Nonprofits and the Promotion of Civic Engagement: A Conceptual Framework for Understanding the "Civic Footprint" of Nonprofits within Local Communities


  • Micheal L. Shier University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice
  • Lindsey McDougle University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice
  • Femida Handy University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice



Nonprofits, Civic engagement, Voluntary associations, Civil society, Civic benefits / Associations à but non lucratif, Engagement civique, Organisations bénévoles, Société civile, Bénéfices civiques




The literature suggests that nonprofit organizations provide civic benefits by promoting engagement within local communities. However, there exists minimal empirical evidence describing the ways in which nonprofits actually undertake this role. In order to address this omission, we conducted interviews with personnel of nonprofit organizations in one rural community in the United States. Our preliminary findings indicate that nonprofit organizations promote civic engagement through programs and activities that: 1) engage volunteers and donors; 2) bring community members together; 3) collaborate with organizations within and beyond the community; and 4) promote community education and awareness. Together, these findings help to develop a working model to understand the civic footprint of nonprofit organizations with methodological implications for future research that would seek to measure the extent to which nonprofits promote civic engagement.

Il est normal de supposer que les associations à but non lucratif favorisent l’engagement du citoyen dans les communautés locales. Cependant, il existe peu de données empiriques sur la manière dont ces associations assument véritablement ce rôle. Pour combler ce manque, nous avons mené des entretiens semi-directifs approfondis auprès du personnel d’associations à but non lucratif dans une petite communauté rurale aux États-Unis. Nos résultats préliminaires indiquent que ces associations motivent les citoyens à s’impliquer quand elles offrent des programmes et des activités qui : 1) intéressent les bénévoles et les donateurs; 2) rassemblent directement ou indirectement les membres de la communauté; 3) collaborent avec d’autres associations tant au sein de la communauté qu’au-delà de celle-ci; et 4) encouragent l’éducation et la conscientisation communautaires. Ces constats aident à établir un modèle pour mieux comprendre la présence civique des associations à but non lucratif dans les communautés et indiquent une piste à suivre pour des recherches futures qui examineraient l’influence de ces associations sur le niveau de participation civique.


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Author Biographies

Micheal L. Shier, University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice

PhD Candidate and Doctoral Research Fellow

Lindsey McDougle, University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Femida Handy, University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy and Practice



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