The central motivation of my research is: How do “communities” come together to advance social and policy change in an increasingly unequal, polarized world, online and offline? My scholarly work has explored various forms of communities, encompassing formal institutions like nonprofit organizations, as well as informal grassroots organizing, such as mutual aid groups and online communities or networked publics on social media. By social and policy change, I look at various policy objectives, from socioeconomic disadvantage to racial equity and climate justice. In short, my research program is interwoven with three core themes–the 3Cs: Community, Collective, and Connective.

Nonprofit Climate Advocacy on Twitter

Wu, V. C. S., & Xu, W. W. (2023, in press). Who Leads and Who Echoes? Tracing Message Similarity Network of #ClimateChange Advocacy on Twitter. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. [ Paper ]

How do nonprofits advocate and shape climate conversations on Twitter? We answer this question by combining computational analyses with thick descriptions of discursive data to analyze message diffusion on Twitter. We first map a temporal message similarity network comprising 298,073 unique tweets sent by climate action and obstruction nonprofits. We then identify four leading nonprofits and trace their message similarity to 2,479 accounts over 2 weeks. Our results suggest that while climate obstruction nonprofits might not be frequent tweeters, their voices are highly reciprocal in the Twitterverse. We also find that messages of either side are most echoed by the public rather than elite audiences. Although diffusion to policymakers is almost absent, we uncover high semantic similarities between messages from climate obstruction nonprofits and bot-like accounts. Our analyses contribute to new theoretical and empirical insights into the roles of nonprofit conversation leaders and their potential message diffusion in climate discourse.

Donor Influence and Public Engagement

Wu, V. C. S. (2022, in press). Exploring donor influence and public engagement: Computational and thematic analyses of social media messages. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. [ Paper ]

How might donor influence shape the ways community foundations engage with public constituents? Using donor-advised funds to proxy for donor influence, I combined content analysis and structural topic modeling to analyze the themes of 4,055 public engagement messages sent by community foundations on Twitter. The structural topic model results revealed that donor influence significantly varied the themes of public engagement tweets. Strong donor influence was significantly correlated with greater use of policy advocacy and public education messages but negatively correlated with public mobilization and dialogic messages. This study contributes to a growing line of research on donor control and provides important insights into the power dynamics among the triad of 212 community constituents, donors, and foundations.

Public Engagement of Philanthropic Foundations on Social Media

Wu, V. C. S. (2021, in press). Beyond policy patrons: A ‘MADE’ framework for examining public engagement efforts of philanthropic foundations on Twitter. Public Management Review. [ Paper ]

This study conceptualises four mechanisms—Mobilisation, Advocacy, Dialogue, and Education (‘MADE’)—through which foundation actors engage the public on Twitter. We analysed stakeholders targeted and message contents of more than 16,000 tweets collected from 299 Twitter accounts of U.S. community foundations during two 12-month periods. We found evidence that foundations tend to serve as ‘a knowledge hub’ to educate the public. Notably, the 2020 sample suggests lessened dialogic messages yet increased mobilisation and advocacy messages amid the COVID-19 pandemic and political movements. This study reveals foundations’ intermediary and shifting roles in engaging the public in times of normalcy and crisis.

Conceptualizing “Community Leadership”

Wu, V. C. S. (2021). Community leadership as multi‐dimensional capacities: A conceptual framework and preliminary findings for community foundations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 32(1), 29-53. [ Paper ]

Community foundations are increasingly looked to as community leaders that coalesce money, people, knowledge, and networks for addressing public problems at the local level. However, the field remains difficult to grasp—what it is and how it materializes in practice. Drawing from both academic and practitioner literature, this article proposes a multidimensional conceptual framework that construes community leadership in six capacities ranging from (a) strategizing, (b) convening, (c) knowledge building, (d) capacity building, (e) partnering, to (f) policy engagement. I applied this conceptual framework to analyze 539 annual reports of U.S. community foundations using semi‐automated content analysis. The empirical analysis shows that they tend to specialize in one or a few leadership capacities, but not necessarily all six components. In particular, the capability approach to community leadership through capacity building, partnering, and policy engagement is more favorable among community foundations than a participatory approach through convening and knowledge building. This article contributes to building the conceptual foundation and provides preliminary evidence to advance future research on the foundations’ role in community leadership.

Examining the Landscape of Community Foundations in the U.S.

Wu, V. C. S. (2021). The geography and disparities of community philanthropy: A community assessment model of needs, resources, and ecological environment. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 32(2), 351-371. [ Paper ]

Community foundations exemplify a growing form of place-based philanthropic efforts for addressing public problems. However, why do such efforts occur in some places, but not in others? Using an original population dataset of community foundations that combines community characteristics with service area data across 3130 US counties, the empirical analyses of hurdle negative binomial models reveal distinct patterns in explaining their locational distribution and philanthropic activities. Community foundations tend to emerge or flourish in urban communities which are White-dominant, ethnically homogeneous, and less religious but have more social and human capital. Crossing the zero hurdle, their philanthropic activities tend to bloom in ethnically diverse and unequal communities but plummet in highly educated communities with more high-income earners, whereas rural and vulnerable communities with high proportions of residents who are young, old, unemployed, and disabled exemplify potential service gaps of community foundations associated with their rarity and/or fewer philanthropic activities. This study presents a community assessment model and empirical evidence of what might promote and inhibit the occurrence of community philanthropic efforts.

Social Media Mobilization

An, S., Wu, V. C. S., & Guo, C. (2017). How stakeholder mobilization saved Sweet Briar College. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Special Issue II, 4-10. [Paper]

This case study illustrates how diverse stakeholder engagement is instrumental forcore governance functions of accountability and representation in a nonprofit organi-zation. Many nonprofit leaders equate governance with the board, mistakenly believing the latter has exclusive authority to make decisions without input from stakeholders. However, board members should be aware that they are not the owners, but only a part of the governance structure in which multiple stakeholders are involved.