14:39 PM

Decrypting Dollars

Dr. Hanjin Mao’s Research Illuminates the Power of Tech Adoption for Nonprofits


By Hayden Bergman

To say that a question is pressing signals the force and impact of such a question, while also hinting toward the pressure felt to find an answer. 

Dr. Hanjin Mao, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management, had pressing questions regarding nonprofits from her experience volunteering with charities as a college student. Specifically, she saw the issues that plagued nonprofits in her home country: unpredictable funding, limited staff, as well as difficulty measuring impact. During her master's study at Rutgers University, she found that the problems faced by nonprofits are the same around the world. “That’s when I decided I had to find answers,” said Mao. And find them she did. 

04b347b78f027e6416789b4a06422cb8In fact, the answers she found earned her the Academy of Management’s (AOM) Public and Nonprofit (PNP) Division 2023 Best Dissertation Award. Her winning three-essay dissertation, "The Financial Benefits of Information Technology Adoption in Nonprofit Organizations," investigated the potential financial returns of IT investment and whether IT adoption in nonprofit organizations is worth the money. “I wanted to know,” she said “‘Can technology costs pay off?’” An important question, no doubt, as many nonprofits are under pressure from benefactors and their communities to budget every dollar toward beneficiaries. Turns out, such pressures are unwarranted, as Mao found empirical evidence that there is indeed a financial net benefit to technology adoption for nonprofits. 

After completing her doctoral work, Mao decided to join UHD to start her tenure-track academic career. “It was a match,” she said, as the University’s emphasis on inclusive education and experiential learning aligned with her core beliefs as an educator. “UHD offered the perfect platform for my research and teaching goals.”

Now, she teaches mostly master's level courses in the Nonprofit Mangement M.A. program, along with some undergraduate courses on federal government. She has also developed a class brand new to UHD: Performance Management and Reporting in Nonprofit and Public Organizations. A mouthful, yes, though its impact can be related simply: The course matches students with local nonprofits, where they apply principles from class and offer recommendations about performance management. In effect, Mao’s students serve as third party consultants while gaining insight into the challenges local nonprofits are facing in their region (the program is online and serves students both in Houston and beyond). 

Many of these students, as Mao carefully pointed out, already have “rich working experience and diverse backgrounds with respect to having social impact, with long histories of success in the nonprofit sector.” The Nonprofit Management M.A. is, in other words, for early or mid-career professionals, as well as those hoping to enter the workforce after completing their education. Regardless of how they enter the program, said Dr. Mao, her students often go on to obtain leadership positions in both in Texas and in their local communities.

And while the pressure of her former questions may have been relieved, Mao continues to ask impactful questions through her research and teaching. She’s developing an experiential philanthropy course in which students are given funds and tasked to conduct evaluations, then decide where to donate their allotment. Also, her research now takes a more comprehensive stance, as she is asking after the role of nonprofit organizations in society. 

“I want my students to know that they don’t have to be wealthy to make an impact. If they want to make a difference, they can.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.