From “virtuous” to “pragmatic” pursuit of social mission: A sustainability-based typology of nonprofit organizations and corresponding strategies

Robert E. McDonald, Jay Weerawardena, Sreedhar Madhavaram, Gillian Sullivan Mort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to offer a sustainability-based typology for non-profit organizations and corresponding strategies to sustain the mission and/or financial objectives of non-profit organizations. The balance of mission and money, known in the non-profit literature as the double bottom line, is a challenge for professional managers who run non-profits and scholars who study them. Design/methodology/approach – Typologies are often used to classify phenomena to improve understanding and bring about clarity. In this paper, non-profit organizations are viewed from a social and fiscal viability perspective, developed from the long standing challenge of balancing mission and money. Findings – The typology developed in this paper identifies several normative strategies that correspond to the social and fiscal viability of non-profit organizations. In fact, the strategies offered in this paper can help non-profit managers achieve organizational sustainability, thus enabling them to continue what they are meant to do – to provide greater social value to their constituents. Research limitations/implications – The typology presented is a classification system rather than a theoretical typology. Its purpose is to help managers of non-profits to recognize threats to their organizations’ long-term survival and offer strategies that if adopted can move the organizations to less vulnerable positions. However, the recommended strategies are by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, the focus of the paper is on non-profit organizations, not profit-driven or hybrid entities. The sustainability-based typology of non-profit organizations and the corresponding strategies have implications for practitioners and academics. The typology and its contents can help managers assess their non-profits, competitive environment and their current strategies, plan their double bottom line strategies and last but not the least, develop and implement strategies for social and fiscal sustainability. In addition, our paper provides great opportunities for future research to subject our typology and its contents to conceptual and empirical scrutiny. Practical implications – The strategies described here are developed based on scholarly research and examples from successful non-profits. The typology and the related list of strategies provide a manager with the tools to accurately diagnose organizational challenges and adopt plans to improve the organization’s viability. Social implications – Non-profit organizations are an integral part of society that bolsters economic prosperity, environmental integrity and social justice. This paper may provide guidance for a number of non-profit managers to keep their organizations operating and serving important social missions. Originality/value – In the context of organizations for social mission, several typologies exist that looked at firms from the perspectives of ownership versus profit objectives, entrepreneurship conceptualizations of economists and origins and development paths of social enterprises. While these typologies provided foundations for theoretical and empirical work into social enterprises, our typology offers strategies for the sustainability of mission and/or money objectives of non-profits. The value of this research lies in integrating virtuous and pragmatic objectives of non-profit sustainability that, in turn, can ensure the social mission of non-profits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)970-991
Number of pages22
JournalManagement Research Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 21 2015


  • Double bottom line
  • Fiscal sustainability
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Social mission
  • Strategies for nonprofits
  • Sustainability typology


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