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Elizabeth Castillo

Asst Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 0604

Dr. Castillo studies organizational leadership through the lens of complex adaptive systems. Her current research investigates capitalization of organizations, particularly how intangible assets like social, cultural, and political capital contribute to the production of social and financial returns (the double bottom line). Her scholarship is inspired by two decades of management experience in the nonprofit sector, including the San Diego Natural History Museum and Balboa Park Cultural Partnership. Her mission is to repair the world through scholarship that promotes thriving organizations, engaged employees, connected communities, and a world we can be proud to pass on to our children.


2016  PhD, Leadership Studies (Nonprofit Specialization)                                                               University of San Diego                                                                                         

2010  M.A., Nonprofit Leadership and Management                                                                        University of San Diego                                                                                                                                   Award of Distinction (faculty award for outstanding nonprofit Masters student)                            

2006   Certificate in Fundraising Management                                                                                        The Fund Raising School, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University   

1985   B.A., Philosophy and History (summa cum laude)                                                                   University of San Diego                                                                                                                           Outstanding Student award, Philosophy department faculty                                                                   Outstanding Student award, History department faculty



Research Interests

The fundamental question my research addresses is how does the creation, activation, and conversion of intangible assets (e.g., social, reputational, moral, political, intellectual capital) relate to organizational sustainability and the production of public benefit?

Key Words: multiple capitals, embeddedness, emergence, nonlinear dynamics, capabilities, leadership, resources, process, interdependence, generativity, integrated reporting.

Methods: Through the analytical lens of Complex Adaptive Systems and using a mixed methods approach, I investigate how activating processes (e.g., leadership, capacity building, learning, collaboration) generate, catalyze, and monetize intangible resources. Depending on the research question, this can include agent-based modeling, case studies, content analysis, dynamic modeling, grounded theory, process tracing, surveys, and statistical analysis.                                                                   

Research Group

Faculty Affiliate, Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment, Arizona State University



Jones, J.A. & Castillo, E.A. (2017, in press). A fundraiser’s journey: A developmentally-informed, grounded theory analysis. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.

Ihm, J. & Castillo, E.A. (2017, in press). Development and transformation of collaborative networks in events. Journal of Convention and Event Tourism. doi: 10.1080/15470148.2017.1322021

Castillo, E.A. (2016). Beyond the balance sheet: Teaching capacity building as capital building. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 6(3), 287-303.

Castillo, E.A. & Titus, A. (2015). Activating the power of place: A case study of Market Creek. Foundation Review, 7(3), 6-22.

Castillo, E.A., McDonald, M.B., & Wilson, C.P. (2014). Where heart meets smart: The making of a grantmaker. Foundation Review, 6(2), 27-40.


Castillo, E.A. (2015) Are we there yet? A conversation on performance measures in the third sector. Nonprofit Quarterly,     12/08/15.

Research Activity

My use-inspired research is currently focused on developing a theoretical framework & practical road map to help social sector organizations become financially sustainable. Projects include:
1. Developing a theory of capacity building that incorporates economic principles and complexity theory to explain causal mechanisms of how and why capacity building works.
2. Discerning the intersection of collaboration and mutualism using principles of biomimicry (nature as a model) to inform the formation and sustenance of collaborations.
3. Developing theory to explain the rationale for integrated reporting.                                                                             4. Establishing a grantmaking framework that builds adaptive capacity in organizations based on process structures. An outcome of this research will be actionable philanthropic strategies that foster emergence, fitness, and sustainability in nonprofit organizations.                         


Fall 2017
Course NumberCourse Title
OGL 350Diversity and Organizations
Spring 2017
Course NumberCourse Title
OGL 300Theory Practice of Leadership
Fall 2016
Course NumberCourse Title
OGL 350Diversity and Organizations
Honors / Awards

Faculty Fellow, ASU Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics (2017-18). $1,250 for Moral Capital scale development project (Co-PI).

Research award, 2017 Symposium on Public Policy for Nonprofits ($750 travel grant). Presented by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and Independent Sector.  

$500 Travel Grant, Public Performance and Management Review, paper presentation at PPMR pre-publication symposium, George Washington University, June 7, 2017.

Outstanding Collaboration Award (co-recipient), Faculty of Leadership and Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts (May 2017)

Emerging Scholar award, Association of Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (2016)

Finalist, William P. Foster award for outstanding dissertation, University of San Diego, School of Leadership and Education Sciences (2016)

Joseph Rost Scholarship (faculty award for outstanding doctoral student), University of San Diego, Department of Leadership Studies (2015-16)

Doctoral Fellow, Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (2015)

Nu Lambda Mu honor society, awarded for academic excellence by the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (2015)

Servant Leadership Scholar Award for nonprofit service, awarded by the University of San Diego’s Master of Science in Executive Leadership program (2008).

US Forest Service "Taking Wing" award, for outstanding community collaboration for the San Diego County Bird Atlas project (2003).

Professional Associations
Academy of Management (AOM), Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) International Leadership Association (ILA)

Organizational Development Consultant. Assist nonprofits with fundraising, capacity building, program design, needs assessment, strategic planning, group facilitation, and board development.

Evaluation Consultant (2015). Conduct data collection for $3 million arts-based innovation research project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Industry Positions

2009-2012        Director of Development, Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (San Diego, CA)

1999-2009        Director of Foundation Relations, San Diego Natural History Museum

At the San Diego Natural History Museum (1999-2009) Dr. Castillo became intrigued with systems thinking, ecology, symbiosis, and biodiversity. At the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (2009-2012) she gained firsthand experience with the transformative power of deep collaboration and organizational learning.

Pro Bono

Pro bono grant preparation for City of Poway Kumeyaay-Ipai Interpretive Center and other health, social service, and community agencies. Generated $1 million in federal and state funding for these organizations (1996-2012).

Member, Biomimicry advisory committee, San Diego Zoo Global (2010-2012).

Madrina (mentor for Latina girls), Niñas de Aztlán Focus on Literacy, San Diego City Schools’ LLAMA Advocacy Program (2001).