News from the Bush School

Dr. Laurie E. Paarlberg - Faculty Spotlight

May 01, 2014

Dr. Laurie Paarlberg

Associate professor, Dr. Laurie E. Paarlberg, came to the Bush School in the fall of 2013 from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  In 2003, she earned a PhD in public affairs at Indiana University at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.  She also completed a minor in organizational theory and strategic management at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business.  Before beginning her graduate education, Dr. Paarlberg was involved in community development, both as a volunteer and an employee in nonprofit organizations, which she credits with interesting her in pursuing academic studies in the nonprofit arena.  Dr. Paarlberg says her professional experience still influences her academic research and gives her a unique perspective, causing her to ask, “How would a manager use this information?”

Dr. Paarlberg’s primary research interest is studying nonprofit capacity and allocations, and the structure and scope of nonprofit organizations.  She is interested in how large the nonprofit sector is nationally and, more specifically, how the United Way operates. For the last fifteen years, she has been studying changes within the United Way and its funding of local social services.  Armed with a large dataset, Dr. Paarlberg has been examining every allocation and type of social service funded by the United Way since 2000.  She also looks at the United Way’s capacity-building techniques in campaigns, and whether they are strong or weak.

Her research interest in nonprofit capacity and the allocations of the United Way began with a large conceptual model, which then informed a database with key indicators. This research effort has evolved from building the dataset over the last fifteen years to working with a team to bring the information she has developed to the community. She recognizes the importance of bringing scholars and public leaders into the funding discussion with data-based reports.  “I believe this work has significant practical implications for the United Way and other large nonprofits,” Paarlberg says.

When asked how the broader academic discipline in the nonprofit sector has changed, Dr. Paarlberg responded that the nonprofit sector is now studied internationally; and the data is now publicly available, thanks to work by the Urban Institute and GuideStar, which made the IRS 990 tax forms available to the public.  While the study of the nonprofit sector has internationalized, Dr. Paarlberg remains fascinated by the broader questions of nonprofit capacity and allocations, drawing on the publicly available data to build her dataset.

Dr. Paarlberg is also working on two other projects: one is a study of the number of nonprofits in the field and whether the field is “overcrowded”; the second focuses on individual or family giving and the “community context” in quickly growing communities, such as those around military installations. Specifically, she is interested in learning whether people transfer their donations from one organization to another when they relocate, a topic that has implications for nonprofit leaders and donor retention nationwide.

Dr. Paarlberg enjoys teaching, seeing it as an opportunity to blend her academic work and practical knowledge of the nonprofit sector. Currently, she teaches a course in philanthropy and a course on the foundations of the nonprofit sector.  In her philanthropy course, students have the opportunity to interact with her contacts within the United Way—enabling them to see her research in action.  Her foundations course is more theory based, offering a solid foundation for Bush School students who want to work in the nonprofit sector.  She assigns data-driven projects to ensure that her students can analyze data to inform decisions as future leaders and decision makers in the nonprofit sector.

When she is not conducting research, teaching, or interacting with students, Dr. Paarlberg enjoys gardening, cooking, and exploring the College Station-Bryan community with her husband.

Return to the Spring 2014 e-Chronicle Newsletter