UW-Green Bay’s Prof. Kuenzi honored with National Research Award

Like the rest of the world, everything changed for UW-Green Bay Assistant Prof. Kerry Kuenzi, Ph.D. (Public and Environmental Affairs) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, including her nonprofit research.

Kuenzi and her team of researchers moved swiftly ahead with their project, but changed their research to reflect the new reality that nonprofits were facing right in the middle of a worldwide crisis. Their ability to pivot and study how the pandemic is impacting nonprofit workers earned them national recognition from the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas at Austin and the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

Kerry Kuenzi
Kerry Kuenzi

This award brings recognition to UW-Green Bay and is important to nonprofit organizations in that it has important implications for how these organizations attract and retain workers.

“The impacts of this research can be felt here in the community,” noted Kuenzi.  “For example, the research seeks to understand what drives individuals to be committed to work in the nonprofit sector.  Nonprofit sector employees are arguably their organization’s most important resources. If organizations can harness this commitment in their employees, they are more likely to be successful themselves.”

Kuenzi, with co-investigators Marlene Walk (IUPUI) and Mandi J. Stewart (NC State) were honored with the RGK-ARNOVA President’s Award. It provides a $10,000 prize to a member of ARNOVA to support basic research and theory building in the field of philanthropic, nonprofit, and voluntary action studies.

The award committee looks for new, creative work, and especially encourages projects that incorporate and apply insights, frameworks, and theories from the social sciences to the study of nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and volunteerism. Only one grant is made each year, assuming a worthy proposal is submitted, making this achievement very special.

“I was excited,” Kuenzi said. “We had planned to apply for the award before COVID impacted all of us, but the pandemic changed the circumstances of our shared research project. As a result, we had to tailor our proposal to accommodate the pandemic because we knew it would impact nonprofits and their employees. It’s really nice to be recognized for your work but especially true when that work can help these organizations that are so integral to our community navigate the devastating impact of COVID-19.”

The Nonprofit Education Survey Project (NESP) is an ongoing research project that works with nonprofit management programs to survey their alumni. The current round of NESP was meant to be completed during the summer of 2020. However, because the schools facilitate the connection with alumni, the extra work on their part to plan for the fall semester (to accommodate for the pandemic) meant that it was not a particularly good time to participate. The team had to push back that round of data collection and refocus it to include an understanding of the effects of the pandemic.

Specifically, this award focuses on the current iteration of the NESP called “Career Intentions, Commitment to the Nonprofit Sector, and COVID-19: Insights from Nonprofit Graduate Alumni.”

The team plans to use the grant funding toward the new research. And the research supports the important work of nonprofits—many of which continue to serve those most vulnerable and are themselves on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Story by UW-Green Bay Marketing and University Communication intern, Charlotte Berg