From Smoke and Mirrors to Walking the Talk: Decoupling in the Contemporary World

Patricia Bromley and the CLC director Woody Powell’s article “From Smoke and Mirrors to Walking the Talk: Decoupling in the Contemporary World” chosen for the Decade Award, given to the most highly cited work published in the Academy of Management Annals in the last 10 years. 

The CLC Lab Publishes a Special Issue on “The Civic Life of Cities Around the World”. July 5, 2022

This special issue of the journal Global Perspectives (with the University of California Press) features the CLC Lab’s ongoing research on important issues facing civil society organizations in cities around the world, including San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Shenzhen, Singapore, Sydney, and Vienna. Although our cities vary in political, economic, and social regimes, we find robust contributions being made by nonprofit organizations, even amidst a global pandemic. The articles in this special issue can be read here.

The CLC Lab is Holding a Sub-Plenary on Civic Life of Contemporary Cities and a Workshop on Comparative Nonprofit Studies during the 38th European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium. Vienna, Austria, July 7-12, 2022

The sub-plenary on July 7 will investigate organizational perfection and imperfection in studying the “civic life” of contemporary cities. Organized by CLC researcher Christof Brandtner, Krystal Laryea and Hokyu Hwang, the sub-plenary includes Winnie Jiang, Danielle Logue, Florentine Maier, Woody Powell, and Wenjuan Zheng on the panel. We put our research on civil society in global cities around the world into conversation to better understand how organizations deal with the challenge of pursuing perfection in an imperfect world. We inquire about the challenges of organizing “perfectly” for beneficiaries and causes whose continued existence is proof of ongoing failures to enact real change. The sub-plenary will showcase organizing for the greater good in the non-profit sectors of San Francisco, Shenzhen, Singapore, Sydney, and Vienna. After the sub-plenary, the Vienna team of the CLC Lab will host a workshop on comparative nonprofit studies on July 11-12.

CLC researcher Aaron Horvath’s new article “Organizational supererogation and the transformation of nonprofit accountability” was accepted at the American Journal of Sociology. June 29, 2022

CLC researcher Aaron Horvath invited to talk at Institute for the Future. Palo Alto, CA, June 15, 2022.

In his talk titled “The Impact of ‘Impact’”, Aaron Horvath discussed what the rise of impact evaluation tells us about the decline of civil society.

CLC Researcher Wenjuan Zheng Invited Lucy Bernholz to Speak at the China Internet Public Welfare Summit (CIPWS), May 20, 2022

Lucy Bernholz, the Director of Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS, was the keynote speaker for the virtual conference that revolves around topics on technology for good, philanthropy and social innovations, and how technology could better support the work of philanthropy.

CLC researcher Yi Zhao’s dissertation on impact investing won the 2022 Best Dissertation Award from the Public and Nonprofit Division of the Academy of Management, February 2022.

Woody Powell Presents at Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies at University of Michigan, “An Organizational Perspective on the Civic Lives of Cities”. April 8, 2022

Abstract: The Civic Life of Cities Lab studies the threads that tie nonprofit organizations to the communities they serve. Through interviews with more than 1,400 leaders and analyses of civic activities in seven metropolitan areas around the world—San Francisco, Seattle, Shenzhen, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, and Vienna—we analyze geographic and political variation in how nonprofits weave together urban life and contribute to the vitality of civil society. Our ambition is to develop a place-based organizational theory that offers fresh answers to questions about accountability, embeddedness, and voice. In this talk, I will focus mostly on our work in the San Francisco Bay Area, but will draw illustrative data from our other cities. In a region that is ostensibly progressive but marked by massive inequalities in wealth and housing, how do Bay Area nonprofits navigate the divides between the haves and have nots? Although the Bay Area sector displays diverse approaches to repairing social ruptures, there is a consistent theme of re-building and re-creating community. Our findings reveal an ecosystem that is developing its own model of what community directed management looks like, neither tethered strictly to a Left Coast ethos, nor displaying uniform responses to strong institutional pressures.

CLC researcher Aaron Horvath commented on tech billionaires’ philanthropy. Business Insider, April 5, 2022

“’If it blows up, it’s cool’: The far-out philosophy that explains why Elon Musk won’t let a few baby sea turtles stop SpaceX’s quest to get to Mar”, by Adam Rogers, Business Insider, April 5, 2022.

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CLC researchers Wei Luo, Wenjuan Zheng, and Yan Long publish a new article “Relational Work and its Pitfalls: Nonprofits’ Participation in Government-Sponsored Voluntary Accreditation” in Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, February 2022

Abstract: Around the world, voluntary programs are an increasingly prevalent regulatory instrument in governing nonprofit organizations. But accounts of mechanisms driving nonprofits’ participation in those programs are underdeveloped. This article combines and expands insights from voluntary regulation and institutional work theories to examine the impact of government’s informal relational work on nonprofits’ regulatory participation. Drawing on interviews and survey data from a random sample of 203 nonprofits in Shenzhen, China, the authors study the country’s pioneering government-sponsored voluntary accreditation program and its varying receptions among nonprofits. The empirical analysis shows that politically embedded nonprofits, those with closer organizational connections with the local government, are more likely to participate in accreditation. Since government agencies rely on existing regulatory networks to conduct relational work at both organizational and personal levels to persuade or cajole nonprofits to participate, they tend to direct their recruitment efforts towards more politically embedded nonprofits. However, these targeted recruitment practices may generate reactions much more complicated than the dichotomy of acceptance versus resistance, which ultimately facilitates some nonprofits seeking accreditation while deterring others.

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CLC researchers Aaron Horvath and Jean Lin Discuss How Civic Organizations Are Helping to Fight COVID-19. Boston Review, May 2020

In their article, the authors discuss how nonprofits have proven to be critical links in the nation’s public health infrastructure, but even those with mandates unrelated to health and poverty relief are turning out to be integral to their communities’ survival.

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Global Survey Uncovers the Impact of NFPs and A Changing Sector. Pro Bono Australia, November 2019

Researchers at the Sydney team of the CLC Lab will lead an Australian team to analyze the characteristics and behaviors of NFPs in Sydney, a part of the Lab’s project to compare the impact charities are having on their communities in seven global cities around the world.

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When Nonprofits Act Like Businesses, Transparency Improves. Insights by Stanford Business, May 2017

Tracking a random sample of 200 nonprofit organizations from the San Francisco Bay Area for over a decade, a team of researchers at the CLC Lab found that organizations that were early adopters of managerial practices have been able to change relatively quickly to become more transparent and collaborative.

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The Language of Nonprofits is Changing. Insights by Stanford Business, July 2015

New research by Walter W. Powell, the director of the CLC Lab, shows that the vocabulary of charitable organizations transforms as they collaborate more with businesses.

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