Keywords: Non Profit Sector; Third Sector; Isomorphism; Organizational Change; Public-Non Profit Partnership.
In recent decades, the «discovery» and the considerable expansion of the Third sector were matched by analyses of its possible change and decline. The national and the international literature highlights the risks that the strong growth of non profit organizations has produced a parallel detrimental process - i.e. the weakening of their original social roots. This crisis touches on different aspects: a) the economic aspect, due to the decrease in public funding under the pressure of neo-liberal austerity policies; b) the identity aspect, which is linked to isomorphic processes that cause mission displacement and the loss of social legitimacy; c) the cultural aspect, with the encroachment of business models typical of for profit enterprises. This paper attempts to provide a picture of what is happening in Italy by using data that cannot be found in most of the studies on the Third sector. In detail, this study is based on the data collected by ISTAT in the 1999 and 2011 Censuses, and distinguishes three types of non profit institutions: those that were established after 1999, those that closed down after 1999 and those that were active both in 1999 and 2011. The relevant evidence sheds light on the different trajectories of organizational change in the Italian non profit sector over the recent years.