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No Margin, No Mission: How Practitioners Justify Nonprofit Managerialization

Journal Title International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Published Date December 17, 2019
Research Type
Authors Erynn Beaton


The financial sustainability of nonprofit organizations is an abiding concern. One generally accepted solution for threats to nonprofit financial sustainability is the adoption of business practices such as commercial revenue. Institutional theory, joined by empirical evidence, suggests that nonprofit practitioners may (or may not) perceive a conflict between their social mission and business practices, which is a perquisite to developing a strategic response. Through a multi-site ethnography, I examine how nonprofit practitioners respond to pressures to enact business practices. The cognitive schema practitioners in this study use to justify that managerialization rationalizes business practices as means to achieving the mission. This schema explains why potential conflicts between business practices and the social mission went largely unnoticed and led, in large part, to passive acquiescence. The lack of perceived conflict captured in this study may be concerning because without conflict business practices may lead to unintended negative consequences such as mission drift.