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2017 Conference Theme
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2017 Theme & Call for Participation

ARNOVA’s 46th Annual Conference

November 16-18, 2017 in Grand Rapids, MI



Strengthening Local Communities:

The Role of Nonprofit and Philanthropic Organizations


In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in place-based work on the part of nonprofits and the larger philanthropic community. This interest is partly the result of ongoing efforts—in the United States as well as around the globe—to devolve responsibility for addressing public needs to local communities. These changes have sparked a resurgence of scholarly interest in the roles that nonprofit and philanthropic organizations play in communities, including efforts to improve local economies, health and education systems, and environments, as well as the unintended consequences of such work.

This renewed interest has encouraged the development of new methods and models for addressing and understanding the complexity of communities. The creation of community data systems, the development of collaborative governance processes and collective impact models, and the refinement of tools based in systems-thinking have helped to revive a focus on the interconnectedness of life in communities and the necessity of changing systems in order to change outcomes for residents. Issues such as racial disparities in health and education, economic inequality, and environmental crises require thinking and acting systemically, locally, and collectively.

The 2017 ARNOVA conference theme explores the roles that nonprofits and philanthropic organizations take when they attempt to strengthen local communities. How does theory guide our understanding of the intersection between place and nonprofit activity? What methods and models for place-based work are most promising? How are community members being engaged in creating, implementing and monitoring change in their own communities? Are there effective ways of communicating about complexity to various audiences? How are foundations and nonprofits partnering to change local systems? What roles do social entrepreneurs and for-profit business communities play in cross-sector collaborations?

In Michigan, where ARNOVA 2017 will be held, there are many examples of cross-sector partnerships to improve local systems, ranging from the Grand Bargain (the agreement among government, nonprofits, and foundations that allowed Detroit to exit bankruptcy) to efforts to address the health crisis created by the contamination of the Flint water system, to the donor-led resurgence of Grand Rapids. How is place-based work different in these urban areas from work in rural areas? How does federal and state policy help or hinder local action on major community issues? What role does advocacy play at local, state and national levels? How does sense of place and sense of community affect philanthropy and voluntary action?


The Conference Committee welcomes proposals addressing a broad variety of topics, in addition to the Conference theme. We invite proposals from all disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) perspectives. We are interested in a diversity of cross-national, comparative, regional, domestic, and local perspectives.

Proposals may focus on the entire sector or on any type of nonprofit field of activity or organizational type and setting. We look forward to entertaining a wide variety of proposals, and invite you to submit yours. We particularly welcome newer scholars and members of under-represented groups to engage with our community of scholars through participation in the upcoming Conference.

Proposal Submission Tracks for the 46th Annual ARNOVA Conference

Below are examples of the types of questions that could be considered for each track, but please do not read these suggestions as exclusionary.  They are intended only to be illustrative.

The Conference Track Strengthening Local Communities: The Role of Nonprofit and Philanthropic OrganizationsWe invite proposals on a wide variety of issues related to this theme. 

Boards & GovernanceWhat important challenges does the board face today? How are they being met?  How are governance models changing? What are the strengths and weaknesses of different models? Are certain board practices associated with certain outcomes?

Community & Grassroots Organization (Secular & Faith-based) What is the role of social movements today? How are new technologies changing the way organizing and voluntary action take place? Is the role of faith communities changing in advocating for and meeting human needs?

Accountability, Effectiveness, Evaluation & Program Outcomes How do nonprofits balance and prioritize accountability to different constituencies? How do we know when nonprofit work is effective? How are evaluation practices and metrics shifting to capture large-scale community change? What kinds of programs are thriving or failing, and why?

Collaboration & Networks How and why do nonprofits collaborate? With whom? What are some formal and informal types of collaboration in the nonprofit and voluntary sector? What are some tools, methods, and theories to help us understand collaborative activity within and across sectors? Are certain collaborative models more or less effective in achieving different outcomes?

Philanthropy, Fundraising & GivingHow is the concept and practice of philanthropy evolving? How is giving changing? Are donors and fundraisers shifting their behaviors? How? How do the mechanisms of giving operate differently in different contexts?

Innovation & EntrepreneurshipAre nonprofits breaking new ground in their approaches to social change or service delivery? Are new (or hybrid) organizational forms replacing traditional ones? What are the implications of hybrid organizational forms? What is the relationship between traditional nonprofit models and new models of social entrepreneurship?

Management, Leadership & Strategy – How have approaches to management in nonprofit and voluntary organizations changed and what are the implications? Are styles of leadership changing? If so, how so, and why? Are organizations adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances? How do management and leadership vary across organizational characteristics?

Public Policy, Regulation & Advocacy – What are the implications of changing sectoral boundaries for nonprofit law? How do issues of policy or law play out in varied national settings, in regional or local settings, and across policy domains? What is the role of the nonprofit sector in advocating for social needs? How are policy and advocacy related to issues of collaboration and entrepreneurship?

Teaching & Education What is being done to prepare the next generation of nonprofit leaders? Should programs and pedagogy be changing in these times? If so, in what ways?

Voluntarism & VolunteeringHow is voluntarism changing in the current environment? What new or additional knowledge, skills, and abilities will be needed by volunteers? What do we know about how organizations deploy volunteers? What contributions do volunteers make to mission accomplishment?

Research to Practice – NEW FOR 2017 What are the likely major challenges facing public policy and nonprofit practice over the next ten years and what questions should nonprofit scholarship therefore be addressing? How can nonprofit and philanthropic scholarship better connect with policy and practice? What's the role of social media in connecting nonprofit research, policy and practice and what are the dangers? What role should journals be playing in connecting to policy and practice and how? How important is measuring the reach and impact of research, what measures are appropriate and how might this change the landscape of academic publishing?

13. Humanities –– NEW FOR 2017Are giving and altruism defining characteristics of human interaction?  How do philanthropy and nonprofit organizations express competing religious, ethical, and political values?  How have practices, purposes, and forms of charitable organization changed over time?  How are civility and civil society related to democratic practice?


Types of Presentations & Submissions:


Proposals can be for Individual Papers, Panels (pre-arranged) of 3-4 papers, Colloquia or Posters.

NEW THIS YEAR: Papers or Panels can be submitted to be presented in “Lightning Research Roundtable” format, which will feature 5-7 speakers who will present the highlights of their empirical project in 5 minutes, with more time for discussant feedback and audience participation.

Submissions by practitioners and doctoral students engaged in research are also welcome.

Panels and Colloquia should (as a rule) involve people from multiple institutions.


The on-line proposal submission system for Papers, Panels, Colloquia and Lightening Research Roundtables will open February 1, 2017, and close at 11:59 pm EST, April 4th. ARNOVA members will receive an extra week to submit their proposals.  The deadline for the ARNOVA members is 11:59 pm EDT, April 11th


Submissions for posters will be open February 1 - August 15.   

To submit a proposal, you will be able to go to, and click on the tab that says “Submit a Proposal.” 


More information about types of sessions and presentations, and about submitting proposals will be available online – under “Guidelines and Instructions for Proposal Submission” – by January 19, 2017. 

Questions can then be directed to the ARNOVA office at (317) 684-2120, or to



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The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) is a diverse community of scholars, educators, and practice leaders that strengthens the field of nonprofit and philanthropic research in order to improve civil society and human life.

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2014 Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

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