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Nonprofits and Philanthropy in a Polarized World:
Speaking Truth to Power and Using Power to Speak Truth

November 21-23, 2019 | San Diego, California


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 2019 Theme & Call for Proposals

Nonprofits and Philanthropy in a Polarized World:
Speaking Truth to Power and Using Power to Speak Truth


We live in an increasingly polarized world—full of dichotomies and dualisms: Us versus them, the haves and the have nots, “light” versus “dark,” good versus evil. We see this in diverse settings around the globe: contested transitions of power in the Republic of Congo and elsewhere, refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Central America, nativist reactions to immigrant “others” in European countries absorbing refugees. In the US the intensity of us versus them results in loss of civil discourse, challenges to democratic norms and practices, and violent acts against the “other.” Intentional polarization can be a powerful tool for silencing and intimidating the voices of the marginalized and the oppressed… and, at times, magnifying the voices of those at the fringes of society.


Nonprofits, NGOs, and voluntary associations are inextricably linked to the economic, political, and socially polarized world in which we inhabit. As scholars and practitioners, we focus on the good that our sector brings to the world through NGO relief organizations aiding the displaced, philanthropists donating to help the poor and disadvantaged, activists peacefully organizing to bring change, faith-based institutions providing sanctuary and community.  But there is also a dark side: hate groups organized as nonprofits advancing xenophobic, racist, and sexist agendas; dark money in politics undermining democratic processes and policies for the common good; and voluntary actions with the intention to cause harm. 


As scholars and practitioners, we call on the community to grapple with dualisms and the role of the sector to identify and ameliorate dichotomies, to champion successful bridging and bonding strategies, to courageously speak truth to power, and continue to advance missions and values for the common good. We especially encourage submissions that address polarization, explore dualisms and dichotomies from multidisciplinary lenses: What can we learn from the humanities about understanding dualism? From historians about philanthropy's role during historical patterns of polarization? From political scientists about the 501(c)4 and 527 nonprofits contributing to polarization? From linguists about the framing and use of language that creates and exacerbates dichotomies? From economists about inequality and the role of the nonprofit sector in mitigating impacts? From public administration scholars about sector relationships that facilitate dichotomy and dualism? From sociologists about how class, race, ethnicity, and gender divide and unite? We invite practitioners to explore how sector leadership combats polarization. There are big questions to ponder such as how do foundations combat or contribute to economic, political, and social divides? What role does wealth as expressed through individual philanthropy contribute to or mitigate polarization? What role do or should lesser studied nonprofits, such as unions, have in a polarized world?  What role can and do cooperatives and other forms of social enterprise have in creating solutions?


The 2019 ARNOVA conference will be in San Diego, CA, a city at the heart of the emerging Cali-Baja Binational Mega Region, which encompasses the area known as California – Baja Mexico. With a combined population of more than 6.5 million, CaliBaja boasts the largest concentration of persons living along the U.S.-Mexico border, near perfect weather, natural beauty, a world-famous zoo, and is home to more than 90 colleges and universities and over 80 research institutes. Despite these desirable characteristics, San Diego’s nonprofit and philanthropic sector finds itself at the intersection of many of the most polarizing issues facing contemporary civil society. The region is at the frontlines of the immigration debate—grappling with the dualism of sustaining a binational community and militarily enforcing border protection. San Diego is a hotbed of innovation; yet, the city grapples with extremes in wealth, a growing homeless population, and a shortage of affordable housing. San Diego’s prized natural beauty is threatened by environmental regulatory changes, population growth pressures, and climate change. In the face of these challenges, the region is leveraging its many existing resources to innovate and model sustainable solutions. Thus, San Diego provides a timely and germane setting for a meeting of nonprofit and philanthropy scholars to discuss how nonprofits speak truth to power and use their power to speak truth.


Proposal Submission Tracks for the 48th Annual ARNOVA Conference


For the 2019 conference we created a new track for Networks and Methodology to recognize the importance of methods to advance knowledge in our field.  If your paper focuses primarily on methods, submit to this track.  Based on 2018 submissions we shifted emphasis of some tracks and created a new Open Track.  If your paper does not fit neatly into one of the 14 tracks, submit to the Open Track.  The conference co-chairs will place accepted Open Track papers into sessions that best complement the research topic. 


Conference Theme
What roles do nonprofits have in a polarized world?  How do nonprofits operate as forces that ameliorate or exacerbate? How has civil society contributed to and/or been affected by dualisms? What role(s) does philanthropy have in changing political, economic, and social landscapes?


Accountability, Effectiveness, Evaluation, and Program Outcomes
In what way(s) do nonprofits hold diverse publics accountable? Are these ways effective? To what extent do evaluation practices and metrics accurately capture the effectiveness of nonprofit and philanthropic action? What kinds of nonprofit and philanthropic programs are thriving or failing, and why?


Boards and Governance
What important challenges do boards face—particularly in light of an increasingly divided world? How are these challenges being met? How are governance models adapting and/or changing? Are there novel board governance practices? What are the strengths and weaknesses of different models? Are certain board practices more/less associated with more positive/negative outcomes?


Civil Society, Community, and Grassroots Associations
In what ways do third sector organizations contribute to democratic outcomes? How is globalization affecting civil society in different nations? What new forms of civil society are developing and what is the impact on the state and citizens? What are the drivers and implications of changing spaces for civil society? What is the role of social movements today? To what extent are new technologies changing the way organizing and voluntary action take place? What is the role of faith communities in advocating for and meeting human needs?


Collaboration: In, Between, and Among Sectors
What is the role of collaboration in, between, and among nonprofit and philanthropic organizations? With whom do nonprofit and philanthropic organizations collaborate? What are the implications of collaboration in the nonprofit and voluntary sector? What tools, methods, and theories help us understand collaborative activity within and across sectors?


Networks and Methodology
What methodological approaches help us to better understand the role and function of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations? How do we measure the connectedness of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations within and between one another, communities, and societies? What methodological techniques can we utilize to research the role of social media in connecting nonprofits to various publics?  How can we harness big data to answer big questions?


History, Religion, and Arts
How do philanthropy and nonprofit organizations express and navigate competing religious, ethical, and political values?  What are historical trends in practices, purposes, and forms of charitable organization?  What role do art and creative spaces play in defining the practices of civil society?


Innovation and Entrepreneurship
To what extent are novel approaches to social change or service delivery re-defining the work of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors? What new (or hybrid) organizational forms are emerging? What are the implications of these forms?


Management, Leadership, and Strategy
What shifts in nonprofit management practice have occurred in recent years? What are the implications of these shifts? Are nonprofit leadership styles changing? If so, how so, and why? Are nonprofit and philanthropic organizations adopting new strategies in response to changing circumstances and public values? How do management and leadership practices vary among nonprofit and philanthropic organizations—particularly among organizations with vastly differing purposes?


Philanthropy, Fundraising, and Giving
How is the concept and practice of philanthropy evolving? How is giving changing? Are donors and fundraisers shifting their behaviors? If so, how? How do mechanisms of giving operate in different contexts?


Public Policy, Law, Regulation, and Advocacy
What role(s) do nonprofits play in the policy process? What laws and regulations govern nonprofits and do they need to adapt to changing environments? How do nonprofits advocate for policies and their missions?


Research to Practice
From a practical perspective,
what are the major challenges facing nonprofit policy and operations that scholarship can help address? What measures, methods, and outlets are useful for assessing the reach and impact of nonprofit scholarship?


Teaching and Education
What are the epistemological foundations of nonprofit scholarship?
What pedagogical practices are we using to prepare the next generation of nonprofit leaders? To what extent should nonprofit academic programming change with the times?


Voluntarism and Volunteering
How is voluntarism changing in the current environment? What new or additional knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed by volunteers? What contributions do volunteers make to civil society?


Open Track
If your paper focuses on a topic that does not fit neatly in one of the above tracks, please submit here. Accepted papers will be placed in panels complementary to the research focus. 


Types of Presentations & Submissions

  Proposals can be for:

Individual Papers
Panels (pre-arranged) of 3-4 papers
Lightening Research Roundtables (pre-arranged 5-7 presenters with facilitator)
Colloquia (3-4 presenters with discussant)

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 will open February 4, 2019 and close at 11:59 pm EST, April 2nd for nonmembers and at 11:59 pm EST, April 9th for members.

Poster submissions will take place July 8th and close August 15th.

More information about types of sessions and presentations, and about submitting proposals will be available online – under “Submit a Proposal” – after February 1, 2019.

Questions can 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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