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The elephant in the dark: the social origins of research in nonprofit financial management

Zakhar Berkovich (Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, New York, USA)
Elizabeth A.M. Searing (Public and Nonprofit Management, The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas, USA)

Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management

ISSN: 1096-3367

Article publication date: 31 May 2021

Issue publication date: 15 October 2021




The purpose of this paper is twofold. The first is to map the most influential literature in nonprofit finance and financial management. The second is to understand why the literature has evolved the way it has, including isolated silos developing in certain disciplines.


The review includes articles assembled from three sources: a core list, an expert list and journal archive searches on phrases that emerged. Using social origins theory as a guide, we coded 119 articles for traits such as root discipline, methodology and author characteristics.


Research tends to stay confined within the doctoral discipline of the author, who publishes in journals valued by their discipline. This has caused limited cross-referencing across disciplines, and it has allowed different understandings and judgments of the same phenomenon to exist in different fields. Data availability drives much of the research agenda, but author teams of mixed disciplines are promising.


Unlike a traditional literature review, this study identifies factors that have had a formative influence on the development of the diverse field of nonprofit finance and financial management. This diversity has resulted in a fractured field held in silos with few indigenous developments. Using social origins theory as a guide, this study provides an overview of the most consequential literature through the analysis of authors and institutional characteristics. This approach provides an evolutionary perspective and illustrates how this disciplinary adherence has created a research topography that limits progress for both scholars and practitioners.



The authors would like to thank Gang Chen, Erika Martin, David Matkin, Lucy Sorensen, Edmund Stazyk, Gabi Schwartz and the members of the nonprofit finance and financial management section of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) for their insights and contributions.

Funding disclosure: We did not receive external funding for this study.


Berkovich, Z. and Searing, E.A.M. (2021), "The elephant in the dark: the social origins of research in nonprofit financial management", Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 575-598.



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