Utilitarian Organizations: Examples & Definition (Sociology)

utilitarian organization examples features and definition

Utilitarian organizations refer to formal organizations that are formed to pursue a specific purpose or goal (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

They are designed to promote the common good and to provide benefits to society as a whole, rather than to serve the interests of a particular group or individual.

These organizations are characterized by three main features which are instrumentality, rationality, and hierarchy (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Examples of utilitarian organizations include charities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies that are responsible for providing public services such as education, healthcare, or infrastructure.

Definition of Utilitarian Organizations

Utilitarian organizations are institutions and organizations designed to provide a specific service or benefit to its members or society as a whole.

They are often structured around a set of rules or principles that are intended to maximize the benefits that they provide.

The concept of utilitarian organizations is based on the principle of utilitarianism, which holds that the best course of action is the one that maximizes overall well-being. Utilitarian organizations are therefore designed to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people, rather than to serve the interests of an individual.

According to Etzioni (1965; 1975), utilitarian organizations are characterized by three main features:

  • Instrumentality: The primary goal of utilitarian organizations is to achieve specific outcomes or objectives. Members of the organization are expected to be instrumental in achieving these goals, rather than pursuing their own individual goals.
  • Rationality: Utilitarian organizations are based on rational decision-making, in which the most efficient and effective means are chosen to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Hierarchy: Utilitarian organizations are often structured in a hierarchical manner, with clear lines of authority and responsibility. Decision-making is centralized, and members are expected to follow orders and directives from higher-ups (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Utilitarian Organization Examples

Here are 10 examples of utilitarian organizations:

  • The United Nations: The UN is an international organization that works to promote peace, security, and human rights around the world.
  • Doctors Without Borders: This non-profit organization provides medical assistance to people in crisis situations, such as those affected by conflict, natural disasters, and epidemics.
  • The Red Cross: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief, and other services to people in need.
  • Public schools: These educational institutions are designed to provide access to education to all members of society, regardless of their background or financial situation.
  • National Parks Service: This government agency is responsible for managing and preserving national parks and other natural resources for the benefit of the public.
  • Habitat for Humanity: This non-profit organization builds affordable housing for low-income families around the world.
  • The World Health Organization: This international agency works to improve public health and reduce the spread of disease through research, policy development, and other initiatives.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: This government agency is responsible for enforcing environmental laws and regulations to protect the environment and public health.
  • Amnesty International: This human rights organization works to promote and protect human rights around the world.
  • American Civil Liberties Union: This non-profit organization works to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Case Studies

1. Amnesty International

Amnesty International is a global human rights organization that works to promote and protect the rights of individuals and communities around the world.

The organization was founded in 1961 and has since grown to become one of the largest and most influential human rights groups in the world, with over 10 million supporters in more than 150 countries (Amnesty International, 2021).

Amnesty International’s mission is to investigate and expose human rights abuses, promote respect for international law and standards, and advocate for the rights of all people to live in dignity, free from violence, oppression, and discrimination.

The organization focuses on a wide range of human rights issues, including torture, arbitrary detention, freedom of expression, and the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers.

2. The World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a global conservation organization that works to protect endangered species, preserve natural habitats, and promote sustainable development around the world.

The organization was founded in 1961 and operates in over 100 countries, with a network of offices, staff, and partners that work to advance its mission (WWF, n.d.).

The WWF’s mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

The WWF focuses on priority areas such as forests, oceans, freshwater, and wildlife, and seeks to address the major drivers of environmental degradation, such as climate change, deforestation, and overfishing.

3. The International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees, displaced persons, and other disadvantaged groups around the world.

The organization was founded in 1933 and has since become a leading humanitarian organization, providing life-saving assistance to people affected by conflict, disaster, and other crises (International Rescue Committee, n.d.).

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.

The organization works to achieve this mission by providing emergency relief, conducting long-term development projects, and advocating for policy changes that promote the rights of disadvantaged populations.

4. Oxfam International

Oxfam is a global non-profit organization that works to fight poverty, inequality, and injustice around the world.

Oxfam’s mission is to create a world without poverty, where people can live in dignity and enjoy their basic human rights (Oxfam International, n.d.).

The organization works to achieve this mission through a range of initiatives, including humanitarian response, long-term development projects, and advocacy for policy changes that promote social justice and reduce inequality.

The organization focuses on a range of issues, including women’s rights, food security, climate change, and economic inequality. Oxfam also works to promote the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, such as refugees, migrants, and those affected by conflict or political instability.

5. The American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem.

The organization works to achieve this mission through a range of initiatives, including funding research, providing patient support and education, and advocating for policy changes that promote cancer prevention and early detection (American Cancer Society, n.d.).

The ACS’s work involves a wide range of activities, including providing information and resources for cancer patients and their families, funding research into the causes and treatment of cancer, and advocating for policies and practices that promote cancer prevention and early detection.

Utilitarian Organizations vs Normative Organizations

Utilitarian organizations and normative organizations are two different types of formal organizations in sociology.

The key difference between these two types is their primary motivation:

  • Utilitarian organizations are driven by the desire to achieve a specific goal
  • Normative organizations are driven by a shared sense of purpose or values

While both types of organizations can be successful in their own way, they often have different priorities, values, and cultures that can influence their decision-making processes and overall functioning.

Utilitarian Organizations vs Coercive Organizations

Utilitarian organizations and coercive organizations are two different types of organizations that have distinct characteristics and approaches to achieving their goals.

  • Utilitarian organizations, as mentioned earlier, are primarily focused on achieving a specific goal or objective in a cost-efficient manner.
  • Coercive organizations, on the other hand, rely on the use of authority, power, and control to achieve their goals. These organizations often have strict rules and regulations that employees must follow, and they are often structured around a hierarchical power structure.

In other words, utilitarian organizations tend to prioritize efficiency and productivity, while coercive organizations prioritize obedience and control.


Utilitarian organizations are a type of formal organization that is focused on achieving specific goals in an efficient and productive manner. They are typically characterized by a clear hierarchy, a division of labor, and a focus on measurable outcomes and results. They often prioritize the well-being of the society instead of an individual.

The main principles of utilitarian organizations are instrumentality, rationality, and hierarchy. Examples to utilitarian organizations include non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International.


American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Who We Are. American Cancer Society. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.cancer.org/about-us/who-we-are.html

Amnesty International. (2021). Who We Are. Amnesty International. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/who-we-are/

Etzioni, A. (1965). Dual leadership in complex organizations. American sociological review, 688-698.

Etzioni, A. (1975). Comparative analysis of complex organizations. Simon and Schuster.

International Rescue Committee. (n.d.). Who We Are. International Rescue Committee. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.rescue.org/who-we-are

Oxfam International. (n.d.). About us. Oxfam International. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.oxfam.org/en/what-we-do/about

WWF. (n.d.). About Us. WWF. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/about

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Sanam Vaghefi (BSc, MA) is a Sociologist, educator and PhD Candidate. She has several years of experience at the University of Victoria as a teaching assistant and instructor. Her research on sociology of migration and mental health has won essay awards from the Canadian Sociological Association and the IRCC. Currently, she is am focused on supporting students online under her academic coaching and tutoring business Lingua Academic Coaching OU.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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