Establishing the Link between Nonprofit Governance and Democracy

Relatively little attention has been paid to democratic and critical approaches that look into the embedded power dynamics that influence who is allowed access to organizational decision making: whose voices get heard and whose get left out. Where practice is concerned, we see a “democratic deficit” in board governance—that is, an absence of democratic structures and processes.1 Many nonprofit boards fall short of being broadly representative of the public. They tend to be limited to upper-income, professional employers and managerial persons, while the community has little or no representation. In addition, while some nonprofit boards do little beyond rubber-stamping the actions of their executive staff, others are prey to the “iron law of oligarchy,” where decision-making power is concentrated in a small number of non-elected board members and the executive director.

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