The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is researching how partnerships between churches and nonprofit organizations can provide services to the community at a time where more nonprofits are competing for fewer resources.
The Little Rock Congregations Study is an ongoing research project led by Dr. Rebecca Glazier, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs, stemming from research begun in 2012 about the effects of religious organizations on community engagement in Little Rock. Her research partners include Dr. Kirk Leach, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs, and Dr. Gerald Driskill, professor of applied communication.
“Most religious traditions have an ethos of service and encourage their members to give back through volunteering,” Glazier said. “Most nonprofits have limited budgets and are in desperate need of volunteers. It would seem that partnerships between nonprofits and congregations would be a natural fit.”
However, data from the 2018 Little Rock Congregations Study did not match that conclusion. A survey of 112 congregation leaders in Little Rock found that only a quarter of congregations partnered with nonprofits on their most important service project.
“But more than 70 percent of congregation leaders said they had a desire to partner with nonprofits in the coming year,” Glazier said. “There is a desire for more partnerships, but in reality, they are not happening. That’s why we are asking nonprofits why and how these partnerships happen and do not happen.”
The study has already found that successful partnerships are mutually beneficial for both churches and nonprofits. While nonprofits gain resources and volunteers, they are better able to provide services to the community. In turn, the 2018 Little Rock Congregations Study found that congregations that are engaged in the community were often among the 46 percent of Little Rock churches that reported a growth in membership over the past two years.
“There are more than 14,000 nonprofit organizations in Arkansas,” Glazier said. “As in many states, tighter budgets, fewer donors, and more competition has made serving those in need more difficult in recent years. But Arkansas has an asset that few other states have: a very religious population.”
In Arkansas, 86 percent of people say religion is very or somewhat important in their lives, compared to only 53 percent nationally, according to the Pew Research Center. Church attendance is also significantly higher, with 41 percent of Arkansans attending religious services weekly, and another 32 percent going at least a few times a year.
Utilizing data collected in 2018, Glazier and her team of researchers designed a survey for directors of nonprofit organizations to fill out. The online survey takes about 10 minutes to complete. While the study is focused on the Little Rock area, all nonprofits are invited to participate to gain insight on what makes partnerships, especially partnerships between churches and nonprofits, effective.
Glazier hopes the results from this survey of nonprofits will lead to conclusions that can better facilitate partnerships between Little Rock’s congregations and nonprofit organizations.
“There’s a lot of reason to believe that there should be partnerships between places of worship and nonprofits. Many religious people want to give back and nonprofits need volunteers. We want to help nonprofits do the good work they are already doing in Little Rock by facilitating more partnerships between congregations and nonprofit organizations,” Glazier said.