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Using Institutional Theory to Explore Local Variations in United Way’s Community Impact Model

, Stephen S. Meinhold

Abstract: In response to ongoing changes in local economic and philanthropic structures, the United Way of America has encouraged local affiliates to adopt a new philanthropic model—Community Impact. Despite efforts to rebrand the system, significant variation exists in local implementation of the new initiative. Drawing on case studies in 6 communities, we explore how local contexts shape local practices. Consistent with a growing body of research that describes the impact of local institutions on organizational practice, we find that local United Way practices are shaped by local institutions and the field level pressures to adopt Community Impact often conflict with local performance logics. These local logics are influenced by historical stocks of philanthropic and civic capital that both constrain and offer alternatives for local strategies.
Keywords: philanthropy / institutions / environmental change

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