Professionalization within the nonprofit sector influences workforce dynamics and the dynamics of work, especially around monitoring and measuring “social impact”.
mechanisms of proto-institutionalization: a case analysis of discourse on social impact measurement
In the United States, civil society – the space inhabited by associations, churches, social movements, and nonprofit organizations – has undergone substantial change. The original associative legacy of civil society has been supplanted and extended by the introduction of scientific methods of analysis and business-like principles, culminating in a present-day focus on metrics and evaluation. This process has involved the meeting of previously separate spheres – civil society, professional science, and large-scale government agencies and business enterprises. Taken together, these forces are altering the established meaning system of the nonprofit sector, shifting the focus from the intentions underlying charitable acts to their measurable outcomes. These trends have opened a new space for engagement, bringing into contact and mixing the ideas of a wide array of people and organizations -- nonprofits, foundations, philanthropists, research institutes, government agencies, international organizations, watchdog groups, for-profit consultancies, and bloggers – each promoting their approaches on how best to measure and assess performance in the social sector (Salamon, 2012; Brest and Born, 2013). These interactions are debated in webinars and on blogposts, and featured prominently on organizations’ webpages. No coherent set of metrics or generally accepted framework of evaluation exists; instead a cacophony of multiple voices, reflecting the contrasting orientations of civic ideals, scientific expertise, and managerial efficiency, contend for attention (Hall, 2012). None has yet succeeded in drowning out the voices of others. We sketch an analytical portrait of this juncture, during which connections between heterogeneous and contesting entities are forming to spark new conversations. Novel website-crawler technology enables us to identify a comprehensive sample of organizations involved in discussions of nonprofit performance evaluation and analyze the relations among them. “Institutional Analysis in a Digital Era,” examines the conversation on nonprofit organizational effectiveness and efficiency through a coded analysis of the website discourse and network hyperlinks of the 369 most active entities (including formal organizations, blogs, and independent consultants). Furthermore, we explicate their patterns of co-occurrence, detailing the various ways in which they convene (n=17), proselytize (n=44), and strengthen (n=58).
Emergence or Evolution: A Historical Analysis of Discourse on Social Impact
One can’t hold a conversation regarding nonprofits in the United States without hearing mention of social impact. Over the past fifteen years a range of entities, both within and outside the nonprofit sector, have participated in a conversation regarding nonprofit organizational performance, with a focus on evaluating measurable impact. These discussions have combined older associational discourses on charity and philanthropy with scientific and managerial conversations that are new to the domain. This paper examines how this call for nonprofit evaluation is not entirely novel. Using primary and secondary historical documents, we trace the emergence of discourse on social impact within the United States, starting with the birth of a nation and the establishment of social norms, governmental infrastructure, and the provision of social services, and following the ensuing three centuries to present day conversation about nonprofit evaluation and the measurement of social impact.
(How) Does Professionalization Matter?
I exploit differences in professionalization across four international aid organizations to examine whether and how the workforce differs across the four sites. In “(How) Does Professionalization Matter?” my results indicate that while the desire to help others varies across organizations with different levels of professionalization, a wide range of other job attributes also vary. Moreover, these other job attributes have a larger impact on various work and organizational outcomes. Because studies rarely simultaneously examine multiple constructs, this comparison has not been previously possible. These results suggest that nonprofit professionalization is associated with variance in employee preferences to fulfill social service objectives at work, but also by disparate avenues to job satisfaction, none of which are related to social service.