The training grounds of democracy? Social trends and nonprofit governance

Hough, Alan, McGregor-Lowndes, Myles, & Ryan, Christine M. (2005) The training grounds of democracy? Social trends and nonprofit governance. In Social Change in the 21st Century Conference, 28 October 2005, QUT Carseldine, Brisbane.


Some Australian nonprofit organisations report that it is difficult to recruit and engage directors (Woodward and Marshall 2004). Indeed, evidence from overseas is that these difficulties are increasing (Charity Commission for England and Wales 2005c; Putnam 2000). It has been argued that nonprofit boards of directors are a training ground for democracy, enabling citizens to learn and practice the important skills of advocacy, negotiation, compromise, strategising, and collective decision-making (Dalton and Lyons 2005; Reiser 2003; Skocpol 2003; Verba, Schlozman and Brady 1995). If so, then difficulties in recruiting and engaging directors have important implications for civil society. This paper explores the relevant data regarding director recruitment and engagement. It argues that there are two trends which might result in organisations experiencing such difficulties. First, there is a trend of increasing expectations of nonprofit boards. Legal and social expectations of boards and individual directors have substantially increased, which may make potential directors wary of taking on the responsibility of board service. Second, it is possible that social trends are reducing the supply of potential directors. For the US, Putnam (2000) has argued that declining civic engagement is due to: pressures of time and money, and in particular the special pressures of two-career families; urban sprawl and increased time spent commuting; increased time spent watching television and related entertainment; and the gradual passing of the World War II-generation, a generation which proved to be exceptionally civically-minded. This paper will explore the available Australian data – limited though it is - relevant to Putnam’s argument. We argue that the combination of these trends may result in adverse implications for individual organisations and for civil society as a whole. The paper explores some possible approaches to resolving these difficulties.

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ID Code: 3545
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: nonprofit organisations, boards of directors, governance, legal responsibilities, demographic trends
ISBN: 1741071089
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800) > Social Change (160805)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Social Change Research
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2005 (The authors)
Deposited On: 25 Aug 2006 00:00
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 13:14

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