Managed Morality: The Rise of Codes of Conduct in the US Nonprofit Sector.

Calls for accountability in the nonprofit sector have never been stronger, and the rise of various forms of self-regulation represents a profound shift for nonprofits. Existing studies tend to focus on effective design and implementation of accountability policies, with an eye toward improving nonprofit efficiency and reducing instances of misconduct. Against this backdrop, we draw on sociological institutionalism to theorize an alternative view of one form of self-regulation, formal codes of conduct or ethical codes. In this view, formal policies, such as codes, are assumed to be adopted as a response to pressures in an organization’s institutional environment, beyond their purported instrumental value. Using a quantitative analysis of code adoption by 24 of 45 state nonprofit associations over the period 1994 to 2011, we provide evidence that codes arise due to general environmental conditions, particularly related to the influences of neoliberalism and professionalization, net of the functional demands of any particular context.

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