Governance, Boards, and Internal Structures of Associations

  • Stijn Van Puyvelde
  • Christopher Cornforth
  • Christophe Dansac
  • GUO Chao
  • Alan Hough
  • David H. Smith


This chapter provides an overview of the existing research on board governance and internal structures in nonprofit membership associations (cf. Smith 2015a, 2015b). It reviews the various theories that have been proposed to model the governance of membership associations, including agency theory, stewardship theory, stakeholder theory, and resource dependence theory. We distinguish between larger associations with some paid staff and smaller, all-volunteer (grassroots) associations. Empirical research on membership incentives, member participation in governance, and democratic governance structures is discussed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the most important theoretical and practical implications for governing nonprofit membership associations.


Civil Society International Criminal Court Global Governance Global Civil Society Intergovernmental Organization 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abrahamsson, Bengt. 1977. Bureaucracy or Participation: The Logic of Organization. Beverly Hills and London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  2. Abzug, Rikki, and Joseph Galaskiewicz. 2001. “Nonprofit Boards: Crucibles of Expertise or Symbols of Local Identities?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 30(1):51–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anheier, Helmut K. 2005. Nonprofit Organizations: Theory, Management, Policy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Austin, James, Roberto Gutierrez, Enrique Ogliastri, and Ezequiel Reficco. 2006. Effective Management of Social Enterprises: Lessons from Business and Civil Society Organizations in Ibero-America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Barakso, Maryann, and Brian F. Schaffner. 2008. “Exit, Voice, and Interest Group Governance.” American Politics Research 36(2):186–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berry, Jeffrey M. 1994. “An Agenda for Research on Interest Groups.” Pp. 21–28 in Representing Interests & Interest Group Representation, edited by W. Crotty, M. A. Schwartz, and J. C. Green. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  7. Billis, David. ed. 2010. Hybrid Organizations and the Third Sector: Challenges for Practice, Theory and Policy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Birchall, Johnston, and Richard A. Simmons. 2004. “What Motivates Members to Participate in Co-operative and Mutual Businesses: A Theoretical Model and Some Findings.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 75(3):465–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bradshaw, Patricia, and Madeline Toubiana. 2014. “The Dynamics of Nested Governance: A Systems Perspective.” Pp. 231–248 in Nonprofit Governance: Innovative Perspectives and Approaches, edited by C. Cornforth and W. Brown. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Brown, William A. 2005. “Exploring the Association Between Board and Organizational Performance in Nonprofit Organizations.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 15(3):317–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carmin, JoAnn, and Petr Jehlicka. 2005. “By the Masses or for the Masses? The Transformation of Voluntary Action in the Czech Union for Nature Protection.” Voluntas 16(4):397–416,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Charity Commission. 2004. Membership Charities (RS7). London: Charity Commission.Google Scholar
  13. Chen, Leon. 2004. “Membership Incentives: Factors Affecting Individuals’ Decisions About Participation in Athletics-Related Professional Associations.” Journal of Sport Management 18:111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clark, Peter B., and James Q. Wilson. 1961. “Incentive Systems: A Theory of Organization.” Administrative Science Quarterly 6:129–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cornforth, Chris. 2003. The Governance of Public and Non-Profit Organizations. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cornforth, Chris. 2004. “The Governance of Cooperatives and Mutual Associations: A Paradox Perspective.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 75(1):11–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cornforth, Chris. 2012. “Nonprofit Governance Research: Limitations of the Focus on Boards and Suggestions for New Directions.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 41(6):1116–1135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dalton, Russell J. 1994. The Green Rainbow: Environmental Groups in Western Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dart, Ray, Pat Bradshaw, Vic Murray, and Jacob Wolpin. 1996. “Boards of Directors in Nonprofit Organizations Do They Follow a Life-Cycle Model?” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 6(4):367–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davis, James H., F. David Schoorman, and Lex Donaldson. 1997. “Toward a Stewardship Theory of Management.” Academy of Management Review 22(1):20–47.Google Scholar
  21. DiMaggio, Paul J., and Walter W. Powell. 1983. “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields.” American Sociological Review 48(2):147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Donaldson, Thomas, and Lee E. Preston. 1995. “The Stakeholder Theory of the Corporation: Concepts, Evidence, and Implications.” Academy of Management Review 20(1):65–91.Google Scholar
  23. Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. 1989. “Agency Theory: An Assessment and Review.” Academy of Management Review 14(1):57–74.Google Scholar
  24. Farmer, Steven M., and Donald B. Fedor. 1999. “Volunteer Participation and Withdrawal: A Psychological Contract Perspective on the Role of Expectations and Organizational Support.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 9(4):349–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fernandez, Juan J. 2008. “Causes of Dissolution Among Spanish Nonprofit Associations.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 37(1):113–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fishman, James J. 2007. The Faithless Fiduciary and the Quest for Charitable Accountability 1200–2005. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.Google Scholar
  27. Forbes, Daniel P., and Frances J. Milliken. 1999. “Cognition and Corporate Governance: Understanding Boards of Directors as Strategic Decision-Making Groups.” Academy of Management Review 24(3):489–505.Google Scholar
  28. Friedmann Robert R., Paul Florin, Abraham Wandersman, and Ron Meier. 1988. “Local Action on Behalf of Local Collectives in the U.S. and Israel: How Different Are Leaders from Members in Voluntary Associations?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 17:36–54.Google Scholar
  29. Gazley, Beth, Won K. Chang, and Lisa B. Bingham. 2010. “Board Diversity, Stakeholder Representation, and Collaborative Performance in Community Mediation Centers.” Public Administration Review 70(4):610–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gray, Paul S. 1976. “Voluntary Organizations in Ghana.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 5:221–230.Google Scholar
  31. Greenwood, Royston, and Christopher R. Hinings. 1996. “Understanding Radical Organizational Change: Bringing Together the Old and the New Institutionalism.” Academy of Management Review 21(4):1022–1054.Google Scholar
  32. Guo, Chao, Barbara A. Metelsky, and Patricia Bradshaw. 2014. “Out of the Shadows: Nonprofit Governance Research from Democratic and Critical Perspectives.” Pp. 47–67 in Nonprofit Governance: Innovative Perspectives and Approaches, edited by C. J. Cornforth and W. A. Brown. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Guo, Chao, and Juliet A. Musso. 2007. “Representation in Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations: A Conceptual Framework.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 36(2):308–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Guo, Chao, Zhibin Zhang, and D. Cai. 2009. “Exploring the Issue of Representation in Chinese Nonprofit Organizations.” Journal of Public Administration [Chinese] 2(3):171–191.Google Scholar
  35. Hough, Alan, Myles McGregor-Lowndes, and C. M. Ryan. 2005. “Theorizing About Board Governance of Nonprofit Organizations: Surveying the Landscape.” Paper Presented at the Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. November 17–19.Google Scholar
  36. Hoye, Russell. 2004. “Leader-Member Exchanges and Board Performance of Voluntary Sport Organizations.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 15(1):55–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hoye, Russell. 2006. “Leadership Within Australian Voluntary Sport Organization Boards.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 16(3):297–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hoye, Russell, and Christopher Auld. 2001. “Measuring Board Performance in Nonprofit Sports Organisations.” Australian Journal on Volunteering 6(2):108–116.Google Scholar
  39. Hoye, Russell, and Graham Cuskelly. 2004. “Board Member Selection, Orientation and Evaluation: Implications for Board Performance in Member-Benefit Voluntary Sport Organisations.” Third Sector Review 10(1):77–100.Google Scholar
  40. Hoye, Russell, and Sue Inglis. 2003. “Governance of Nonprofit Leisure Organizations.” Loisir et Société/Society and Leisure 26(2):369–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hung, Humphry. 1998. “A Typology of the Theories of the Roles of Governing Boards.” Corporate Governance – An International Review 6(2):101–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Iecovich, Esther. 2005. “The Profile of Board Membership in Israeli Voluntary Organizations.” Voluntas 16(2):161–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jensen Michael C., and William H. Meckling. 1976. “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure.” Journal of Financial Economics 3:305–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jonsson, Gun, and Ingrid Zakrisson. 2005. “Organizational Dilemmas in Voluntary Associations.” International Journal of Public Administration 28(9–10):849–856.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kerri, James N. 1974. “Anthropological Studies of Voluntary Associations & Voluntary Action: A Review.” Journal of Voluntary Action Research 3(1):10–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Knoke, David. 1986. “Associations and Interest Groups.” Annual Review of Sociology 12:1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Knoke, David. 1988. “Incentives in Collective Action Organization.” American Sociological Review 53(4):311–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Knoke, David. 1990. Organizing for Collective Action: The Political Economies of Associations. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  49. Kreutzer, Karin. 2009. “Nonprofit Governance During Organizational Transition in Voluntary Associations.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 20(1):117–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kreutzer, Karin., and Claus Jacobs. 2011. “Balancing Control and Coaching in CSO Governance. A Paradox Perspective on Board Behavior.” Voluntas 22:613–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Liao-Troth,Matthew A. 2005. “Are They Here for the Long Haul? The Effects of Functional Motives and Personality Factors on the Psychological Contract of Volunteers.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 34(4):510–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mace, Myles L. 1971. Directors: Myths and Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Markham, William T., Jana Walters, and Charles M. Bonjean. 2001. “Leadership in Voluntary Associations: The Case of the International Association of Women.” Voluntas 12:103–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mathiasen, Karl. 1990. Board Passages: Three Key Stages in a Nonprofit Board’s Life Cycle (p. 16). Washington, DC: National Center for Nonprofit Boards. Retrieved from Scholar
  55. Meyer, John P., and Natalie J. Allen. 1991. “A Three-Component Model Conceptualization of Organizational Commitment.” Human Resource Management Review 1:61–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Michels, Robert. 1949. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of – Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  57. Miller-Millesen, Judith L. 2003. “Understanding the Behavior of Nonprofit Boards of Directors: A Theory-Based Approach.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 32(4):521–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mitchell, Ronald K., Bradley R. Agle, and Donna J. Wood. 1997. “Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts.” Academy of Management Review 22(4):853–886.Google Scholar
  59. Nichols, Geoff, and Ellen Ojala. 2009. “Understanding the Management of Sports Events Volunteers Through Psychological Contract Theory.” Voluntas 20:369–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pfeffer, Jeffrey, and Gerald R. Salancik. 1978. The External Control of Organizations: A Resource Dependence Perspective. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  61. Prouteau, Lionel, and Muriel Tabaries. 2010. “The Unpaid Leaders of French Voluntary Associations.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 81(1):131–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Reynolds, Bruce J. 2000. “The One Member-One Vote Rule in Cooperatives.” Journal of Cooperatives 15:47–62.Google Scholar
  63. Ridder, Paul. 1979. “Processes of Power Formation in Self-Administered (Voluntary) Associations.” Kölner Zeitschrift fur Sozilogie und Sozialpsychlogie 31(2):256–266.Google Scholar
  64. Rose, Arnold. 1962. “Alienation and Participation: A Comparison of Group Leaders and the ‘Mass’.” American Sociological Review 27(6):834–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Ross, Jack C. 1976. “Anthropological Studies of Voluntary Associations and Voluntary Action: A Reassessment.” Journal of Voluntary Action Research 5(1):27–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rousseau, Denise M. 1990. “New hire Perceptions of Their Own and Their Employer’s Obligations: A Study of Psychological Contracts.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 11:389–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smith, David H. 2000. Grassroots Associations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Smith, David H. 2010a. “Grassroots Associations.” Pp. 804–810 in International Encyclopedia of Civil Society, edited by H. K. Anheier, S. Toepler, and R. List. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  69. Smith, David H. 2010b. “Membership and Membership Associations.” Pp. 982–990 in International Encyclopedia of Civil Society, edited by H. K. Anheier, S. Toepler, and R. List. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  70. Smith, David H. 2014. “The Current State of Civil Society and Volunteering in theWorld, the USA, and China.” China Nonprofit Review (English edition), 6(1):137–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smith, David H. 2015a. “Voluntary Associations, Sociology of.” Pp. 252–260 in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol. 25., edited by J. D. Wright, Editor-in-Chief. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Smith, David H. 2015b. “Voluntary Organizations.” Pp. 261–267 in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol. 25., edited by J. D. Wright, Editor-in-Chief. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Spear, Roger. 2004. “Governance in Democratic Member-Based Organizations.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 75:11–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Suchman, Mark C. 1995. “Managing Legitimacy: Strategic and Institutional Approaches.” Academy of Management Review 20(3):571–610.Google Scholar
  75. Taylor, Marilyn, and John Lansley. 2000. “Relating the Central and the Local: Options for Organizational Structure.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 10(4):421–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tschirhart, Mary. 2006. “Nonprofit Membership Associations.” Pp. 523–541 in The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, 2nd edition, edited byW.W. Powell and R. Steinberg. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Tschirhart, Mary, and Jonathan L. Johnson. 1998. “Infidels at the Gate and Rebels in the Ranks: Protection from Takeovers in Nonprofit Membership Organizations.” Paper Presented at the Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. November 5–7.Google Scholar
  78. Van Puyvelde, Stijn, Gert Huybrechts, Jurgen Willems, Marc Jegers, Jemima Bidee, Tim Vantilborgh, and Roland Pepermans. 2015. “Optimal Membership Size and the Governance of Grassroots Associations.” Social Science Journal 52(2):141–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Van Puyvelde, Stijn, Ralf Caers, Cind Du Bois, and Marc Jegers. 2012. “The Governance of Nonprofit Organizations: Integrating Agency Theory with Stakeholder and Stewardship Theories.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 41(3):431–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vantilborgh, Tim, Jemima Bidee, Roland Pepermans, Jurgen Willems, Gert Huybrechts, and Marc Jegers. 2011. “A New Deal for NPO Governance and Management: Implications for Volunteers Using Psychological Contract Theory.” Voluntas 22:639–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Von Schnurbein, Georg. 2009. “Patterns of Governance Structures in Trade Associations and Unions.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 20(1):97–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  83. Wood, Miriam M. 1992. “Is Governing Board Behavior Cyclical?” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 3(2):139–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Young Dennis, Neil Bania, and Darlyne Bailey. 1996. “Structure and Accountability, a Study of National Nonprofit Associations.” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 6(4):347–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stijn Van Puyvelde
    • 1
  • Christopher Cornforth
    • 2
  • Christophe Dansac
    • 3
  • GUO Chao
    • 4
  • Alan Hough
    • 5
  • David H. Smith
    • 6
  1. 1.Belgium
  2. 2.UK
  3. 3.France
  4. 4.China
  5. 5.Australia
  6. 6.USA

Personalised recommendations