Rigour or relevance in philanthropy research? Choose both!

Tracey Coule, Research-to-Practice Editor, NVSQ.

1200px-UCB_Campanile‘Ivory tower academics have nothing useful to offer practitioners’. As a former non-profit practitioner-turned-academic responsible for running a professional doctorate, delivering management education, undertaking client-driven, applied research projects, and publishing research papers, I have often heard this charge from practitioners. Equally, I have heard academic colleagues refer to applied, client-commissioned research as the ‘poor relation’, ‘ugly sister’ or even not ‘proper’ research because it ‘lacks rigour’ and ‘can’t possibly produce high quality, publishable research’.

In this short piece, I would like to at least begin challenging both sets of assumptions by making three arguments. First, the rigour versus relevance debate is a fallacy. Second, the real issue (and solution) is one of language or, rather, translation. Third, it will take shared commitment and collective action to undertake such translation work and bridge the gap between academic, policy, and practice communities. Continue reading “Rigour or relevance in philanthropy research? Choose both!”

Behind the scenes of “Nonprofit Organizations Becoming Business-Like”

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Florentine Maier, Michael Meyer and Martin Steinbereithner, Vienna University of Economics and Business and NVSQ authors.

Our systematic literature review on Nonprofit Organizations Becoming Business-Like is an extremely dense piece of writing. We condensed the essence of 599 research publications into 8000 words. Under no circumstances can we distill it any further into a 600 word blogpost! What we want to do here, instead, is tell about the reasons why we wrote it, and provide some guidance on how to read it.

The article was inspired by the adage “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”: for over two years we had been trying to get research funding to conduct empirical research on the consequences of business-like forms of nonprofit organizing, as opposed to possible alternative forms. After three unsuccessful grant applications, each faltering because reviewers criticized us for not having covered the state of research sufficiently, we came to the conclusion that there apparently was no consensus on what actually constituted the relevant field of research. We had extensively read on the issue of NPOs becoming business-like, books piling up on our desks, folders bursting with printouts, our EndNote file getting bigger and bigger, and still reviewers pointing out this or that article that they considered as crucial and that we had failed to cite in our grant applications. Continue reading “Behind the scenes of “Nonprofit Organizations Becoming Business-Like””

Declining Volunteering and the Pressing Need to Ask Others to Help

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Jaclyn Piatak, University of North Carolina and NVSQ author

Unemployed volunteers devote more time but are less likely to receive an invitation to volunteer. America’s democracy heavily relies on a strong voluntary sector, where all citizens should be represented, or at least have the option, with everyone having an equal likelihood of being asked. Yet dedicated individuals may not volunteer simply because no one asks them.

Much research has examined who volunteers. Several social and demographic characteristics are associated with volunteering; from being white, female, and married to having a job and higher levels of education. Researchers often refer to this as dominant status model, where factors associated with prestige and respect in America increase a person’s likelihood of being asked to volunteer. Continue reading “Declining Volunteering and the Pressing Need to Ask Others to Help”

How I became a nonprofit sector professional

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Daniel King, Nottingham Trent University and NVSQ Author

Picture the scene. I am in my office at home surrounded by files, folders, spreadsheets, receipts, pieces of artwork and paint pots trying to write the final report for the funding body. For a small organization (which only had 5 part-time creative arts therapists and me managing the project for free), we seemed to have amassed a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy. This was not what I envisaged or set out to achieve when I entered the nonprofit sector. I never intended to be a nonprofit sector professional. But looking around my home office I am left wondering what it is that I have become?

In my recent paper in NVSQ, Becoming Business-like: Governing the Nonprofit Professional, I consider this question by examining the way I changed to see myself as a nonprofit professional. It tells the story of how I founded Creative Arts, a therapeutic arts charity, but also changed in the process of doing it. I narrate the process through which I slowly, and often without realising, over time changed from an idealistic dreamer, someone who Continue reading “How I became a nonprofit sector professional”

Participation or professionalization? A call to support democratic practices in nonprofits

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Jennifer Dodge, University at Albany—SUNY and NVSQ Author

The pressure for nonprofits to professionalize is enormous. I often think about this in the context of policy advocacy (advocating for particular policy positions using a variety of political strategies and tactics such as research, litigation, coalition building etc.), where the necessity to respond to changing political dynamics places “efficiency” at the top of the list of priorities. Developing a professional staff and relying on it to respond to the whims of a new administration, a change in political climate, or a new opportunity makes a lot of sense. The pressure to professionalize derives from these features of our political culture. It also derives from, or at least is reflected in, recent efforts to formalize nonprofit accountability structures, which require nonprofits to develop specific principles and statements to ensure accountability to the public, such as statements for handling conflicts of interest (this is the case in New York Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, for instance). As with achieving greater efficiency, some form of formalization can make a lot of sense, especially when we are primed to think about high profile scandals where the nonprofit form is abused for personal gain. Continue reading “Participation or professionalization? A call to support democratic practices in nonprofits”

Morals matter: What’s to learn from nonprofit research?

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Tracey Coule, NVSQ Research-to-Practice Editor

“The real issue is about moral compasses in leadership.” This was the statement made by Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the UK, on leadership development in civil society organizations (CSOs) last month. He suggested that many of the biggest challenges that leaders face, now more than ever, are not technical matters but ethical ones and candidly questioned the extent to which leadership development equipped people to make difficult judgment calls on such issues. Etherington, and much recent global media attention, links the increasing demand for moral and ethical judgments to the changing relationship between CSOs and the state. One example is the anticipated rise in state-based regulation, sparking concern in some corners over damage to CSO’s freedom to campaign, advocate and pursue charitable missions more generally. Continue reading “Morals matter: What’s to learn from nonprofit research?”

On being new in uncharted territory…

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Tracey Coule, NVSQ Research-to-Practice Editor

On starting my new academic role, around 10 years ago, I recall asking a colleague why we did some particular thing in a certain way. Their response, “oh don’t worry, it’s always been done that way”. Probably well-meaning but not particularly helpful to someone in a new role – especially to someone with an inquisitive nature. “Excitement. Honor. Gratitude. Responsibility.”  These were the four words used by the new editors of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) in their first From the Editor’s Desk to describe how their sentiments had evolved since their selection as the next editorial team. I share these sentiments. Continue reading “On being new in uncharted territory…”