Beyond Antagonistic Nonprofit Accountability: A Case Analysis of Practitioner Responses to the Contracting Regime

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Virginia Tech

The longstanding framing of accountability in principal-agent terms has encouraged adversarial and oppositional interactions and ways of thinking amongst nonprofit and funding agency practitioners within government-nonprofit relationships. These interactions are deeply rooted in the accountability claims made by government funders and responded to by nonprofit practitioners. This dissertation outlines the implications of nonprofit-government contracting for participating nonprofit organizations and explores various strategies practitioners in those institutions utilize to respond to the challenges raised by their relationship to public funders. To understand the tensions surrounding government accountability claims, I provide an overview of the emergence of the contracting regime and an exploration of the understanding of accountability that has attended its evolution. Through an in-depth qualitative case study, constructed on the basis of interviews, observation, and document analysis and following a grounded theory approach to analysis, I explore various nonprofit manager responses to the norms and pressures of the contracting regime. I chronicle nonprofit practitioners' responses to contracting regime pressures, including accepting those norms, even when arguably inimical to their organization's mission, ignoring them in favor of serving clients, or leaving the employ of organizations altogether. I also explore examples of practitioner efforts to navigate outside of the contracting regime's antagonistic framing and engage both with powerful stakeholders and others in their organizations to negotiate changes. Drawing on the theoretical lens of agonism, I examine the context and characteristics of those responses to provide insights into how nonprofit managers might move beyond antagonistic accountability frames.

nonprofit organizations, nonprofit-government contracting, contracting regime, reporting, nonprofit accountability, refugee resettlement, agonism