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Tenure-track professors and nonprofit opportunities: how your research contributions can impact a nonprofit organization


Contributing your research to a nonprofit can have real-world results to a cause that matters to you. It can diversify your resume, grant you access to more professional connections, and increase your ability to get published by reputable academic journals. 

Nonprofit research is typically neglected by for-profit organizations, so charitable foundations rely on professionals in higher education to provide support and insight through basic, applied, or problem-oriented research. Take The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, an organization with a research arm that encourages academics to create innovative approaches to the world’s problems. Through their Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), USAID partners with seven top universities to promote new research initiatives. Says former student Chris Zatzke of Michigan State University: “I feel like there’s so much opportunity for people to make impact. I think what HESN and USAID is doing is incredible – by joining all these like-minds together.”1 Since the development of HESN, academics have contributed 500 new innovations, which in turn helped 16.7 million people in developing countries around the world. These resources have inspired 300 articles of important research, and 23 high-impact program or policy changes in relevant institutions.2



Working together with a nonprofit can also provide you the opportunity for professional development, to meet a wide range of compatible colleagues, and to do work you’re passionate about on a more flexible schedule.

Providing exciting research at well-known nonprofit organizations does not go unnoticed on a resume – in a sea of candidates, it can help individuals stand out. Former student member of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke, Priyanka Venkannagari, wrote that the development of emotional and mental skillsets like the ability to be “humble, connected, grounded, and empathetic” are a crucial element of doing charitable work.3 Experiences like these show genuine care through active involvement, and express a well-rounded approach to a candidate’s career and interests. They also develop a different skillset.

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Working together with a nonprofit can also provide the opportunity to meet a wide range of compatible colleagues. When attending TechCon, an event that helps pair academic individuals with nonprofit initiatives, Carolyn Yarina of SISU Global Health says: “There are a lot of really great people and partnerships that are available here […] [it’s] a really great wealth of connections.”4 Successful nonprofits have the advantage of hosting bright and dedicated staff with diverse backgrounds. These individuals—who share passion, teamwork, and collaboration—are committed to social changed and a shared mission. It’s about meeting the people who can make a difference together.

Academics working with nonprofits can also expand their opportunity to get published in relevant journals through organizations that make research a primary initiative. AidData, a research lab that offers resources to policymakers and practitioners in the goal of improving sustainable development investments, also works with associate professors through affiliation. In partnering with a research-focused initiative or being plugged into organizations that are relevant in their field, academics can work in tandem on findings that are applicable to their work as much as it is the organization’s and increase their relevance all the while.

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Research initiatives in nonprofits offer a multitude of resources and opportunities: from meeting educated and like-minded colleagues to directly inspiring change real-world change, contributing research can not only positively influence your career trajectory, but it can provide relevant and diverse experience, new routes for research you’re passionate about, and meaningful work.



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[1]  Zatzke, C. (2014). “Higher Educations Solutions Network TechCon 2014.” Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/videos/higher-education-solutions-network-techcon-2014
[2] Jones, T. “Impact Report for the Higher Educations Solutions Network: Highlights and Lessons Learned From Five Years of Programs.” Retrieved from https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00SX4F.pdf
[3]  Venkannagari, P. (2017, January 13). “The Human Connection: TechCon 2016 Highlight.” Retrieved from http://www.dukesead.org/sead-blog/the-human-connection-techcon-2016-highlight
[4] Yarina, C. (2014). “Higher Educations Solutions Network TechCon 2014.” Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/videos/higher-education-solutions-network-techcon-2014
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