Verses in Scripture point to the importance of helping others and keeping a service-oriented mindset, and among the findings of a 2018 survey of more than 110 congregations in Little Rock was the indication that those who serve in their communities not only help their neighbors but also reap spiritual benefits.
The Little Rock Congregations Study, led by University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Dr. Rebecca Glazier, continues its work with the release this month of a survey geared toward nonprofit leaders to learn how best to facilitate collaborations between those organizations and houses of worship.
Glazier, an associate professor at the university's School of Public Affairs, partners in the ongoing interdisciplinary study -- which she began in 2012 -- with Dr. Kirk Leach, an assistant professor specializing in nonprofits at the public affairs school, and with Dr. Gerald Driskill, professor of applied communication studies.
"We ask about the types of services [nonprofits] provide and whether or not they have any partnerships ... what kinds of organizations they partner with ... and their views on partnering with religious congregations," Glazier said.
According to the 2014 Pew Research Religion Landscape Study, 70% of Arkansans say religion is very important in their lives, while another 16% say religion is somewhat important. Some 41% of state residents attend church regularly.
Those figures, however, didn't translate to higher rates of involvement with nonprofits. While 70% of congregations in the Little Rock Congregations Study's 2018 survey expressed a desire to partner with nonprofits, only 25% reported an active collaboration with an organization.
Meanwhile, nonprofit organizations statewide and in the nation are experiencing a decline in donations and shrinking donor bases, according to a 2018 Market Study of Arkansas Nonprofit Organizations survey, which also found that individual giving has dropped 10% nationwide since 2000. With more than 14,000 nonprofits statewide, such organizations are also competing for funding and volunteers.
The Call, a nonprofit founded in Pulaski County that facilitates the placement of children with Christian families for foster care or adoption, has felt that pinch, but working with affiliates and churches has helped, said Lauri Currier, its executive director.
"There has been an impact on fundraising and raising the resources that we need to continue our work," said Currier, who noted that the organization works with approximately 500 churches across the state. "It's just become more challenging ... it requires a little more time and efficiency, and for The Call, we have affiliates in about 50 counties and the local organizations are doing their best to raise funds. That's helpful, when you're able to multiply those efforts across a broader geographical area."
"Nonprofits have so many things that they're trying to do ... they're not thinking, 'We should go out and establish a new partnership with the local religious congregations,'" Glazier said. "That doesn't come on their radar -- so this study might be able to put that on their radar and might be able to show here are the areas where nonprofits are working, and here's our data that show that congregations are working on some of those same areas ... to show the opportunities there."
The survey, which Glazier estimates will take participants around 10 minutes to complete, also asks about areas that include the level of involvement nonprofits would prefer, problems they would want to tackle, and what an ideal partnership with a houses of worship would look like to them. Results, she said, are set to be released near the end of this year.
Jessica Olson, one of several students on Glazier's research team this semester, is compiling a list of organizations in the Little Rock area to contact about the survey. The class is the second one Olson -- who has significant nonprofit experience as a result of near-lifelong involvement with Girl Scouts -- has taken with Glazier, and the political science background is one she plans to put to use as a veterinarian and an advocate for animal rights.
"It's so interesting to me, learning [what Glazier] has done in the past and then the research techniques that you have to learn, like how to prepare a survey to be approved to be sent out," Olson said. "Farther [down the line] we hope to put that information out there and find out why [nonprofits] have [collaborated], why they haven't, and see if we can help build that connection so that it starts happening more often."
Kaylyn Hager is in her final semester at UALR, finishing the latter half of her dual law and Master of Public Administration degree and taking a second class with Glazier that includes a graduate assistantship. Hager said that between the years, the information gathered and connections made between congregations and the community, that all stand to benefit from what can be learned from the survey.
"Things that I see -- like how far it's come, what it's grown to be, making all these different connections -- I think it will definitely have an impact and a legacy," Hager said of the larger study. "Even now, thinking about the people that clergy have been partnering with, I think that provides a lot of data and information. All of this is going toward the community. Having those conversations and making those links, I think that's going to have a huge, huge impact on Little Rock."
Glazier describes herself as a deeply religious person. Through community projects -- such as one she took on with her congregation that involved working with Habitat for Humanity -- she is familiar with the impact those collaborations can have.
"Getting a bunch of people that you usually are worshipping with in a formal setting, going out into the community and pulling on work gloves ... working together and seeing real physical change in your own community, and working together with people from other congregations, I have seen that have a really positive effect in my own life," Glazier said.
Nonprofit leaders are invited to take the survey, which can be found online now through Oct. 15 at bit.ly/2mJbwoF. More information is available at research.ualr.edu/lrcs or on Facebook at facebook.com/LittleRockCongregationsStudy; or by contacting Glazier for more information about the survey or the Little Rock Congregations Study at email@example.com or (501) 569-3331.
Religion on 09/28/2019