<span class="dojodigital_toggle_title">Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations</span>

Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations

Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations


The Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations aspires to be the source of community engagement for students, faculty, and staff focused on quality of life among those served by nonprofit organizations in Oklahoma. Inspired by the Positive Psychology movement and the potential to flourish, we use character strengths and the Virtue of Hope as the theory of change for vulnerable populations served by nonprofit organizations.

The mission of the University of Oklahoma is to provide the best possible educational experience for students through excellence in teaching, research, creative activity and service to the state and society. The Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations (The Center) focuses on this mission by collaborating with community agencies to improve program services using sound scientific practice while simultaneously training students in the application of research methodologies.

Student Civic Engagement

Either as administrators, clinicians or volunteers, University of Oklahoma students represent a tremendous resource for nonprofit organizations statewide. Students who work in the Center lead applied research projects in partnership with the nonprofit agency. This is a collaborative effort, agencies are provided scientifically based results regarding their program outcomes and share in the student’s learning of applied research methodology within the culture of philanthropy. Leading projects contribute significantly to student learning about advanced research methods, ethical treatment of subjects, data analyses, and report writing. These students make presentations to the agency staff, board members, and at times, to funders. Ultimately, students submit manuscripts to professional associations in their academic discipline and are encouraged to present findings at local, national and international conferences.


  • • Establish a statewide presence of partnership between the University of Oklahoma and nonprofit organizations.
  • • Foster academically based partnerships with the nonprofit community.
  • • Recruit and train both undergraduate and graduate students focusing on character strengths, applied research methods, and the practice of philanthropy.
  • • Combine scholarly and teaching expertise to advance the nonprofit community and student experience.
  • • Recruit faculty mentors to support student civic engagement in nonprofit organizations.
  • • Promote the science-practitioner model for nonprofit organizations.
  • • Contribute to the greater knowledge of positive psychology and nonprofit organizations.

Hope as a Theory of Change

Nonprofits exist to optimize functioning in the clients they serve. These clients are often characterized as living in high stress environments that leave them at a greater risk for such things as poverty, substance abuse, intimate partner abuse, child abuse, etc. Indeed, nonprofits maintain a pro social concern for others and see their purpose as a “safety net” for our state. Nonprofit organizations provide services for their clients through specialized programs relative to the mission of the agency and the specific client populations they serve. While transitioning through these programs, the client and agency staff establishes client outcomes (goals) that are believed to enhance optimum functioning of the client given their psychological, social, and demographic means. What is of particular interest is the pathway toward goal attainment and the important mental processes that are impacted. One important mental process that has received prominence in the positive psychology literature is the cognitive construct of hope (Snyder, 2002). We argue that nonprofit program services are pathways of hope for the client as a precursor to goal attainment and the ability to flourish (cf. Feldman, Rand, & Kahle- Wrobleski, 2009).

Hope Theory

Hope theory, as described by Snyder (2002), is a cognition related to one’s expectation toward achieving some future goal. Indeed, on the basis that we are driven by our goals, Snyder (2002) argues to the extent we can establish clear strategies or pathways to achieving the goal and are willing to direct mental energy (agency) toward pursuing these pathways, we are experiencing hope. Those who have a pathway but low energy, motivation (agency) are considered low hope. Similarly, those with high mental energy but no mental pathways toward goal attainment are considered low in hope. In order to be high hope, the individual must have both pathways and agency toward the goal.

Snyder and his colleagues developed a psychometrically suitable measure of hope (Snyder, Harris, Anderson, Holleran, Irving, Sigmon, Yoshinobu, Gibb, Langelle, & Harney, 1991). Our recent work (cf. Hellman, Pittman, & Munoz, 2013) has further demonstrated the psychometric stability of this measure. Empirical findings have shown that hope is a strong predictor of psychological, physical and social well-being. This concept of hope can be empirically supported as a theory of change across the life span for the nonprofit community.

Our Approach

We have found that hope is differentiated by levels of social connectedness, hope is positively associated with program services, and that hopeful parents report a better quality of life and more positive family relationships. We conduct outcomes assessments using the framework of pathways and agency to assess the impact of program services.

Capability Statement

The Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations (The Center) is an interdisciplinary social science unit in the College of Arts & Sciences for the University of Oklahoma. Collaborating with human service organizations, faculty lead research projects with a particular focus on hope and well-being among vulnerable and otherwise at-risk individuals and communities.

Guided by the principles of Positive Psychology, and the right of all members in the community to flourish; we use character strengths and the Virtue of Hope as the theory of change to assess the impact of nonprofit organizations.


Faculty members who work in the center provide a full range of applied research activities including program evaluation and outcome assessment in support of nonprofit program service delivery. Participating faculty members are nationally recognized for their area of research and are expert methodologist with the capacity to match research protocols to the needs of the nonprofit community.

Specific Research Expertise

  1. Program Evaluation: Process and outcomes evaluation tailored to the mission and program services provided by nonprofit organizations.
  2. Research Design: Survey research, correlational design, quasi-experimental, and experimental designs associated with quantitative methods.
  3. Measurement: Validity and reliability estimation using classical test theory.
  4. Statistical Analysis and Reporting: General Linear Modeling analyses such as correlation, regression, ANOVA, Multivariate, factor analysis, and structural equation modeling.