Tripling the Impact

USD alumnus Paul Eichen ’12 (MA) and his wife, Susan Flieder


When Paul Eichen ’12 (MA) and his wife, Susan Flieder, decided to give back, they wanted to drill down deep.

Not content to just write a check, Flieder suggested to Eichen, founder of the Rokenbok Toy Company, that they both earn a certificate from USD in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Eichen even took it a step further, earning a master’s in the subject.

The experience has been so positive that the couple has made a $2.5 million challenge gift to The Nonprofit Institute in USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. Gifts made by the end of 2021 will be matched, which would more than triple the institute’s current endowment to $6.6 million.

“We want to leave a positive legacy for our children and future generations by investing in the entire nonprofit sector,” says Flieder, who has supported and served on the boards of many local nonprofit organizations. “Our challenge gift to The Nonprofit Institute enables us to do just that.”

Since its inception in 2002, thousands of nonprofits and philanthropies have benefitted from the institute’s research, forums and roundtable discussions. The gift will support the work of the institute in the community to develop action-oriented research, mission-driven leaders and organizations committed to advancing good locally and globally.

As the coronavirus crisis deepened, the institute was quick to help nonprofits by offering insights collected from the Great Recession to weather the economic storm, conducting and disseminating research on their needs and challenges, reorienting events and programs to a virtual format and helping nonprofit leaders and organizations share information and resources.

“We want those who do good in the world to have the wind at their back, with the tools they need to help people, communities and the planet thrive,” says Executive Director Emily Young. Each year the institute hosts a number of signature programs and initiatives, including the Annual Nonprofit Governance Symposium, the Environment Initiatives Hub and the City of San Diego Nonprofit Academy.

The symposium, for example, helps board members create stronger, more sustainable organizations. “We firmly believe that good governance is essential to strong nonprofit work,” she says.

The institute also works with the city of San Diego to more effectively award millions of dollars in grants to local community, charitable and arts and cultural organizations, especially those working to alleviate poverty and benefit underserved neighborhoods.

“We feel so honored and excited by this gift and want to take full advantage of the opportunity to build and endowment that really has an impact on the hundreds of nonprofits we work with,” says Young.

In the end, the institute’s efforts are really about supporting USD’s mission and advancing the university’s commitment to serving as an anchor institution by “supporting the development of Changemakers, both on- and off-campus,” she adds.

Last year, the institute took over the Equinox Project’s Quality of Life Dashboard, measuring progress or the lack of it on everything from climate change, air quality and the health of local beaches to progress on employment, entrepreneurism and housing in San Diego County. The goal is to inform the public, community advocates and policy makers and help ensure that the region is on a path to greater health, wealth and sustainability.

Young is excited that the institute has begun integrating the dashboard across campus to engage faculty and students and connect it to campus-wide priorities — especially sustainability and Care for Our Common Home — by working with USD centers such as the Changemaker Hub, the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, and Climate Education Partners. “We’re looking at ways the nonprofit sector can more holistically advance those priorities, recognizing how key they are to ending poverty and inequality,” she says. — Liz Harman

To contribute to the institute’s endowment, go to











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