Can corporate–nonprofit partnerships buffer socially irresponsible corporations from stakeholder backlash?

Rong Wang, Amy O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study aims to investigate the complex relationship between corporate–nonprofit partnership characteristics (type, duration and source of communication); attitude toward the corporation (pretest and posttest); partnership evaluation; and stakeholders' willingness to engage in anti-corporate behaviors when a corporation behaves irresponsibly and negatively impacts an individual's community. The three partnership characteristics are evaluated, individually and collectively, to discern which, if any, characteristics protect or buffer a corporation from stakeholders' engagement in negative communication behaviors when controlling for how stakeholders evaluate the partnership and the corporation. Design/methodology/approach: The study used an online experiment with 970 participants who were randomly assigned to a 2 × 2 × 3 × 2 factorial design. Findings: Contrary to some previous research findings, this study found that individuals who evaluate either the corporation or the partnership favorably are more likely to engage in anti-corporate behaviors. Neither the partnership type nor communication source provides a buffering effect. The only partnership characteristic to generate a buffering effect was duration and that only occurred if the partnership lasted three years. This study concludes that when corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) co-occur, an amplification rather than mollifies stakeholders' willingness to enact anti-corporate communication behaviors in instances of CSI. Originality/value: This study advances scholarly understanding of CSR and CSI as in-tandem concepts and practices. The findings challenge previous claims that corporate–nonprofit partnerships can buffer corporations from negative events. In contrast, we find that partnerships are limited in their ability to reduce stakeholders' willingness to engage in anti-corporate behaviors in instances of CSR. It also answers calls that CSR research should use non-fictitious companies to increase ecological validity of the study design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)674-689
Number of pages16
JournalCorporate Communications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 20 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Anti-corporate behaviors
  • Corporate social irresponsibility
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Corporate–nonprofit partnerships


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