Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Awarded Grant by National Science Foundation for “Future of Work” Project

More than one-third of U.S. nonprofits are in jeopardy of closing within two years because of the financial harm inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study by the philanthropy research group Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Reduced workforces are straining the already tight system for nonprofits. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, 33.5% of nonprofits reported job vacancy rates of between 10% and 19 %, while 26.2% responded that they had job openings for 20% to 29% of their positions.

Resource sharing is one way that nonprofits are battling that trend.

Systems engineers and social scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have been awarded $1.85 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Future of Work program. The four-year convergent research grant led by RPI’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Department is studying a resource sharing platform for nonprofits. The platform is designed for small to medium nonprofits to coordinate the sharing of the time and talents of nonprofit staff and other nonprofit resources. Rigorous rules of engagement that are inclusive, fair, and scalable are being co-designed with Central Maryland nonprofit partners and implemented into a web-based tool. The new mechanisms being developed will enable nonprofits to temporarily acquire needed resources using their own resources and stored credits.  Through better collective use of limited resources, this will increase the quality and quantity of services that nonprofit can provide in the communities they serve. 

“Although nonprofits typically possess limited resources, the demands for many of these resources fluctuate over time,” said Jen Pazour, Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, RPI. “This platform provides visibility into needed and available resources and deploys mathematical optimization to create a scalable and fair way to coordinate exchanges that amplify the collective impact of a group of nonprofits and encourage sustained participation by nonprofits.”

The team of investigators consists of RPI’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Jennifer Pazour, and WPI’s Associate Professor of Operations and Industrial Engineering Andrew Trapp, Assistant Professor of Integrative and Global Studies Sarah Stanlick, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Rhetoric Yunus Telliel.   

“Our convergent team of researchers acknowledges the technological, human, and organizational complexities of resource sharing in nonprofit work contexts, and so I am most excited that we are co-designing this platform with a group of nonprofits in Central Maryland,” added Pazour