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Who’s in charge, in whose interest? The experience of ownership and accountability in the charity sector

Donald Nordberg (Executive Business Centre, Bournemouth University Business School, Bournemouth, UK)

Management Research Review

ISSN: 2040-8269

Article publication date: 26 September 2020

Issue publication date: 2 March 2021




This paper aims to examine the puzzles of “ownership”, the legal and psychological commitment of directors, through the experience of the work of boards at non-profit organisations.


An exploration of the literature on charity governance leads to a first-person reflection on the tensions in directing two common types of non-profit organisations.


In the UK as in other countries, charities are companies, bound by company law as well as regulatory constraints of the non-profit sector. This creates responsibilities of ownership without the material benefits. In contrast to corporate share ownership, a sense of psychological ownership may pre-date appointment as a director, facilitating stewardship behaviour, facilitating stewardship and accountability.

Research limitations/implications

This paper calls for expanded empirical work on boards of non-profit organisations, giving a focused agenda of aspects to highlight the differences between charities and the corporate sector.

Practical implications

The focus on psychological ownership can influence recruitment, induction and organisation of the work of charity boards, helping to ease resource deficits.

Social implications

With pressure mounting in deliver of public services, the charity sector needs to fill growing gaps in provision. The constitution of boards plays a valuable role.


By incorporating psychological ownership in a framework of accountability, this paper points towards both a research agenda and practical considerations for charity boards.



Nordberg, D. (2021), "Who’s in charge, in whose interest? The experience of ownership and accountability in the charity sector", Management Research Review, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp. 460-476.



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