Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Headshot of Samanth Zuhlke

Professor Samantha Zuhlke has received the Gabriel G. Rudney Memorial Award for an Outstanding Dissertation in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research for her dissertation, “A Political Theory of Nonprofits: Partisanship Policy and the Rise of the Nonprofit Sector.” This award is presented each year by ARNOVA, the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. It is given to the best dissertation within the past three years that contributes to the “advancement of theory, conceptualization, research, or practice that closely relates to nonprofit organization or voluntary action.”

The award committee unanimously agreed Dr. Zuhlke’s dissertation demonstrates impressive breadth and depth of research and made significant and original contributions to the field of nonprofit studies by expanding and enriching the understanding of nonprofit organizations as overlooked political institutions that represent the private pursuit of public authority. Upon receiving this honor, Professor Zuhlke said it feels “really exciting to be recognized by people in within my field.”

Dr. Zuhlke’s dissertation proposes a new political theory for nonprofits by theorizing about the role of partisan politics within the nonprofit sector. She argues that the emergence and growth of, and philanthropic giving to, nonprofit organizations, including 501c3 public charities—traditionally theorized as apolitical—are deeply embedded in politics. She used a creative and multi-faceted methodological approach, combining and analyzing data from multiple sources, including the National Council of Charitable Statistics and American National Election Survey, to empirically test her argument, including examining the effects of electoral outcomes on nonprofit donations. Her findings demonstrate that not only are nonprofits political actors but may even emerge as a means of “private political exit within the public sphere.”

Dr. Zuhlke is in the process of converting her dissertation into her second book. She previously co-authored, The Profits of Distrust: Citizen-Consumers, Drinking Water, and the Crisis of Confidence in American Government with Manny Teodoro and David Switzer (Cambridge University Press, 2022). Dr. Zuhlke has additionally had research published in the “Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory,” “Perspectives on Public Management and Governance” (PPMG), “PS: Political Science & Politics,” and “Research and Politics (RAP)”.

Dr. Zuhlke argues that the policy world and nonprofits are intricately linked, and she will continue examining these ripple effects in her research. She is currently studying how nonprofits engage in the policy process, specifically as agenda setters. A recent UI School of Planning and Public Affairs graduate, Emani Brinkman, is a co-author on this paper.