Boston, he began making contacts with directors of nonprofits in Tucson and other parts of Arizona. When he moved to Tucson, he immediately joined the Arizona Nonprofit Capacity Building Initiative, an 18-month feasibility study published in March.

A major conclusion of the study was that Arizona's nonprofit sector must first organize and develop organizations to support local and regional nonprofits before a statewide network is possible.

The study's findings were the catalyst for the formation of the SAAN. Similar alliances have been formed in Yuma and Flagstaff.

Taken as an independent study course, the new project will allow both Muir and Beardsley to apply the experience of organizing SAAN toward their degrees.

Provan, who is also the students' adviser, said the organization is groundbreaking.

"This is something a little more unusual," Provan said, comparing the project to an internship. "It goes beyond an internship."

"It's something innovative and something that's never been done before at this level, I believe," said Beardsley.

The two have not forgotten their peers in their pursuits to make SAAN succeed.

Future and present students will be able to take summer internships through the SAAN program.

SAAN's second official meeting Thursday drew 44 different non-profits, including representatives from the Arizona Opera, Habitat for Humanity and the Development Center for Appropriate Technology.

Muir said he was excited about the numbers; such meetings often draw 25 to 35 organization representatives and directors.

"With the momentum evidenced by meetings, I fully believe this organization will be successful and will continue to gain new members," said Beardsley. "And eventually, it will provide the level of services people are looking for in the nonprofit community."

Muir said he believes SAAN will benefit students outside the public administration school, such as sociology and psychology students, as well as the Eller College.

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