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Remarks from Judith Saidel, recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award

Acceptance Comments: Judith R. Saidel, Ph.D. November 18, 2021

Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action

50th Anniversary Annual Conference Atlanta, Georgia

Thank you, Pier, for the generous introduction and warm welcome.  It is wonderful to be back in person - and via zoom - among ARNOVA friends and in the ARNOVA community that has meant so much to me for 35 years!  I am deeply honored to receive this most meaningful award previously conferred on individuals most of whom I count as personal friends, and whom I revere as giants in our field.  What an honor to walk along beside them.

I also would like to thank those who chose me for this distinction and my nominators – Yvonne Cafik, Melissa Middleton Stone, a previous award winner, and Robert Herman, also a previous award winner.  It means a great deal to me that, several years ago, you three colleagues found the time in your fully engaged professional lives to take on the additional task of writing and submitting the nomination.  Thank you!

To my life partner and loving supporter, Peter, who is here to share this joyful occasion, and to my children and grandchildren who are here in spirit, I am happy to extend my heartfelt thanks for so many years of love, encouragement, and patience.

It was my lived experience, both voluntary and paid, in community, educational, and human service nonprofits that triggered my passion to pursue and expand opportunities for graduate work in the field of nonprofit and voluntary action studies.  And it was my extraordinarily good fortune that my embarking on a second career via doctoral studies coincided with the exponential growth of our field.

What does it take to build an academic field?  Many scholars have reflected on this question, including my good friend, Margaret Harris, a previous winner of this award and highly respected international scholar, whose work has informed these remarks.  Commenting on the relevant literature, she observed that “collegiate social interaction around a common intellectual interest” is “a key signifier of field emergence” (Harris 2016: 6).   Think about the crucial importance of ARNOVA, and its predecessor association AVAS, in this regard.

As a nontraditional public administration doctoral student in 1986, I travelled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in search of what might be described as “collegiate social interaction around a common intellectual interest.”  Where were the students, faculty, and researchers who shared my scholarly interests?  I found them in Harrisburg among the less than about 200 people who typically attended AVAS conferences in the 1980s!  As noted sociologist Howard Aldrich Jr. observed, “[M]eeting at professional gatherings can lead to reading and citing each other’s work. Professional associations and conferences are critical for diffusing a field’s knowledge base to users, but equally important is the opportunity for meeting others who are interested and passionate about their work.” Candidly, I knew I was home and, subsequently, I always bristled when ARNOVA was characterized as a secondary or even tertiary academic association.

At Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, I soon initiated the first graduate course on nonprofit management.  All across the country and, indeed, internationally as well, academic entrepreneurs who combined finely tuned research skills in diverse disciplines with strategic vision and a risk-taking orientation, were launching new courses and founding academic centers.  A critical role in field-building was also played by philanthropic funders such as the Aspen Institute Nonprofit Sector Research Fund founded by Elizabeth Boris and ably carried on by Alan Abramson and by foundations that targeted substantial resources in a timely fashion.  As the then Director of the Center for Women in Government, now the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, at Rockefeller College and a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grantee, I can attest to the crucial role of the Kellogg Foundation’s multi-million dollar Building Bridges Initiative in supporting fundamental curricular and other institutional changes in colleges and universities.  I think that most observers would agree that the Initiative achieved its remarkably ambitious goal, described to me by its director Robert Long, as the intention to transform the face of higher education.

The field-builders at university-based centers and in various academic departments also fulfilled a critical mentorship function.  They encouraged and guided emerging scholars and reflective nonprofit practitioners.

The importance of specialized journals in the field of nonprofit and voluntary action research and the increasing openness of well-established, discipline-based journals to publishing nonprofit-related articles cannot be over-stated.  Publication in peer-reviewed journals is widely recognized as crucial for tenure-track professors.

At the same time, continued meaningful connection through research and service with the real-world issues and concerns of nonprofit organizations, their leaders, board members, staff, and volunteers has kept and will keep our field healthy, relevant, energized and valued by those who care about civil society and collective responses to the urgent challenges facing local communities, states and provinces, and countries around the world.

Finally, on this occasion of ARNOVA’s 50th anniversary, it is a special pleasure to acknowledge the critical importance of doctoral students in the pipeline, recent Ph.D. graduates who wrote nonprofit-related dissertations and are now in the Academy, and young tenured faculty members who are broadening and deepening the institutional foundation of our field.  You are making substantial contributions to the long-term health and sustainability of ARNOVA, ISTR, and other professional associations, to field journals through editorships and peer-reviewed published articles, and to the world of practice.  I am so proud of those of you whom I have mentored―David Van Slyke, Shawn Flanigan, Joanne Carman, Susan Appe, and Judith Millesen― to name just a few.  You all are the future of the field as it becomes more inclusive and even more global.  We pass the baton to you with joy in our hearts and confidence that the future of our field is bright.  Thank you.

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