Methodology: Between Fall 2013 and Spring 2015, the first author conducted semi-structured interviews with senior staff at 18 community-based organizations in one neighborhood. This sample includes a range of organizations from nonprofits that started as a result of neighborhood organizing to branch offices of larger nonprofits, providing an opportunity to compare different organizations. Through interviews and website descriptions, the first author identified three types of organizations: service-organizing hybrids, non-hybrid service organizations that participate in advocacy/organizing, and service organizations that do not participate in advocacy/organizing. Interviews discussed organizational history, mission, challenges and strategies with acquiring resources, and key partnerships and relationships; the concept of legitimacy came out through analysis of the interviews. All interviews were transcribed and coded with Atlas.ti software. Analysis included memo writing, mapping relationships between organizations and comparisons between and within organizational categories.
Findings: Through their combination of services and organizing, hybrids have a unique form of service delivery, engaging in service delivery as a form of social change. A key feature among hybrids in this sample was an identity of ‘grassroots’ and community-driven. With this grassroots identity, hybridity was not a penalty for the organizations. Rather, hybridity connected to the idea of grassroots was a source of legitimacy. Moreover, non-hybrid organizations were able to gain legitimacy as a community-based organization through their relationships with hybrids. While many community-based organizations draw on ‘grassroots’ legitimacy, funders may have a specific idea of ‘grassroots’ and favor a less confrontational style of community organizing, so we also discuss conditions and organizing constraints for legitimacy.
Conclusions and Implications: Hybrid nonprofits provide an example of integrating services with politics and a unique model for delivering services to vulnerable populations when the act of providing services is political (Hyde 1992; Gates 2014). For organizations that serve increasingly vulnerable and marginalized populations, it is critical to understand the implications of this hybrid model. Specifically, this project sheds light on how these organizations are influenced by legitimacy and category expectations, and the challenges that nonprofits face in delivering services and working for social change.