How nonprofit boards monitor, judge and influence organisational performance

Hough, Alan (2009) How nonprofit boards monitor, judge and influence organisational performance. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The law and popular opinion expect boards of directors will actively monitor their organisations. Further, public opinion is that boards should have a positive impact on organisational performance. However, the processes of board monitoring and judgment are poorly understood, and board influence on organisational performance needs to be better understood. This thesis responds to the repeated calls to open the ‘black box’ linking board practices and organisational performance by investigating the processual behaviours of boards. The work of four boards1 of micro and small-sized nonprofit organisations were studied for periods of at least one year, using a processual research approach, drawing on observations of board meetings, interviews with directors, and the documents of the boards. The research shows that director turnover, the difficulty recruiting and engaging directors, and the administration of reporting, had strong impacts upon board monitoring, judging and/or influence. In addition, board monitoring of organisational performance was adversely affected by directors’ limited awareness of their legal responsibilities and directors’ limited financial literacy. Directors on average found all sources of information about their organisation’s work useful. Board judgments about the financial aspects of organisational performance were regulated by the routines of financial reporting. However, there were no comparable routines facilitating judgments about non-financial performance, and such judgments tended to be limited to specific aspects of performance and were ad hoc, largely in response to new information or the repackaging of existing information in a new form. The thesis argues that Weick’s theory of sensemaking offers insight into the way boards went about the task of understanding organisational performance. Board influence on organisational performance was demonstrated in the areas of: compliance; instrumental influence through service and through discussion and decision-making; and by symbolic, legitimating and protective means. The degree of instrumental influence achieved by boards depended on director competency, access to networks of influence, and understandings of board roles, and by the agency demonstrated by directors. The thesis concludes that there is a crowding out effect whereby CEO competence and capability limits board influence. The thesis also suggests that there is a second ‘agency problem’, a problem of director volition. The research potentially has profound implications for the work of nonprofit boards. Rather than purporting to establish a general theory of board governance, the thesis embraces calls to build situation-specific mini-theories about board behaviour.

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ID Code: 36376
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McGregor-Lowndes, Myles & Ryan, Christine
Additional Information: Presented to the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, and the School of Accountancy, Queensland University of Technology.
Keywords: Nonprofit organizations Australia Management, Nonprofit organizations Australia Administration, Organizational effectiveness, Directors of corporations, nonprofit organisations, boards, governance, monitoring, judgment, influence, organisational effectiveness, organisational performance, sensemaking, thesis, doctoral
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Alan Hough
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 13:05
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:58

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