Nonprofit organizations function in a dynamic environment, to which they adapt in a number of ways. One adaptation strategy can be described as mission framing: when an organization reinterprets and/or emphasizes different dimensions of its purpose-based identity to better fit the context in which it operates. While organizational identity adaptation has been a central topic of generic management research (Gioia et al., 2013), it has received less attention from nonprofit scholars (Brilliant & Young, 2004). It is important to understand nonprofit identity-focused adaptation because such change shapes other strategic and programmatic choices, affecting the communities that depend on nonprofits for social service provision. This study examines nonprofit mission framing across an important field of organizations in the United States: the United Way (UW) system.
The UW system includes approximately 1800 local UW organizations around the globe, most of which are located in the United States. The UW system receives more in private donations than any other nonprofit in the U.S., and is the most significant private funder of human services in many local communities (Hall et al, 2013). Traditionally, a large portion of UW funding comes from workplace giving campaigns, employer-sponsored fundraising initiatives.
For at least twenty years, however, the workplace giving arena has been experiencing significant change. Since the late 1970’s, a number of alternative funds focused on issues such as minority rights, the environment, and medical research, have come to compete with the UW in workplace giving campaigns (Barman, 2006). As the UW Worldwide seeks to maintain its foothold in the workplace giving arena, it is attempting to re-frame its’ mission through the Community Impact initiative (Barman, 2006). Local UW organizations, however, have some discretion over implementation of the Community Impact initiative.
This study draws upon classic theories of organizational adaptation, and research on workplace giving, to examine organization-level variation in mission framing across a large sample of local UW organizations. Data on organizational purpose statements, philanthropic market consolidation, and peer influence are analyzed using machine learning, and social network analysis (SNA) techniques. Findings suggest that: 1) local UW organizations are both maintaining core dimensions of their identity while integrating new components; and 2) local field consolidation, and peer influence are associated with the mission framing choices of local UW organizations.
Barman, E. (2006). Contesting communities: The transformation of workplace charity. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Brilliant, E., & Young, D. R. (2004). The changing identity of federated community service organizations. Administration in Social Work, 28(3-4), 23-46.
Gioia, D. A., Patvardhan, S. D., Hamilton, A. L., & Corley, K. G. (2013). Organizational identity formation and change. The Academy of Management Annals, 7(1), 123-193.
Hall, H., H. Joslyn, E. Grovum, S. Frostenson, M. Lopez-Rivera, & S. Speicher. (2013). “At the Top of the Philanthropy 400 Ranks, a Battle for No. 1 Heats Up”. Chronicle of Philanthropy. 26(1): 7-27.