Legitimacy, strategy, and resources in the survival of community-based organizations

Edward T. Walker, John D. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Organizations active in mobilizing low-and moderate-income communities make considerable efforts to combat inequalities and build voice for citizens, despite inherent challenges of obtaining resources, maintaining member interest, and retaining staff. How, then, do such groups remain viable-even thriving-organizations? Building upon research on organizational theory and social movements, we examine patterns of survival among a sample of community-based organizations (CBOs) between 1990 and 2004, thus providing the frst systematic study of their long-term mortality processes. More specifcally, we test how organizations' sociopolitical legitimacy and resources (and strategies for cultivating both) infuence survival, fnding that the legitimacy of organizations in low-income areas is a double-edged sword, as embeddedness in resource-deprived local environments confers both benefts and disadvantages. In particular, we fnd the strongest support for the notion that, beyond the considerable effects of externally obtained resources, CBOs also beneft considerably by engaging in even a small amount of grassroots fundraising. Further, although we fnd signifcant effects of extra-local legitimacy in the baseline models-through organizations' affliation with national or regional organizing networks-we fnd evidence in additional analyses that the survival benefts of network affliation are largely mediated by resources. We also fnd sizable but marginally signifcant effects of local legitimacy, and signifcant positive effects of organizational age and urban location. Overall, our fndings suggest that although cultivating resources is the surest path to survival, organizations that build their legitimacy will be in a better position to compensate for structural resource defcits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-340
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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