Sociology 402

Public Service and Nonprofit Organizations

This course is a capstone, primarily intended for seniors. It provides an overview of the nonprofit sector in American society. Class sessions are organized around discussion questions based on the readings. Students produce written responses to the discussion questions four times during the semester and turn in their written responses which are graded as exam questions. You can look at sample discussion questions and the syllabi from the most recent edition of this course by looking at the end of this page.

The other major requirement is for students each to do a case study of a nonprofit organizations. The case study report must be prepared as a website that students use as the basis for a presentation to class. Websites sometimes are adopted by the organization as their official website, so this study becomes a service learning activity. This is a link to a gallery of student websites from previous years.

The nonprofit sector is little recognized in social sciences courses, yet it is called the "third sector" after the public sector (government) and the private sector (business). In the context of the university, there is an interesting contrast between nonprofit studies and studies of the other two sectors. They have their own academic disciplines: political science and economics. The third sector has been largely ignored in terms of teaching, research, or theorizing about its important role in society.

The nonprofit sector has always been recognized as fundamentally important for understanding the American culture. We are depicted as a society of associations and voluntary organizations are understood to be central to democracy and to civility in society. Nonprofit institutions also comprise some of the fundamental realms of thinking, acting, and being in American society. Religious organizations are nonprofits. Most hospitals are nonprofits. Many leading universities, including Bucknell are nonprofits. Many organizations that provide social welfare services---psychotherapy, foster care, drug and alcohol treatment, community organizing and community services, fundraising organizations like the United Way and the American Cancer Society---are nonprofits. There also is a vast number of small, loosely organized associations at the community level that are fundamental building blocks for communities and for public involvement in American life. Some observers argue that these small associations contain most of the resources and most of the participants in the nonprofit sector.

Large nonprofits are very important, and increasingly important in American society. Their number has been growing dramatically---from about 25,000 in 1960 to more than 2,000,000 today. They also have been employing a larger and larger fraction of the workforce---about 10% today. A substantial number of these jobs are high paid, professional jobs in administration and in professions. The nonprofit sector is the fastest growing organizational sector in American society. This is happening in part because government has been reducing its role as a direct providers of human services and increasingly subcontracting service provision to nonprofit organizations.

The following are resources for the course:


Useful Nonprofts Websites

Discussion Questions

Guidelines for Producing Case Studies

Guidelines for Producing Effective Web Pages

Forms and Resources from The Field Notes Manual