The Transformation from Traditional Nonprofit Organizations to Social Enterprises: An Institutional Entrepreneurship Perspective

Journal of Business Ethics 171 (1):15-32 (2020)
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The development of commercial revenue streams allows traditional nonprofit organizations to increase financial certainty in response to the reduction of traditional funding sources and increased competition. In order to capture commercial revenue-generating opportunities, traditional nonprofit organizations need to deliberately transform themselves into social enterprises. Through the theoretical lens of institutional entrepreneurship, we explore the institutional work that supports this transformation by analyzing field interviews with 64 institutional entrepreneurs from UK-based social enterprises. We find that the route to incorporate commercial processes and convert traditional nonprofit organizations into social enterprises requires six distinct kinds of institutional work at three different domains; these are—“engaging commercial revenue strategies”, “creating a professionalized organizational form”, and “legitimating a socio-commercial business model”. In elaborating on social entrepreneurship research and practice, we offer a comprehensive framework delineating the key practices contributing to the transformation from traditional nonprofit organizations to social enterprises. This extends our understanding of the ex-ante strategy of incorporating commercial processes within social organizations. Furthermore, the identification of these practices also offers an important tool for scholars in this field to examine the connection of each practice with different ethical concerns of social entrepreneurship in greater depth.



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