2019 40 Under 40: Kristen Merrifield, Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits

Kristen Merrifield

Kristen Merrifield, CAE, CNAP, 38, works in Phoenix, Arizona, as CEO of Alliance of Arizona NonprofitsAs a 2019 40 Under 40 honoree, Merrifield discusses her passion for the events industry. 

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What I do: I lead a statewide trade association serving the more than 20,000 nonprofits in Arizona. My role includes championing the vision and mission of the organization; advocating for and promoting the nonprofit sector; and managing the day-to-day operations of the association.

How I got here: I joined the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce as an admin in 2003 and I fell in love with this amazing sector. Over the next seven years, I would serve in almost every role of an association, leading to COO of the Arizona Small Business Association where I served for nine years. When I learned of the opening for CEO at the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, I knew it was the perfect next step for my career as an association professional, and I have loved every minute of it!

My greatest career accomplishment: In December of 2018, I earned the high honor of being named the Executive of the Year by the Arizona Society of Association Executives. I am also very proud of earning my CAE.

Impressive stats or numbers I’m responsible for: During my time at the Arizona Small Business Association, I spearheaded the creation of AZ Small Biz Con, a statewide conference that generated $100,000 in its first year. I am also extremely proud of the work we have accomplished since joining the Alliance in 2015, growing our membership from 750 to 1,000 in two years.

A specific improvement I’ve made to my organization’s meetings program: When I joined the Alliance, we were holding an annual member meeting with a few speakers that was break-even or slightly losing money. Every year since then, we have expanded the event into what is now a two-day, revenue-generating statewide conference. This year, we will have 48 breakout sessions. This is now a signature event for the organization that draws 300 to 400 people each year with great reviews.

What are you working on right now that you’re excited about? We just wrapped up our seventh Arizona Gives Day, our 24-hour online giving event which raised a record breaking $3.6 million in just 24 hours for more than 650 nonprofits. Now, we move into planning our statewide nonprofit conference, which will be bigger and better than ever this August.

What I do outside of work: What I enjoy most in life is spending time with my family, which I make a priority even with such a busy schedule. I also just recently started my M.S. in leadership at Grand Canyon University. Whenever I can, I enjoy attending community events and being involved with the amazing work our nonprofits are doing throughout Arizona.

Favorite vacation destination: I absolutely love Sedona, Arizona, one of the most beautiful places in Arizona, if not the world. This has become our go-to destination for weekend getaways and anniversaries each summer. I have several association colleagues and friends who work at local resorts there, and we often stay at Poco Diablo Resort or Hilton Sedona at Bell Rock—all while enjoying the gorgeous red rocks and local culture.

Favorite icebreaker line: I enjoy learning how people are connected with the association, individual or nonprofit that is hosting the event.

Travel hack: A colleague of mine turned me on to the Waze app—think of it as Google Maps on steroids!  Fellow app users alert each other about road hazards, and the app also alerts you when police are in the area.