ABN Expert Spotlight: Larsen Jay

Larsen Jay has made Knoxville home for nearly 30 years and has a diverse background in business, philanthropy, and civic engagement.

Larsen’s civic engagement in Knoxville has had a lasting impact on our community. He is the founder of Random Acts of Flowers, and has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including The Joy of Music School, the Bijou Theatre, Legacy Parks Foundation, the Knoxville Symphony, and the Alliance for Better Nonprofits. Larsen was honored as a member of the inaugural class of Knoxville’s “40 Under 40” and is a a graduate of Leadership Knoxville. Larsen is currently serving in his first term on the Knox County Commission (At-Large / Seat 10), having been elected to represent all Knox County residents in 2018.

Today, Larsen serves as the Director of Business Alliances for PYA, a top-100 national professional services firm providing deep functional expertise in tax, audit and assurance, and management consulting.

You can read Larsen’s full bio HERE. Learn more about Larsen below!

How did you get your start working with nonprofits?

I started working with nonprofit organizations as a community volunteer. There were several initiatives in downtown Knoxville that I wanted to help build (Movies on Market Square, ETN Chili Cook-Off, Holidays on Ice Skating Rink, Bijou Theater reopening) to attract more people to come downtown and build up the center city, and from that work people approached me about helping on other projects and organizations.

What do you see as the biggest threat to a nonprofit’s success?

The biggest threat I see with a nonprofit’s success is complacency and unwillingness to change. So often, I see organizations that have been doing the same thing over and over and when the results aren’t any different, that’s okay with them. However, that approach isn’t appealing to donors and doesn’t help drive innovative practices. Mediocre isn’t good enough anymore.

What are the five most important things a nonprofit should have?

I think every great nonprofit should have:

(1) an honest and trusted CFO, bookkeeper or accounting firm to have accurate and timely financial management;

(2) at least a dozen major donors that believe so much in the mission and success of the organization that they won’t let it fail;

(3) a board of directors where a majority of members are not friends/family and will challenge the staff to deliver beyond expectations;

(4) a dedicated group of volunteers who exude passion for the mission without a need for constant praise; and

(5) a succession plan for every major staff member with a deep bench of talent willing to step up at a moment’s notice.

What do you love about working with ABN?

I love working with ABN because they are always adapting to the needs of the membership and asking “how can this organization be better?” There’s a culture at ABN that exemplifies excitement, confidence, and credibility and they bring excellence to everything they do.

What’s one thing you wish other people knew about nonprofits?

I wish people (who work in nonprofits AND those who don’t) knew that nonprofit organizations are just like every other business. Just because there aren’t shareholder or owner distributions-made doesn’t mean they don’t have every challenge that other businesses face. I really wish there was a different way to describe or label nonprofits – like “social entrepreneurs” or “community companies” – or really anything to take the “nonprofit” label off. I think always labeling our organizations diminishes the professionalism and innovation occurring every day and frames the focus entirely around finances.


To work with Larsen, start by contacting ABN Director of Capacity Building Elle Benson at ebenson@betternonprofits.org. Learn more about ABN Consulting at betternonprofits.org/consulting.