Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Robert Donmoyer, PhD; Fred J. Galloway, EdD; Mary McDonald, PhD


communities, Leadership studies, nonprofit organizations, public attitudes, residents, voluntary sector-mixed, voluntary sector-poor, voluntary sector-rich


Nonprofit organizations serve a distinctive role within American society. Collectively, nonprofits are viewed as major sources of social capital, contributors to the public good, and the value guardians within communities. Nonprofits also have a sizeable (and quite positive) impact on the nation's economy. Despite the social and economic significance of nonprofits, though, research has shown that nonprofit organizations and resources are not always distributed evenly across communities. Indeed, Wolch (1990) has observed that some communities are voluntary sector-rich, while others are voluntary sector-poor. Therefore, many of the benefits often associated with the presence of nonprofits may not be actualized, or even attainable, in all areas. The purpose of this study was three-fold. First, this study was intended to examine how size and scope dimensions of the nonprofit sector differed across communities within a particular region. Second, this study was intended to test, at a local level, the relevance of existing theories and concepts that explain variation in the distribution of nonprofit activity. Third, this study was intended to explore whether, and to what extent, differences in the voluntary landscape of communities were related to differences in public attitudes toward nonprofit organizations. Findings from this study indicated that nonprofit activity varied considerably. Through the use of a series of Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression models, several theoretically-derived community predictors were found to significantly influence the distribution of nonprofit activity. Moreover, results of a cluster analysis procedure revealed three distinct voluntary sector community types in the study region: voluntary sector-rich, voluntary sector-mixed, and voluntary sector-poor. Significant differences were found to exist in public attitudes across community types. In particular, residents in voluntary sector-rich communities expressed the most confidence in, and demonstrated the highest awareness of, the nonprofit sector. Residents in voluntary sector-poor communities expressed the least confidence in, and demonstrated the lowest awareness of, the nonprofit sector. More residents in voluntary sector-mixed communities believed that government agencies did the best job of helping people and spending money wisely. Finally, results of several logistic and logit regression models indicated that a number of individual factors influenced public attitudes toward nonprofits in each area.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies