Interest in and research on nonprofit organizations and sectors have developed rapidly in recent years. Much of this work by sociologists has focussed on particular subsectors rather than on nonprofits as a class. This review attempts to extract from a large and varied literature a distinctively sociological perspective on nonprofits, which it contrasts to influential work in economics. Two questions—“Why (and where) are there nonprofit organizations” and “What difference does nonprofitness make?”—are addressed at the levels of organization, industry, and firm. Three central conclusions, each with research implications, emerge from this review: The origins and behavior nonprofit organizations reflect institutional factors and state policies as well as the social-choice processes and utility functions emphasized by economists. Understandingth e origins of nonprofit sectors and behavioral differences between nonprofits and for-profit or government organizations requires an industry-level ecological perspective. “Nonprofitness” has no single transhistorical or transnational meaning; nonprofit-sector functions, origins, and behavior reflect specific legal definitions, cultural inheritances, and state policies in different national societies.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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