Social Justice, Climate Change and Large Environmental Nonprofits in the U.S.

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Erik, W. Johnson, Washington State University

I am a sociologist who has been interested in US environmental movements since my days as an undergraduate student in the early 1990s. Over the course of my career, case studies documenting local conflicts over the siting of hazardous facilities and the unequal distribution of environmental harms across racial and economic categories have been the dominant theme in sociological research on the US environmental movement. I took a different approach for my dissertation research, completed in 2004. I assembled information spanning 1960-2000 for a sample of roughly 1,000 national environmental organizations to assess what the population of environmental organizations does. This “population” based approach to research is common in studies of other social movements, but rare in the case of US environmentalism.

What struck me in my early professional research and what has continued to do so, is the strong disjuncture between sociological studies of the US environmental movement and what environmental organizations actually do.

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When a microfinance institution deviates from its social mission, borrowers are the most harmed, but stakeholders are also affected.

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Carlos Serrano-Cinca, Yolanda Fuertes-Callén & Beatriz Cuéllar-Fernández, University of Zaragoza, Spain.

Mission drift is a popular research topic with respect to non-profit organizations and, in particular, microfinance institutions (MFIs). The need for many microfinance institutions to generate profit often leads these institutions to lose sight of their social mission. The consequences of mission drift for borrowers and MFIs have been extensively studied. Mission drift usually reduces outreach, can be detrimental to the poorest borrowers, harmful to women, and disappointing to donors and social investors. However, the effects of mission drift on other stakeholders (employees, government, micro-savers, and banking creditors) have been insufficiently studied, a gap that our study seeks to address.

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The Genesis of the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle

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Mark Hager, Arizona State University

The nonprofit starvation cycle was named by Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard in a popular article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2009. They did a lot to put the ideas on the map, but they are not the originators of the cycle. All the credit for the nonprofit starvation cycle goes to a guy named Ken Wing. Ken Wing? Yes, Ken Wing.

You’re maybe familiar with that SSIR article, or have heard the starvation cycle described. The idea is that too many nonprofits spend too little on administrative capacity like human resource and financial systems, information technology, and fundraising. Their low spending on these overhead costs (or, *ahem* fudging on how they report their spending) reinforces expectations among funders that non-program costs are not essential. This circles back to further disinvestments in administrative capacity.

I was working with Ken Wing when he first articulated his “circle” idea in the mid-2000s. He’s never gotten the credit he deserves for ideas that have been pretty popular over the past couple decades. I’m hoping that changes with publication of a new NVSQ article (ChiaKo Hung, Mark Hager & Yuan Tian), which features the unearthing of the “Wing Model.” However, you don’t get the full rundown of the genesis of model in that paper. So, I thought I’d Zoom with Ken and get more of his recollection.

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Donor Reactions to Charities Highlighting their Religious Affiliation

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By Jonathan Oxley, Trinity University.

Most charitable donations in the United States either go to a religious organization or a religiously affiliated charity. Giving to religious organizations such as churches, mosques, and synagogues represents the largest share of donations received in the United States, with Giving USA (2021) reporting that 29% of all charitable giving goes to religious organizations. However, this only represents a fraction of religious giving in the United States. Giving USA (2021) estimates that including donations to religiously affiliated charities as religious giving brings this figure closer to 75% of all giving in the United States. This expanded definition includes donations to large, well-known, highly-rated charities such as World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, Lifewater International, World Hope International, and Opportunity International.

Despite receiving nearly 45% of donation dollars in the United States, Scheitle (2010) finds that 22% of all religiously affiliated, non-church charities do not include a religious keyword identifier on their Form 990. This number increases to 45% for the second-largest category of religiously affiliated, non-church charities, relief and development organizations. My paper “Examining Donor Preference for Charity Religious Affiliation,” uses a laboratory experiment to explore how donor behavior changes with the inclusion of religious language in a charity’s description, with the goal of determining if religiously affiliated, non-church charities have a financial incentive to selectively display their religious affiliation. I find such incentives exist.

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