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06-04-2020 | Original Paper | Issue 4/2021

Journal of Business Ethics 4/2021

The Moral Disillusionment Model of Organizational Transgressions: Ethical Transgressions Trigger More Negative Reactions from Consumers When Committed by Nonprofits

Journal:
Journal of Business Ethics > Issue 4/2021
Authors:
Matthew J. Hornsey, Cassandra M. Chapman, Heidi Mangan, Stephen La Macchia, Nicole Gillespie
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10551-020-04492-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Abstract

We tested whether the impact of an organizational transgression on consumer sentiment differs depending on whether the organization is a nonprofit. Competing hypotheses were tested: (1) that people expect higher ethical standards from a nonprofit than a commercial organization, and so having this expectation violated generates a harsher response (the moral disillusionment hypothesis) and (2) that a nonprofit’s reputation as a moral entity buffers it against the negative consequences of transgressions (the moral insurance hypothesis). In three experiments (collective N = 1372) participants were told that an organization had engaged in fraud (Study 1), exploitation of women (Study 2), or unethical labor practices (Study 3). Consistent with the moral disillusionment hypothesis, decreases in consumer trust post-transgression were greater when the organization was described as nonprofit (compared to a commercial entity), an effect that was mediated by expectancy violations. This drop in trust then flowed through to consumer intentions (Study 1) and consumer word of mouth intentions (Studies 2 and 3). No support was found for the moral insurance hypothesis. Results confirm that nonprofits are penalized more harshly than commercial organizations when they breach consumer trust.

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