ABN Expert Spotlight: Shawn Stutz

Shawn Stutz is the Executive Director of FOCUS Ministries, a prison and reentry nonprofit serving Knoxville and East Tennessee. Shawn has served as a nonprofit leader in the Knoxville area for seven years, following 16 years of pastoring churches in Tennessee, Georgia, and California. He has a great passion for people, nonprofit work, and cycling. Shawn loves developing leaders, leveraging influence for change, and revitalizing organizational systems for greater impact.

He holds a Bachelor of Science from Union University and a Certificate of Spiritual Direction from The Leadership Institute in Southern California. Learn more about Shawn below!

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Buffalo, New York, but I grew up all over. I have lived in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Georgia, California, and Tennessee.

How did you end up in Knoxville?

My wife grew up in Knoxville and after traveling for work for 16 years, it made sense to return to her East Tennessee roots. It’s been great for our children and us to be close to family.

How did you get your start working with nonprofits?

I served as a pastor for 16 years before I transitioned exclusively into nonprofit work. My first executive director role was with a Sevier County agency. Because I have a heart for helping people and love implementing healthy organizational change, nonprofit work felt like a natural transition.

What is one thing that you see changing about nonprofits that you think is for the better?

I think there is a greater willingness for cooperation and collaborative efforts. The issues that nonprofits address are so multi-faceted. No one agency can address every need. Through collective impact, nonprofits can help change the landscape of a community for the better.

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

In my opinion, mission drift and donor adaptations are the top threats nonprofits face. I see agencies drift by taking on supplementary causes or services which are good but could be accomplished better by other existing agencies. This shift waters down the prime directive of an agency and its programming effectiveness. Funding adaptations happen when agencies bend services to receive dollars with implementation restrictions that can hamstring or even derail an organization. I believe nonprofits must compel a donor to love its clients and its mission.

Talk about one thing (person, place, book, tv show, activity etc.) that has your attention right now?

I’m reading and learning a lot about trauma and soul (or self) care. Our agency helps people affected by deep trauma from their family of origin or their own doing. Whether at work, in reading, or through our family’s journey with foster care, I am seeing the significance of people processing personal trauma within the context of a safe and healing space. Good Reads: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry and To Be Told by Dan Allender.

What are the 5 most important things a nonprofit should have?

1) Clear mission

2) Great team (staff and board)

3) Empowered volunteers

4) Like-minded partners (nonprofit, for-profit, community groups)

5) Diversified funding strategy

What do you love about working with ABN?

ABN truly desires for nonprofits of Knoxville and East TN to excel because it makes for a stronger community. Plus, ABN fosters a collective work mindset so to affect real change in the community.

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

Nonprofit work is some of the most demanding and emotional work one can do. Nonprofit leaders are asked to be counselors, fundraisers, networkers, activists, advocates, grant-writers, and strategists in the span of a week (or sometimes just one day). Clients served become like family and working with family members in pain can be draining. Carrying the weight of a client’s needs and leveraging resources to address those needs is difficult and draining, especially when clients become like family to you. If you would, please take a moment every now and again to encourage the people in your life who work for a nonprofit.

What is your vision for your organization five years from now?

To continue honing in our work with the incarcerated and the newly released of East Tennessee. We have forged a holistic pathway for incarcerated men and women to achieve long-term success both behind and beyond the walls. Our goal at FOCUS is to keep refining our work. We want to be nothing short of a premiere organization; in our programming, housing, addiction prevention, programming, and volunteer mentoring.

FOCUS would love to see a local reentry coalition formed to address the multi-faceted issues felons face post-release. We are leveraging our influence to see Knoxville become a model city to successfully integrate into the home, work, and community life post-incarceration and addiction. To see men and women sober, successful, and connected in the community with family, friends, and colleagues is our goal. I often ask myself, “Why can’t Knoxville be that model city?” We have all the tools. We have all the agencies. I’ve met so many people that care. We have to work together. That is where we are dreaming over the next five years.

Do you worry about any unintended consequences from what you are trying to accomplish?

That’s a great question. Sometimes I wrestle with the idea of when helping hurts. Do we, as an agency, cross the line into enabling and not empowering? I find myself contemplating that question in light of our programming at times.

What’s something people should know about the people you work with/for?

I know nonprofit workers say they have a great team, but the FOCUS team is the greatest. In fact, our staff, board, volunteers, and clients truly become what we call the FOCUS Family. If it weren’t for them, this job would be way more difficult and surely less rewarding.


Shawn Stutz’s consulting specialties include leadership coaching, strategic problem solving, and organizational change management. To work with Shawn, start by contacting ABN Director of Capacity Building Elle Benson at ebenson@betternonprofits.org. Learn more about ABN Consulting at betternonprofits.org/consulting.