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Circular Library

Building a New Field:  Institutionalizing Nonprofit Studies

Collaborators: Dr. Robert Long (Murray State University) and Dr. Carol Brunt (University of Wisconsin - Whitewater)


This project addresses the question of influencing societal changes by analyzing the impact of educational programs in public affairs, nonprofit and philanthropic studies. It adopts a two-pronged approach by investigating:


  1. nonprofit academic programs and centers; and

  2. the role of philanthropic foundations in supporting educational programs and supporting the field’s infrastructure.    


I have therefore explored pedagogical approaches to philanthropic and nonprofit studies identifying best practices for these programs with the goal of equipping our students with the technical competencies, the leadership skills, and the civil values necessary to become the thought leaders of the twenty-first-century nonprofit sector. In co-authored studies, I investigate the state of philanthropy education in K-12 schools, as well as undergraduate nonprofit management programs. This latter study assesses the scope of undergraduate education and identifies the driving forces behind the emergence of academic majors in the field. Lastly, in a series of studies targeting academic managers, I aim to identify challenges and strategies for undergraduate education in nonprofit management and the implementation of student philanthropy. Drawing on my experience in the field, I point to the complex nature of nonprofit and philanthropic studies as a “discovery program,” that is, a degree that students typically discover after joining a university, rather than coming to the university with the purpose of pursuing that degree. This work, in collaboration with Carol Brunt (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), explores the development and administration of nonprofit educational programs and the role of academic and practice centers supporting academic programming and the impact of the trend toward competency-based education on nonprofit education.

Building on this work, in collaboration with Dr. Robert Long, I currently focus on the role of philanthropic foundations in supporting educational programs and supporting the field’s infrastructure. US philanthropic foundations played a leading role in developing philanthropic and nonprofit studies (PNS) at the intersection of academia and practice. While scholars have highlighted the foundation sector’s contributions to the “invention of the nonprofit sector” and emergence of the discipline (Hall, 1991; Katz, 1999), its later role is not fully assessed. In the 1980s-2000s, philanthropic foundations, in some cases under initiatives with a national and international scope, have invested in the development of quality practices in the nonprofit sector (Proscio, 2003; Heidrich & Long, n.d.). These investments aimed to create a more professional, effective, and diverse social sector. In pursuing this overarching goal, foundations supported the professionalization of practice and (academic) knowledge production. In the latter area, they aimed both to support the institutionalization of PNS within higher education and relevant teaching methodologies to cultivate the new leaders of the social sector and an informed citizenry.


This project investigates the contributions of US philanthropic foundations to the growth of the field in the United States and beyond. The project aims to stimulate a reflection on how academia, the nonprofit sector, and philanthropy have worked together over the past three decades to increase the capacity and quality of the many and varied organizations committed to the public good. It uses, although not exclusively, the lenses of philanthropic foundation’s support to the development of the field of study. It aims to assess:

  1. The impact of foundations’ support of the field, asking if the field developed as foundations had envisioned.

  2. The limits of foundations’ influence, seeking to identify what developments in the field were driven by foundation funding and what areas developed without (or despite a lack of) foundation funding.

  3. The level of institutionalization of the field of study and the challenges inherent to an institutionalization process.

Research outputs

Weber, P. C. (first author) & Brunt, C. (2022). Building Nonprofit Studies: The Role of Centers and Institutes in New Academic disciplines. Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs, 8(1), 1–26.

Weber, P. C. (first author) & Long R. (2021). Assessing Philanthropic Impact: How the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Building Bridges Initiative supported the field of Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies. The Foundation Review, 13(3), 47-66.

Weber, P. C. & Brunt, C. (2021). Mapping Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC) Centers: The Past and Future Trajectory of Academic Nonprofit Centers and Institutes. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 11(3).

Weber, P. C. & Long R. (2021). Responding to Change in Higher Education: The case of the Nonprofit Leadership Studies Program at Murray State University and Program Identity. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 11(1).

Brunt, C., Dolch, N., Freeman, T., Mirabella, R., Weber, P. C., & Wooddell, M. (2020). Undergraduate Nonprofit Education: Between Institutionalization and Recruitment. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 10(1), 2-24.

Weber, P. C. & Brunt, C. (2020). Continuing to Build Knowledge: Undergraduate Nonprofit Programs in Institutions of Higher Learning. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 26(3), 336-357.

Weber, P. C. & Thayer, A. N. (2017). Planting the Seeds of Civil Society: An assessment of philanthropic education in K-12 schools. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 7(3), 162-180.

Weber, P. C. & Witkowski, G. (2016). Philanthropic Disruptions: Changing Nonprofit Education for an Engaged Society. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 22(1), 91-106.

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