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The Governance of Not-for-Profit Firms


  • Edward L. Glaeser


Many factors including incentive-pay, powerful shareholders, and takeover threats push for-profits managers towards maximizing shareholder value. One of the most striking factors about non-profit firms is that they have no comparable governance institutions, and the only check on managers are boards that are themselves rarely responsible to anyone outside the firm. This essay discusses the implications of these weak governance institutions on non-profit behavior. A primary implication is that non-profits will often evolve into organizations that resemble workers’ cooperatives. The primary check on this tendency is the need of the organizations to compete in outside markets. After presenting a model of non-profit behavior, I look at four different sectors (hospitals, museums, universities and the church). All display significant signs of capture by elite workers, but all still perform their basic missions reasonably, probably because of market competition.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser, 2002. "The Governance of Not-for-Profit Firms," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1954, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1954

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McCormick, Robert E & Meiners, Roger E, 1988. "University Governance: A Property Rights Perspective," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 423-442, October.
    2. Mark G. Duggan, 2000. "Hospital Ownership and Public Medical Spending," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1343-1373.
    3. David M. Cutler & Jill R. Horwitz, 1998. "Converting Hospitals from Not-for-profit to For-profit Status," NBER Working Papers 6672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Auriol, Emmanuelle & Brilon, Stefanie, 2014. "Anti-social behavior in profit and nonprofit organizations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 149-161.
    2. Sonja Grönblom & Johan Willner, 2013. "Marketization and alienation in academic activity," Chapters,in: Leadership and Cooperation in Academia, chapter 7, pages 88-106 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Odile Paulus & Christophe Lejeune, 2013. "What do board members in art organizations do? A grounded theory approach," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 17(4), pages 963-988, November.
    4. Jeffrey P. Ballou, 2008. "Do Nonprofit And Government Nursing Homes Enter Unprofitable Markets?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 46(2), pages 241-260, April.
    5. Gaynor, Martin & Town, Robert J., 2011. "Competition in Health Care Markets," Handbook of Health Economics, Elsevier.
    6. Franck Bailly & Karine Chapelle, 2013. "The Training of Jobseekers by Non-profit Organizations: An Analysis Based on Data from the Upper Normandy Region of France," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 645-682, November.
    7. Rodolfo Apreda, 2003. "THE SEMANTICS OF GOVERNANCE. (The common thread running through corporate, public, and global governance.)," CEMA Working Papers: Serie Documentos de Trabajo. 245, Universidad del CEMA.
    8. Rodolfo Apreda, 2002. "Incremental cash flows, information sets and conflicts of interest," CEMA Working Papers: Serie Documentos de Trabajo. 220, Universidad del CEMA.
    9. Zahra, Shaker A. & Gedajlovic, Eric & Neubaum, Donald O. & Shulman, Joel M., 2009. "A typology of social entrepreneurs: Motives, search processes and ethical challenges," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 24(5), pages 519-532, September.
    10. Alexander Whalley & Justin Hicks, 2014. "Spending Wisely? How Resources Affect Knowledge Production In Universities," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 52(1), pages 35-55, January.

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