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A Century of Nonprofit Studies: Scaling the Knowledge of the Field

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VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This empirical study examines knowledge production between 1925 and 2015 in nonprofit and philanthropic studies from quantitative and thematic perspectives. Quantitative results suggest that scholars in this field have been actively generating a considerable amount of literature and a solid intellectual base for developing this field toward a new discipline. Thematic analyses suggest that knowledge production in this field is also growing in cohesion—several main themes have been formed and actively advanced since 1980s, and the study of volunteering can be identified as a unique core theme of this field. The lack of geographic and cultural diversity is a critical challenge for advancing nonprofit studies. New paradigms are needed for developing this research field and mitigating the tension between academia and practice. Methodological and pedagogical implications, limitations, and future studies are discussed.

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  1. The cluster number is determined by computer program. In order to consistently present the findings with raw data posted online (.tsv file, “Python ClusterID” column), we did not rename the cluster number. See detailed methodology at

  2. Citation count represents the number of times that the paper is cited by all the other articles in Dataset 2.


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We thank Dr. Zhaonan Zhu and Sasha Zarins for their assistance with data preprocessing; Dr. Chao Guo, Dr. Diarmuid McDonnell, Dr. Femida Handy, Dr. Jeffrey Brudney, Dr. Richard Steinberg, Dr. Susan Phillips, Xunyu Xiang, and Dr. Zheng Yang for their comments and suggestions; and Dr. Simon DeDeo for providing computing resources. Willow the cat also deserves special acknowledgement for her patient lap sleeping while writing this manuscript (with S.K.). Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Association of SPEA Ph.D. Students Annual Conference 2015; Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action 2015 and 2017. We thank the meeting participants for their comments during presentations. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions.


This work was supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation (#47993 and #57942 to S.K.) and the National Institutes of Health [1R21-HD073549-01A1 (NICHD) and 1R01-CA-180015 (NCI) to S.K.].

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Correspondence to Ji Ma.

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Ma, J., Konrath, S. A Century of Nonprofit Studies: Scaling the Knowledge of the Field. Voluntas 29, 1139–1158 (2018).

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