Panel Paper: The Business of Nonprofits: A Look At Child Welfare Agencies

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 3:20 PM
Salon B (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Robbie Robichau, Arizona State University

Historically, nonprofit organizations have had a unique role in the service provision of foster care. However, the contemporary governance of these organizations as well as their relationships with government and the private sector is changing. Government is increasingly turning over services to nonprofits and businesses, especially in human services (Salamon, 2002). In response, nonprofit organizations are being pressured to secure funding through contracts and to become more entrepreneurial in their efforts to generate revenue. Many have raised concerns about how these changes and pressures will impact the distinctive ethos or identity of the nonprofit sector, in general, and the ability of nonprofit organizations, in particular, to advance their missions and serve their clients (e.g., Anheier, 2005; Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004; Frumkin, 2005). Bozeman’s (1987)  notion that all organizations are public may be expanded by further explanation of what occurs when institutions, like child welfare nonprofits, simultaneously begin to act more like government and for-profits (Fryar, 2012).

In this paper, I will explore how these broad, structural changes may affect how nonprofit organizations (child foster care agencies in particular) are run, what they value, and how nonprofit managers and administrators view the work they do. This research examines what happens to child welfare agencies as they become less focused on being a charitable organization and are driven more by the economic authority of the market and governmental direction. The culmination of this study hinges on the following questions: How has the evolving governance of child welfare nonprofits impacted the distinctiveness of these agencies? And, what are the implications for these agencies as they become more public and private?

My research is based upon a questionnaire sent to nonprofit child welfare executives and managers across the country. A total of 400 managers received the survey currently out in the field. The survey data will be empirically examined through a Hierarchical Linear Model. Differences between nonprofits within state groupings based on the year states first began contracting with child welfare agencies to provide foster care services will be used to predict nonprofit’s level of publicness and privateness. Important factors in determining public and private levels will be based upon agency’s control, funding, number of performance-based contracts, market orientation, and competition with other agencies.

The results of this research will have several implications for the sector and managers within it. First, it speaks to how and whether managers actually value what is argued they should, i.e., what makes nonprofit service agencies distinctive from other business and government providers. Additionally, this research explores how managers may view the sector and their particular agency’s role in society differently than theory would suggest. Finally, it tackles the tough question of whether the nonprofit sector, in particular child welfare service agencies, are being homogenized into business and governmental practices as they contract and administer services.