Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 159, Issue 2, pp 343–360 | Cite as

Unpacking Variation in Hybrid Organizational Forms: Changing Models of Social Enterprise Among Nonprofits, 2000–2013

  • Jean-Baptiste Litrico
  • Marya L. BesharovEmail author
Original Paper


To remain financially viable and continue to accomplish their social missions, nonprofits are increasingly adopting a hybrid organizational form that combines commercial and social welfare logics. While studies recognize that individual organizations vary in how they incorporate and manage hybridity, variation at the level of the organizational form remains poorly understood. Existing studies tend to treat forms as either hybrid or not, limiting our understanding of the different ways a hybrid form may combine multiple logics and how such combinations evolve over time. Analyzing 14 years of data from Canadian nonprofits seeking funding for social enterprise activities, we identify two novel dimensions along which a hybrid form may vary—the locus of integration and the scope of logics. We further find that as the commercial logic became more widespread within the nonprofit sector, variants of the hybrid form shifted from primarily emphasizing the commercial logic to more equally emphasizing both the commercial and social welfare logics and integrating the two logics in multiple ways. Drawing on these findings, we contribute a multi-dimensional conception of hybrid forms and theorize how form-level variation in hybridity can arise from organization-level cognitive challenges that actors face when combining seemingly incompatible logics. We then build on this theorizing to offer an alternative perspective on commercialization of the nonprofit sector as a contextually dependent rather than universal trend.


Social enterprise Hybrids Nonprofit organizations Social change Institutional logics Institutional complexity Institutional theory Organizational forms 



We are indebted to Enterprising Nonprofits for providing access to the data analyzed in this paper. We thank the guest editors of the special issue as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful guidance during the review process. We also thank Michael Lounsbury, Royston Greenwood, Joshua Margolis, as well as seminar participants at Queen’s University, the Tokyo Colloquium for Organization Studies, the Community of Social Innovation annual conference, the EGOS 2014 Conference in Rotterdam, and the AOM 2018 conference in Chicago, for their comments on prior versions of this paper. Chuhan Liu, Thomas Moir, Alex Tablan, Diego Soares and Emily Zong provided research assistance. This research received financial support from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, the ILR School at Cornell University, and an Insight Development grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


This study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant Number 430-2013-0604).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. For this type of study (i.e., archival), formal consent is not required. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smith School of BusinessQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Organizational Behavior, ILR SchoolCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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