Patterns of helping: Structural context and cultural systems in the United States nonprofit sector
The nonprofit sector is an expanding part of economic, political, and social life in the Unites States. However, there is little work that examines its growing role in U.S. counties as a cultural phenomenon that reflects systems of meaning used by both individuals and organizations to engage in nonprofit activity. As a result, I investigate trends in U.S. nonprofit activity, contending that structural contexts, shared ideas, and organizational structures create and sustain particular patterns of nonprofit involvement. I argue that these patterns are guided by distinct institutional logics that result in specific organizational forms, types, and norms and coalesce into five organizing principles for U.S. nonprofit activity; elite philanthropy, civic association, social welfare, political advocacy, and religion centered. Based on qualitative interviews with participants in these organizational types, I describe the particular logics of each and their role in creating distinct patterns of nonprofit activity. Then using national data on nonprofit organizations, I examine how particular structural contexts found in counties can represent these different logics and impact the presence of each principle in a county as well as the distribution of different principles within counties. I contend that the amount of resources present in a county and the levels of income inequality are particularly influential structural factors on each type of nonprofit pattern and mediate nonprofit choices when multiple institutional logics are present. This work makes a unique contribution by proposing a typology of nonprofit activity in the United States nonprofit sector and investigating how nonprofit choices are influenced by particular county structures. These findings have important implications for civic engagement and public care centered in the nonprofit sector.
0344: Social research