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Empirical Research on Nonprofit Boards: Main Features and Differences from the Literature on Corporate and Public Boards

Mechanisms, Roles and Consequences of Governance: Emerging Issues

ISBN: 978-1-78350-705-4, eISBN: 978-1-78350-706-1

Publication date: 19 July 2014



Recent literature on nonprofit boards of directors has extensively investigated the composition, role, responsibilities, and characteristics of boards. Given the growing number of studies on nonprofit boards, which added new impulse to the debate on the role and characteristics of these players, it is time to analyze the state of the art and systematize the current knowledge. On the other hand, despite the presence of some literature reviews, a research comparing the debate among the nonprofit, private, and public sectors is still lacking. Using Gabrielsson and Huse’s (2004) framework, we wanted to identify factors that can influence research on nonprofit boards and compare our results with existing studies on private and public sector.


We conduct a systematic literature review, selecting empirical articles published in international scientific journals from 1992 to 2012.


We found similarities and differences in relation to research on boards among sectors. As a common result, we found that evolutionary studies still remains a neglected area in all of three realms. Finally, whereas input–output studies prevail in the private sector and contingency studies prevail in the public sector, behavioral studies prevail in the nonprofit sector, demonstrating, also, that the sector itself can make a difference in the board’s research.

Research Limitations/Implications

This literature review provides some suggestion for further research on boards for all of three sectors. For example, we suggest complementing research on boards on all three sectors, especially in relation to evolutionary studies.

Originality/Value of Paper

This paper fills the need to clarify the status of research on nonprofit boards, in order to address scholars in the understanding of the phenomenon.




The paper is the joint work of the authors. However, in the final writing, sections “Introduction,” “Methods,” and “Conclusion: Limitations and Directions for Further Research” has been written by Sonia Moi; sections “Aims of Research,” “Factors Affecting Empirical Research on Boards,” and “Discussion” has been written by Luca Gnan; section “Results” has been written by Fabio Monteduro.


Moi, S., Monteduro, F. and Gnan, L. (2014), "Empirical Research on Nonprofit Boards: Main Features and Differences from the Literature on Corporate and Public Boards", Mechanisms, Roles and Consequences of Governance: Emerging Issues (Studies in Public and Non-Profit Governance, Vol. 2), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 127-158.



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