This study examined how a nonprofit organization’s identity is co-constructed via communication among managers, staff, and those served by the nonprofit. The author defined organizational identity as organizational members’ communication about who they believe they are as an organization. Organizational identification examines how individuals draw meaning about who they are from organizations. In an endeavor to untangle the interconnections among organizational identity, organizational identification, and organizational culture, the author asked two central questions. The first question explores how directors, staff, and guests (those served by the nonprofit) communicate their organizational identification with the nonprofit. The second question asks how directors, staff, and guests co-construct the culture and identities of the nonprofit.
The author conducted a 3-year ethnography of a grassroots nonprofit serving transgender people, the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRC). TGRC addresses discrimination facing transgender people,, including not only gender identities but also race, age, disability, and sexuality. The author collected data using various methods, including 415 hours of participant observation, 64 hours of interviews, five creative focus groups, and document and artifact analysis. Key themes were identified and reported in the findings.
1) Participants identified with TGRC’s family organizational identity. Guests and staff communicate about TGRC as a home both in terms of physical space and symbolic place for sharing support and love.
2) TGRC’s identity as a “chosen family” is formed through participants’ communication. In the “choosing family” discourse, TGRC fostered their family organizational identity by drawing upon participants’ shared experiences of ostracization.
3) There are tensions related to TGRC’s efforts to sustain their family organizational identity. These tensions are caused by staff turnover, guest resistance to staff treatment of them as “children,” and staff’s communication about “disowning” a guest.
Implications for practice
Organizations should be aware that 1) organizational identity is co-constructed and sustained by those served in nonprofits, and that 2) participants can make, break, and rebuild identities in relationship to organizational culture.
Eger, E. K. (2019). Co-Constructing Organizational Identity and Culture With Those We Serve: An Ethnography of a Transgender Nonprofit Organization Communicating Family Identity and Identification. International Journal of Business Communication.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2329488419893738 (abstract free, purchase full article)