Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Influence of Political and Organizational Field upon Nonprofit Human Service Organizations

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Influence of Political and Organizational Field upon Nonprofit Human Service Organizations

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION The human services marketplace has become an uncertain and volatile arena in the last two decades. Program services have evolved rapidly and financial resources have changed even more quickly. The majority of human service delivery is not done through contracting out by government. Competition among service organizations has become the norm rather than the exception as nonprofits, for-profits, and private practitioners compete for the same clientele and financial resources (McMurtry, Netting, and Kettner, 1991). Human service organizations find themselves in the middle of a maelstrom trying to balance increased competition, decreased funding, and increased client demand.

This study explores whether or not similar human service organizations in different states exhibit substantially the same strategies in order to survive in this uncertain marketplace. It employs analysis of variance using variables representing organizational fields, regional political culture, organizations, and strategies. This study is also meant to demonstrate the extent to which this type of research can yield administrators useful information concerning the behavior of contracting nonprofit organizations.


Conceptual Framework

There are three bodies of theory that will help inform our understanding of nonprofit organizational responses to marketplace change and volatility. They are niche theory, institutional theory, and the theory of political culture.

Niche. According to Pfeffer (1982), organizations must respond to those who can provide critical resources. In the area of human services delivery, the provider has more and more become the government. Organizations are obliged to develop a particular expertise or speciality within a particular segment, that is, they must select and successfully fill particular niches (McPherson, 1988; Sosin, 1985, 1990; Pfeffer, 1982; Miller, 1986).

At any given time there are a limited number of niches available for organizations to fill. So, too, there are a limited number of strategies that will result in successful resource procurement and some strategies will be more successful than others (Miller, 1986).

Over time a match develops between the needs of the resource provider and the functions of the organization seeking the resources (Sosin, 1985). The match can be categorized as either product or consumer based and, therefore, an organization must achieve a certain level of specialization in either the product delivered or the customer served. This specialization should result in distinctive competence in the marketplace that will insure the organization's survival (Blois, 1983; Ulrich and Barney, 1994; Betton and Dess, 1985; DiGuilio, 1984; McMurtry, Netting, and Kettner, 1990; Carmen and Langeard, 1980).

Institutional Theory. Organizations tend to reflect the environment within which they operate and incorporate the cultural conceptions concerning how they should look and how they should operate, regardless of the efficiency or effectiveness of the result (Meyer and Rowan, 1993; DiMaggio and Powell, 1993; Scott and Meyer, 1993). This process is known as institutionalization and it defines how organizations should operate, who should deliver certain services, and who should pay for those services.

Institutionalization creates a type of environment with unique characteristics and rules that, in turn, define and distinguish organizational structure and operations (DiMaggio and Powell, 1988; DiMaggio and Anheier, 1990; Scott and Meyer, 1993). In a mimetic and iterative process, successful organizations are emulated by other organizations. Organizations in a field, sector or industry will tend to be isomorphic and similar in services, products, and functions. Specific programs become associated with particular agencies and each program is linked to specific sets of fiscal resources.

Political Culture. It is generally believed that culture plays the key role in the isomorphic process. …

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