Shauna Lugar is using her MBA to connect high-wealth individuals with important social work programs at Youth Villages.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given someone? Maybe it was those earrings you got for your grandma last Christmas. Or maybe it was the hours upon hours of volunteer work you did a few summers ago. Perhaps it was something else entirely – as it was for Shauna Lugar, a graduate of George Fox’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.

“My favorite gift I have ever given was not financial,” Lugar says. “When I was breastfeeding my second son, I had a surplus of milk. I donated 25 gallons of that milk to my local milk bank, and it went toward premature babies with health complications. That was my favorite gift – it just felt so good to me.”  

That breastmilk represented a lot of time and effort, but it was worth it to Lugar to help those in need. She has always highly valued gift-giving, and now she enables others to give gifts as part of her professional life.

Lugar is development director for Youth Villages, a national nonprofit organization based in Memphis, Tennessee, that provides services and resources for at-risk children and their families. She oversees the fundraising department in Oregon, responsible for building and maintaining relationships with multiple high-wealth individuals interested in donating to the organization.

“Forty years ago, this nonprofit was on the cusp of closing its doors in Memphis,” Lugar says. “Our CEO was tasked with dismantling it, but he saw its potential and took this small organization and helped it grow into what it is today – a $400 million nonprofit serving nearly 40,000 youths and families across the country.”

From humble beginnings, Youth Villages has emerged to become large enough to engage in multiple social work avenues. 

“Given our size, we can do some advocacy work that many smaller organizations are unable to do,” Lugar says. “Youth Villages is able to do a perfect blend of advocacy work and direct service.”

Finding Purpose in Nonprofit Work

Shauna Lugar talking to a client

Lugar is proud to be engaged in this work, although she admits it wasn’t part of her original plan. In fact, she majored in English as an undergraduate with the intention of becoming a journalist. She was an intern at Portland Monthly magazine when she realized she was on the wrong track.

“I ended up asking for an informational interview with one of the writers who contributed a lot of pieces to the magazine,” Lugar says. “I sat down with her, and she said, ‘Let me level with you. I live in my parents’ basement, I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t have a pet, and I fight editors over pennies. If this is a life for you, then by all means join me. If not, then I would walk away.’”

Lugar took her advice and walked. Her next internship was at Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), a nonprofit journalism organization where she had an entirely different experience.   

“I absolutely loved it at OPB,” Lugar says. “I loved the culture. You could spend eight hours unpaid, working on a spreadsheet for some really cool and meaningful documentary. There was power and purpose in that, and it was from OPB that I really got a taste of nonprofit work.”

Lugar continued on to work for philanthropic organizations, from political nonprofits to direct service organizations. Eventually she was drawn into the fundraising element of humanitarian work, and she’s been fundraising ever since.

In fact, she’s logged nearly 20 years working for nonprofits in a fundraising capacity, most of which have been youth-serving. She worked for eight years at a child abuse assesment center, one year at a statewide advocacy organization, and the past six years with Youth Villages.

Broadening Her Knowledge of Business

Despite her wealth of experience in fundraising, she sensed she was missing something. She wanted to connect with potential donors on a deeper level, and to do so, she needed to broaden her knowledge of the business world. 

“I have a lot of conversations with high-wealth donors who all likely come with a business background,” Lugar says. “There was a part of me that was interested in pursuing an MBA so I could be a bigger participant in those conversations, and so I could be more strategic when it came to the purpose of their investment in our work.”

Lugar knew she would be able to better identify her donors’ pain points and giving vehicles if she got her MBA, and she wanted to fill those gaps in her humanitarian perspective.

“Going back to school and studying business really interested me because my whole world had been nonprofits,” Lugar says. “I thought that doing something business related would really benefit me and round out my experience and my education.”


She looked into a couple MBA programs, but George Fox’s ultimately stood out. Lugar is a mom to a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, and the Saturday cohort option that George Fox offers was a perfect fit.

Even so, Lugar’s path to earning her MBA was anything but easy. About halfway through the program, her family received a devastating medical diagnosis, and Lugar took a five-month leave of absence. Her first cohort graduated, and she eventually joined a second cohort to finish her studies. 

“When I came back to the program, I had a different kind of vision,” Lugar says. “The future was always about what I am doing now so that I am in a certain place in three years, or in five years. After that leave of absence, that wasn’t the same for me, and it hasn't been since. Now it’s more about how I am showing up today, and how I will show up tomorrow.”

Even though her experience in the MBA program was unusually difficult, Lugar is thankful for the people she met at George Fox and the knowledge she gained. 

“In so many ways, the MBA is wrapped up in everything that has happened,” she says. “The people I’ve met have been so supportive, and now I have a deeper and greater empathy for everyone around me.”

Leveraging Her MBA to Build Relationships

Now Lugar is leveraging her education as she fundraises and builds connections with donors on behalf of Youth Villages. 

“In a nonprofit, you are telling the story of people who could really benefit from the programs or services your organization provides, and making that connection to somebody who has the resources and wants to give,” Lugar says. “These people want to know they are giving in the right way.”

Her favorite aspect of being a fundraiser is making connections with donors, as well as playing a part in each of their gift-giving stories.   

“I find working with donors and making those strategic connections to be the most rewarding part of my job,” she says. “I’m out here working with people who could be volunteering their time, serving on a board, being a mentor to a young person, making a $100,000 contribution, or investing in 10 young people coming out of foster care. That’s what we do, and it feels really good knowing that I could potentially be part of someone’s favorite gift story.”

But building these connections can be a complicated process. Nobody is perfect, and sometimes Lugar or the donors she works with misstep. 

“I’ve had fewer than five friends or supporters over the last 15 years who didn’t always agree with me or my decision,” Lugar says. “Maybe I challenged them and that didn’t go well. But working through that built so much more trust and made our relationship stronger.”

Lugar knows donors on a deeper, more personal level, and they know her in the same way. Her relationships with them have grown beyond their original purpose.

“My network and my perspective have grown immensely because of these very few people who have been willing to be vulnerable with me, and who have allowed me to be vulnerable with them,” Lugar says.

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