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The façade, the face, and the sympathies: opening the black box of symbolic capital as a source of philanthropic attractiveness

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While most of the studies on philanthropy have focused on corporate benefactors, limited attention has been given to beneficiaries and their characteristics. The literature thus falls short in explaining how the variance in the perceived value of those characteristics can condition the philanthropic attractiveness of recipients for donors. Drawing from Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital and qualitative insights drawn from our empirical context of philanthropy in the field of cultural production in the Russian Federation, we argue that the attractiveness of cultural organizations for potential corporate benefactors depends on a range of determinants, which we classify under the broad umbrellas of respectability and reputability. By using political orientation as a moderator, we show that while respectability is an indiscriminately attractive part of symbolic capital, reputability – associated with artistic celebrity and renown – can become a deterrent to potential donors when it augments the risk of jeopardizing their relationship with the government. We also demonstrate that a board of trustees – which signals openness to stakeholder involvement – diminishes the returns of reputability for potential donors. We test our hypotheses using original and representative longitudinal data on 449 Russian theaters (2004–2011). Taking an indirect recursive approach to estimate models with high-dimensional fixed effects, we find strong support for our hypotheses across a variety of econometric specifications. Our research offers a unique focus on the beneficiary side of the beneficiary-benefactor relationship, which has both theoretical and practical implications for the literatures on corporate philanthropy, and cultural industries.



35 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services, 3507 Strategy, Management and Organisational Behaviour

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Organization Science

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Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences