Lehn Benjamin

Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies; Associate Professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Academic Programs
Lehn Benjamin
University Hall, Suite 3000
301 University Boulevard
Indianapolis, IN


  • Ph.D. Cornell University; City and Regional Planning
  • M.R.P. Cornell University, City and Regional Planning
  • B.A. University of Minnesota, Summa Cum Laude, Speech Communication


Lehn Benjamin has spent the past 25 years working on issues facing marginalized communities. She worked in South Africa during the democratic transition, on the Senate Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee as a Congressional Fellow, and for the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. Prior to joining the faculty at the school, she spent 10 years on the faculty at George Mason University where she taught courses on nonprofit management, public management and evaluation.

Courses Taught

  • PHST 602 Qualitative Methods
  • PHST 665 Nonprofits and Philanthropy
  • PHST 530 The Equity and Effectiveness of Philanthropy
  • PHST 531 Advocacy and Grassroots Organizing


Research Interests

I am interested in how nonprofit organizations challenge and reinforce the marginalization of poor communities and the consequences for democratic citizenship. I have pursued this interest in a couple of ways. I have examined how performance and accountability requirements shape the work of nonprofits: Do these requirements spur nonprofits to better respond to the needs and experiences of people they serve? Or do these requirements constrain such work? My recent research takes a closer look at daily work of frontline nonprofit staff and the experience of the people they serve. Showcasing the effort of both poor communities and frontline staff in the change process, I seek to answer questions such as: What is it like to receive help from nonprofits? What micro level practices have an impact on the problems facing poor communities? How do public policies, management approaches and funder requirements for performance and accountability support or constrain such practices?

Current Projects

  • Data Overload. This project investigates the data nonprofits collect, how they collect it, store and use it, and how the data collection process affects organizational practices, including the interaction between staff and constituents. 
  • Co-production. This project documents how and to what extent the constituents served by nonprofits are involved in the operation and governance of the organization and the impact on nonprofits and those they serve. 
  • Accountability on the Frontlines. This project examines the accountability expectations that frontline staff have to meet, what staff do when these expectations conflict, and the consequences for public policy and constituent voice.
  • Effectiveness. This project documents the day to day work of frontline staff and seeks to identify those micro level practices that are overlooked in typical metrics but that are crucial for effectively serving marginalized communities with the changes they want to make. 
  • Receiving Help. This project documents the experience of receiving help, how and when this experience is actually helpful.