Partial Completion as a Nonprofit Strategy

Forthcoming at Manufacturing & Service Operations Management

57 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2020 Last revised: 22 Nov 2021

See all articles by Can Zhang

Can Zhang

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Atalay Atasu


Karthik Ramachandran

Georgia Institute of Technology - Scheller College of Business

Date Written: June 29, 2021


Problem definition: Faced with the challenge of serving beneficiaries with heterogeneous needs and under budget constraints, some nonprofit organizations (NPOs) have adopted an innovative solution: providing partially complete products or services to beneficiaries. We seek to understand what drives an NPO's choice of partial completion as a design strategy and how it interacts with the level of variety offered in the NPO's product or service portfolio. Academic/practical relevance: Although partial product or service provision has been observed in the nonprofit operations, there is limited understanding of when it is an appropriate strategy -- a void that we seek to fill in this paper. Methodology: We synthesize the practices of two NPOs operating in different contexts to develop a stylized analytical model to study an NPO's product/service completion and variety choices. Results: We identify when and to what extent partial completion is optimal for an NPO. We also characterize a budget allocation structure for an NPO between product/service variety and completion. Our analysis sheds light on how beneficiary characteristics (e.g., heterogeneity of their needs, capability to self-complete) and NPO objectives (e.g., total-benefit maximization vs. fairness) affect the optimal levels of variety and completion. Managerial implications: We provide three key observations: (1) Partial completion is not a compromise solution to budget limitations but can be an optimal strategy for NPOs under a wide range of circumstances, even in the presence of ample resources. (2) Partial provision is particularly valuable when beneficiary needs are highly heterogeneous or beneficiaries have high self-completion capabilities. While a higher self-completion capability always implies a lower optimal completion level, it may lead to either a higher or a lower optimal variety level. (3) Although providing incomplete products may appear to burden beneficiaries, a lower completion level can be optimal when fairness is factored into an NPO's objective or when beneficiary capabilities are more heterogeneous.

Keywords: Nonprofit Operations; Incomplete Products; Product Variety; Fairness

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Can and Atasu, Atalay and Ramachandran, Karthik, Partial Completion as a Nonprofit Strategy (June 29, 2021). Forthcoming at Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, Available at SSRN: or

Can Zhang (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

100 Fuqua Dr
Durham, NC North Carolina 27708
United States

Atalay Atasu

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex

Karthik Ramachandran

Georgia Institute of Technology - Scheller College of Business ( email )

800 West Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30308
United States
(404) 894-8631 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics