Social purpose businesses in the United States: organizations in flux

Kate Cooney

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-T09-22
Thematic line: Management issues

Over the past two decades, social enterprise organizations utilizing in-house businesses to provide job training for disadvantaged populations have proliferated in the human services and workforce development arena in the United States. The rise of social enterprise organizations raise questions regarding the compatibility of social mission and commercial goals, particularly in social purpose businesses where clients are simultaneously receiving services and contributing to business production.

Using neo-institutional theory to frame these social businesses as operating in two different organizational fields, this study builds on existing research to examine a range of social purpose businesses (SPBs) in terms of the models they develop to integrate business and social service technologies and the strategies they employ to compete successfully in product markets while maintaining commitment to social goals.

Data from semi-structured interviews conducted with 15 directors or managers of SPBs located in different regions of the U.S. show that: slow growth, cross-subsidization, diversification, and flexible staffing are key strategies utilized across a range of SPB organizational models.

The analyses highlight the ongoing importance of social sector subsidies in keeping these models afloat.

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