Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Definition of Philanthropy
Volunteer Service
The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), originally named the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars (AVAS) was the first interdisciplinary and interprofessional association ever formed with a focus on volunteerism and the voluntary sector. In 1971, the founder David Horton Smith established the 501(c)(3) organization to connect scholars, educators, and those working in the nonprofit sector world-wide who have a mutual interest in nonprofit organizations, volunteerism, philanthropy, and civil society. Primary activities for ARNOVA include annual conferences, publications, electronic discussions, and special interest groups (ARNOVA).

Written by Elizabeth A. Eastin



The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) was founded by David Horton Smith in 1971 at Boston College.  ARNOVA is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and today, maintains headquarters at Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy located at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI).  ARNOVA is the first interdisciplinary, interprofessional association ever formed with a focus on voluntary action and the voluntary sector.

ARNOVA defines their mission as an “Interdisciplinary community of people dedicated to fostering through research and education, the creation, application, and dissemination of knowledge on nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, civil society and voluntary action”. Based in the United States, ARNOVA is a neutral national and international open forum which aims to connect scholars, educators, and nonprofit leaders who have a common interest in nonprofit organizations, voluntary action, philanthropy, and civil society.  The association is committed to consolidating, broadening, and communicating research about the voluntary sector to positively impact the work in nonprofit organizations and ultimately, quality of life for individuals and communities (ARNOVA).

To accomplish their mission, ARNOVA hosts an annual conference, produces publications including the field-leading journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) published six times per year, and maintains a membership directory.  The organization also offers scholarships and awards for research and service, maintains the ARNOVA-L listserv which facilitates rapid electronic communications among members, and recognizes and supports subgroups with common interests (ARNOVA).

ARNOVA is led by a board of directors who are elected by the membership on an annual basis and relies on gifts and grants from individuals, institutions, and foundations to carry out its work.  Because of grant funding received in 1994, from the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the association could hire the first full-time paid executive director who works closely with the board to facilitate the various activities of the organization and carry out policy decisions.  This position and several other paid positions continue to be supported through grants, philanthropic contributions, and partnerships.  The ARNOVA website lists the Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and the C.S. Mott Foundation as current key supporters of the Association (ARNOVA). 


Historic Roots

The idea for the organization now called ARNOVA (originally named the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars [AVAS]), originated in the 1960’s with David Horton Smith of Boston College.  Smith’s research focused on voluntary/grassroots associations and volunteer participation. While studying the literature on voluntary associations he came up with two conclusions.  First, Smith found that many scholars of other disciplines outside of sociology including political science, social work, religion, anthropology, history, and psychology were studying the same topics, but were using a variety of different terms and concepts.  Second, he noticed that there was “no interdisciplinary or interprofessional efforts to integrate the study of associational and volunteer phenomena” (Smith 2003), which he coined Voluntary Action Research (VAR). The voluntary action term was borrowed from a book by Beveridge written in 1984 and to Smith, seemed to be an appropriate label for the broad interdisciplinary field of study he was envisioning.  At the same time, Smith recognized that there were no interdisciplinary scholarly associations, professional conferences, journals, or research institutes focused on VAR (Smith 2003).

In 1970, Smith discovered the Center for a Voluntary Society (CVS) in Washington D.C., contacted the director James Shultz, and shared his ideas about developing an interdisciplinary association for those interested in VAR. Shultz was receptive and CVS provided grant funding. Smith was assisted by two of his two graduate students Burt R. Baldwin and Richard D. Reddy and the three coordinated the Interdisciplinary Voluntary Action Task Force Planning Conference at Boston College on October 31, 1970.  The meeting included 14 scholars from nine universities, two research institutes and one government agency and represented many different disciplines including sociology, political science, social work, religion, anthropology, history, and psychology. They discussed the possibility of forming an interdisciplinary association. At Smith’s suggestion, the association was named the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars (AVAS).  Although the association was formed in the United States, it was open to participants world-wide.  It was important to the founders that anyone with intellectual interests in VAR would feel welcome including students, practitioners, and scholars of all disciplines. 

AVAS received nonprofit 501(c)(3) IRS status in 1971 and was formally incorporated in Washington D.C., by Cynthia Wedel, James Luther Adams and David Horton Smith. The three voted for Smith to be founding president. For the first four years AVAS was headquartered at Boston College and most activities for the initial development were conducted by Smith, Baldwin, Reddy, and Eugene D. White (Smith 2003). 

A board of directors was elected and began to meet in 1974 to plan the first AVAS Annual Conference.  Most resources were concentrated on the development of the Association’s journal which was the number one priority of AVAS.  In 1977, there were approximately 125-150 members. AVAS headquarters moved from Boston College to Boulder Colorado. As volunteer leadership grew Smith, Reddy and Baldwin were no longer needed in leadership roles (Smith 2003).

As a result of the broadening scope of the entire field of nonprofit and voluntary action research and the formation of nonprofit management academic centers in the 1980’s, AVAS leadership recognized that the association needed to expand beyond voluntary action to include such disciplines as law, economics, business, public administration, and nonprofit academic centers.  In 1989, the Journal of Voluntary Action Research (JVAR) was renamed Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) and in 1990, AVAS became Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA).

By 1994, membership grew to 464 and a full-time paid executive director Anita Plotinsky was hired through grant funding received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation (Smith 2003). Also, the headquarters moved to its current location at the Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. The Center on Philanthropy is now the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (Lilly Family School of Philanthropy).  Longtime AVAS/ARNOVA member Dwight Burlingame facilitated the relationship between ARNOVA and Indiana University and continues to serve as Treasurer of ARNOVA in 2017 (Smith 2003).  

Focus of the association in the 1990’s included increasing membership and diversity within the organization, improving research dissemination, creation of research tools, financial stability, improving collaborations, and use of electronic communication.  Membership grew to more than 1,000 by the end of 2000 and more than 30 fields and disciplines were represented at the annual conference that year.  An awards program was implemented in 1993 to encourage young scholars, increase attendance at conferences, and provide recognition for contributors to the field.  In addition, collaboration with various agencies increased and website improvements were made (Smith 2003). 

In 2013, ARNOVA President Francie Ostrower announced the appointment of Shariq Siddiqui as executive director and by 2014, ARNOVA grew to approximately 1,300 members (ARNOVA). Siddiqui brought more than 20 years of experience as a nonprofit leader, researcher, author, journal editor, and volunteer to ARNOVA. In addition, Siddiqui serves as the visiting director and assistant professor of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. His research and publications focus on Muslim philanthropy and the Muslim nonprofit sector (IUPUI).

In 2017, in partnership with the ARNOVA board of directors, Siddiqui continues to carry out the goals of their strategic plan to further expand ARNOVA’s worldwide reach, implement new educational programs, strengthen operations, and increase diversity and representation by under-represented groups in all aspects of the organization including the board of directors, programming and membership (Guidestar).



ARNOVA was the first U.S.-based, world-wide organization to assemble scholars from various disciplines who have a common interest in voluntary associations and nonprofit organizations. David Horton Smith discovered that research was being conducted on the voluntary sector in many disciplines other than sociology and that a variety of terms and concepts were developed, but there was no effort being made to bring the scholarship together.  In the early 1970’s, Smith created a bibliography of more than 1,000 scholarly documents on volunteer association research (VAR) and it eventually took shape and became available electronically as the association grew. Throughout the evolution from AVAS to ARNOVA leaders recognized that practitioners in nonprofit settings could benefit from the research and scholars could benefit from experiences of the practitioners (Smith 2003). 

ARNOVA activities including the annual international conference, field-leading journal, and listserv provide many opportunities for communication and collaboration among members from any discipline with common interests.  In addition, ARNOVA offers scholarships and awards for both research and service to promote these activities and recognize achievement. 


Ties to Philanthropic Sector

ARNOVA connects scholars, teachers, and non-profit leaders interested in research on nonprofit organizations, voluntary action, philanthropy, and civil society. The organization was the first of its kind and has been integral in bringing together key individuals and organizations from around the world who conduct research and teach in these areas. By 2013, ARNOVA founder David Horton Smith identified approximately 55 similar research organizations that had been created, including 11 with global regions, and more than 95 academic journals that were actively publishing research on “altruistics” or topics related to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  Smith also suggested that there were between 8,000 and 20,000 active “altruistics” researchers worldwide (Smith 2013).  These numbers indicate ARNOVA’s significant contributions to the growing understanding of the nonprofit sector and the impact nonprofit organizations have on society.  

ARNOVA’s current strategic plan includes goals to continue to increase knowledge about the field as it evolves and inspire a new group of individuals to engage in research, teaching, and practice for the future (Guidestar). To this end, ARNOVA hosts an international annual conference to bring together research theory and practice.  The conference focuses on the “pressing issues and vital opportunities” in the nonprofit sector.  Those working in the field can utilize research to improve practices in their organizations and researchers can benefit from the experiences of practitioners to gain insight about concerns or challenges they face. Ultimately, research and practice in the voluntary sector can be shaped by these interactions (ARNOVA).  ARNOVA encourages students to participate along with scholars and practitioners so that they can learn about the nonprofit sector and have opportunities to be mentored.

ARNOVA also produces the field-leading scholarly journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) which is published six times per year and offers researchers from a variety of disciplines world-wide the ability to publish articles. Special issues of the journal are also published as well as conference proceedings, occasional papers series, and an electronic newsletter for ARNOVA members (ARNOVA).


Key Related Ideas

  • The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the precursor to Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy provided the headquarters for ARNOVA in the early 1990’s.  Many of the faculty at the school are active ARNOVA members who conduct research and make presentations at the annual ARNOVA conference. In addition, staff of ARNOVA are hired through Indiana University and the organization reimburses the university for compensation, benefits, and taxes (ARNOVA).
  • As defined by ARNOVA founder David Smith, “Altruistics” refers to “all the phenomena of our field, individual and collective. Included are philanthropy, nonprofit sector, third sector, voluntary sector, civil society, social economy, volunteering, associations, and nonprofit organizations, among other topics (Smith 2013).”


Key Related People

  • Thomasina Borkman was the President at the time of the transition from AVAS to ARNOVA from 1991-1992.  Borkman identified and reached out to new leaders with an expanded scope to join the organization and mobilized the board and officers to engage in developing a new strategic plan, as well as grant proposals that reflected the new improved ARNOVA and a case statement which was used to attract more funding for the organization (Smith).
  • Dwight Burlingame holds the Glenn Family Chair in philanthropy and is a Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Burlingame has been active in the field of civil society education globally for more than 25 years.  In his role as faculty at IUPUI, he helped facilitate the relationship between ARNOVA and the Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University.  He is an active member of the national Association of Fundraising Professional’s Research Council, a board member of Learning to Give and the International Society for Third-sector Researchd and is the outgoing Treasurer for ARNOVA (ARNOVA).
  • James Shultz is the director of the Center for a Voluntary Society (CVS) of Washington D.C., a nonprofit organization that was the primary funder of David Horton Smith’s work to found and establish AVAS (Smith 2003).  
  • Shariq A. Siddiqui, appointed in 2013, is the current executive director of ARNOVA.  Siddiqui also serves as the visiting director and assistant professor of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.  His research focus is on Muslin philanthropy and the Muslim nonprofit sector.  Siddiqui is co-author of the book Islamic Education in the United States and the Evolution of Muslim Nonprofit Institutions (Kahn and Siddiqui 2017) and is the co-editor of the Journal of Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society. Siddiqui received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and earned a JD degree at Indiana University (IUPUI). Siddiqui’s 20 years of leadership roles at a variety of local to international nonprofit organizations and service on several nonprofit boards of directors provides him with a unique perspective in his role as executive director of ARNOVA.  Siddiqui is also the founder of the Center on American Muslim Philanthropy and the Association of Muslim Nonprofit professionals (Center on American Muslim Philanthropy).
  • David Horton Smith is the founder and founding president of the U.S.-based, national and international AVAS/ARNOVA.  Smith recognized the need for an interdisciplinary organization to assemble scholars and integrate the study of volunteer organizations and nonprofit research (Smith 2003). Established in 1971, the association continues to thrive with annual international conferences, publications and membership.
  • Mary Tschirhart, professor at the Ohio State University, is the current president of ARNOVA (2017). Tschirhart teaches nonprofit management and her research interests include sense of identity and community, careers, volunteerism, and membership representation.  She recently co-authored the book Managing Nonprofit Organizations.  Tschirhart has served on boards for associations including foundations, and social service and welfare organizations. Former positions included center director and faculty member at NC State and Syracuse, faculty at Indiana University, and CEO of an arts organization (ARNOVA). 
  • Jon Van Til was president of AVAS (1977-1978) and long-time editor of JVAR/NVSQ (1979-1992). Van Til was instrumental with his involvement in AVAS and ARNOVA over the course of two decades.  In 1976, he and his wife Trudy Heller led the effort to revamp AVAS’s administrative system and revise by-laws by coordinating a retreat session for AVAS leaders. Since the membership had grown, the organization could utilize more volunteer leadership and create important roles to develop AVAS (Smith 2003).


Related Non-profit Organizations

  • The Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Sector Research Fund, based in Washington, D.C., is an educational and policy studies organization whose mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.  The institute hosts a variety of programs, conferences and membership opportunities that bring together like-minded individuals to discuss solutions for complex societal problems. The ultimate goal beyond the programs is provoke action in the real world.
  • Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (Urban Institute), known as the CNP, conducts and disseminates research on the role and impact of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. The CNP fosters the relationship between those doing the research and those providing services in the community.  CNP is known as a reliable source for data and research for both nonprofit organizations and researchers themselves.  CNP partners with stakeholders in all sectors, shares knowledge and analyzes data with the goal of increasing impact by those working in the field, shaping policy and increasing the publics’ understanding of important issues facing society.
  • The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, established in 2012, is dedicated to the study and teaching of philanthropy.  The precursor to the school, the Center for Philanthropy, was created in 1974 through the support of the Lilly Endowment, Inc.  The university, the Fundraising School, and the Lilly Endowment envisioned a center that could serve nonprofits, officially recognize philanthropy as an academic field of its own, and provide the opportunity to study and perpetuate philanthropy. It’s mission “increases the understanding of philanthropy and improves its practice worldwide through critical inquiry, interdisciplinary research, teaching, training, and civic engagement.” 
  • International Society for Third-Sector Research, known as ISTR, was founded in 1992 and is an international association or community of scholars who are “dedicated to the creation, discussion, and advancement of knowledge pertaining to the Third Sector”. ISTR promotes research and education on issues, theory, and practice as they relate to the third sector and aims to expand participation all over the world including developing nations. ISTR is known for its global view, diversity, collaborative approach, and commitment to excellence.

Reflection Question - In what ways might ARNOVA organizers improve their efforts to engage youth in learning about philanthropy, opportunities to participate in research, and possible career paths in the nonprofit sector?



  • ARNOVA. Board of Directors.
  • ARNOVA. Common Interest Groups.
  • ARNOVA. Publications.
  • ARNOVA. Valued Institutions & Donors.
  • ARNOVA. ARNOVA Volunteer Survey 2015.
  • ARNOVA. 2015 Form 990.
  • Guidestar. Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Actions GuideStar Nonprofit Profile Charting Impact Report. Last Updated on 09.23.2015.
  • Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Founding of the School.
  • Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Directory.
  • Khan, Sabith, and Shariq A. Siddiqui. Islamic Education in The United States and the Evolution of Muslim Nonprofit Institutions. Edward Elgar, 2017.
  • Smith, David Horton. "A History of ARNOVA. "Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 32, no. 3 (September 2003): 458-72. doi:10.1177/0899764003254841.
  • Smith, David Horton. “Growth of Research Associations and Journals in the Emerging Discipline of Altruistics.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2013): 638-56. doi:10.1177/0899764013495979.


This paper was developed by students taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University in 2017. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.