Societal Roles of Nonprofit Organizations: Unearthing Parsonian Roots and Proposing a Systems-Theoretical Synthesis

Activity: Talk or presentationScience to science


Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) fulfill important roles in society, and this has been a consensus and a subject of recurrent interest and concern. Nevertheless, there is no coherent understanding of what fulfilling a societal role means, how such roles fit into a theory of society, and how to frame such roles theoretically. In search of such an understanding, we conducted a systematic literature review of 109 publications published between 1959 and 2021, that deal with the societal roles of NPOs. Based on this literature review, we argue that most previous research has relied on an implicitly functionalist understanding of societal roles that resembles to the AGIL functions outlined by Talcott Parsons. Given the shortcomings of this kind of functionalism, we propose to transfer the role concept into a neofunctionalist, systems-theoretical understanding of society. On this basis, we propose condensing
previous role taxonomies into four major societal roles of nonprofit organizations: service delivery, advocacy, integration, and the maintenance or change of latent patterns.
Period17 Nov 202120 Nov 2021
Event titleARNOVA Annual Conference
Event typeUnkonwn
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 506009 Organisation theory
  • 504007 Empirical social research
  • 502023 NPO research
  • 102 not use (legacy)