Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Schatteman, Alicia

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Nonprofit organizations; Knowledge management; Absorptive capacity (Economics)


This dissertation explores how nonprofit organizations gather and leverage new information in order to build the capacity of their agencies. A theoretical framework from literature across several disciplines spanning organization learning, knowledge management, and nonprofit capacity building is built. The majority of capacity building literature focuses on programmatic, organizational, or adaptive capacities. It is here that this dissertation adds new insight by arguing that a fourth capacity, absorptive capacity, is critical to developing a nonprofit organization. Absorptive capacity is a construct developed by Cohen and Levinthal (1989; 1990) and Zahra and George (2002) to explain how an organization acquires, assimilates, transforms, and exploits new information. This project utilized a comparative case study to test the research question, to what extent do nonprofit organizations exhibit absorptive capacity? Four broad theoretical propositions explored how the size of the organization, its leadership, strategic outlook, and membership in national bodies or participation in accrediting processes influence absorptive capacity. The data analysis indicates absorptive capacity is evident in the nonprofit setting and is influenced by both internal and external factors such as size, leadership, strategic outlook, members, and accreditation standards. This research contributes to emerging nonprofit knowledge management literature and extends existing nonprofit capacity building scholarship, and provides insight for nonprofit practitioners contemplating capacity building initiatives and navigating everyday pressures of nonprofit management. It provides a foundation for future research to further develop exactly how information absorption influences capacity building in the nonprofit setting.


Advisors: Alicia M. Schatteman.||Committee members: Kerry O. Ferris; Barton M. Sharp; Kurt Thurmaier.||Includes bibliographical references.||Includes illustrations.


ix, 237 pages




Northern Illinois University

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