Author ORCID Identifier
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Public Management and Policy
Gregory B. Lewis
Alan J. Abramson
Janelle Bassett Kerlin
Nonprofit infrastructure organizations (NIOs) are critical for the sustainability of the nonprofit sector. They support the sector by providing training and consultation, facilitating network building, developing performance measures to ensure accountability, and advocating on behalf of the sector. Despite their prominence, they are among the least researched nonprofits. Most existing studies are qualitative, leaving important facts about NIOs unknown. This three-article dissertation aims to accomplish three tasks: Identify NIOs and report descriptive statistics, examine factors that influence their advocacy effectiveness, and explore ways NIOs can finance themselves more successfully.
The first part of the first study attempts to overcome the fundamental challenge of NIO research – identification. So far, there is no ready-to-use method to identify NIOs. This study proposes a novel solution to the challenge. I first use Dictionary-Based Text Analysis to assign an index to all mission statements in 2016 e-filed form 990 data, based on their likelihood of being NIOs. I then generate a sample of 909 NIOs by reading over 6,000 mission statements with high indices. The second part of the study presents descriptive findings of an original survey on the identified NIOs, including their sizes, income portfolios, geographic focus, functions performed, advocacy involvement, etc.
The second study examines determinants of NIOs’ advocacy effectiveness. While most existing studies focus on service delivery nonprofits’ advocacy activities, these nonprofits increasingly rely on NIOs to defend their interests in the political arena. Informed by absorptive capacity theory, I explore how NIOs’ connectedness, knowledge, and learning capacity affect their advocacy effectiveness, measured by overall effectiveness and six advocacy impacts. Drawing on the survey data and the 990 data, ordered logistic regressions suggest that different absorptive capacities matter for different advocacy impacts. This is the first study that investigates the advocacy effectiveness of NIOs – a critical but largely ignored participant of nonprofit advocacy. The findings call for more comprehensive measures of nonprofit advocacy effectiveness and have important practical implications for NIO’s advocacy activities.
The third study explores ways NIOs can finance themselves more successfully. While scholars and practitioners have noticed NIOs’ financing challenges, no study has yet been conducted to explore ways they can improve. Using the original survey data and form 990 data, I test whether constructing a benefits-based revenue portfolio leads to better financial health, measured by solvency, profitability, margin, and revenue concentration. I found that although there is a positive correlation between benefits activities and benefits revenues, the match between the two does not necessarily lead to improved financial health. Specifically, I found that only private match improves some aspects of NIO financial health. Group match has no impact on the financial indicators and public match harms NIO’s financial sustainability. The findings imply that the nature of different revenues, such as transaction costs and volatility, may matter more for nonprofits’ financial health than the benefits match between activities and revenue streams.
Liu, Qiaozhen, "Nonprofits for Nonprofits: Three Essays on Nonprofit Infrastructure Organizations." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2022.