University of Tasmania

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Seeking a theoretical explanation of governance in not-for-profit sporting organisations

posted on 2023-05-26, 14:33 authored by Sonia Shimeld
The main aim of this thesis is to explore what members of volunteer sporting organisations understand as governance for their organisations and how and why they implement particular governance structures and to use the findings to begin the development of a theoretical explanation of governance in these organisations. Voluntary sporting organisations in Australia have undergone significant change in the emphasis placed on governance structures (historically the sole domain of volunteers). Demands placed on the sector to become more “accountable” by incorporating and adopting business practices has led to a need to employ professional staff such as general managers, and to a need to seek business skills in the volunteer board members. The changes required in governance and in the behaviour of the volunteers have resulted in governance structures that have received little research attention and therefore lack a cohesive theoretical explanation. In order to understand the “what, how and why”, an in-depth qualitative analysis using a grounded theory approach of four different Tasmanian voluntary sporting organisations was undertaken. Grounded theory is particularly useful in an area that lacks both theory development and incorporates terms such as “governance” and “effectiveness” derived from social constructs. It enables the data to be examined and theories to emerge from the data without trying to force the data to fit the literature. In this way unique features of the sector that were previously ignored or not given prominence may be identified. This was the case: the theme of volunteer management (labelled human resource management) should be recognised as a theme, not a sub of board operations and stewardship theory offered the strongest explanations for the findings. With the understanding that volunteers and their management was a central theme came the understanding of the high level of communication needed to maintain strong relationships linked to a high level of informality in governance processes. The pivotal role of a general manager (or board member) in this communication process through bridging an accountability gap by linking the volunteers (not-for-profit culture with utility derived from the sport) with the legal requirements and expectations (derived from the for-profit culture with a control and external reporting focus) enables the sporting organisation to remain autonomous. It is able to continue to fulfil its legal requirements and retain its incorporated status while being able to continue to run the sport at its particular level of the organisation without interference from higher levels of the organisation. This emerging theory explained how and why the sporting organisations interviewed in this research governed their sport, and identified that with the reliance on volunteers there should be explicit acknowledgement of their role within any theory development along with an understanding of the difference in the concept of accountability and what that entails. Volunteers and their strong stewardship role in governance had not been fully recognised in previous governance studies.







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