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HRM Division Seminar Series

Bringing democracy within

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Bringing democracy within: Should the internal working practices of nonprofit organisations be more democratic?

  • From: Thursday 24 November 2016, 1 pm
  • To: Thursday 24 November 2016, 2 pm
  • Location: TBC, Newton building, Main Entrance, Nottingham Trent University, City Campus, Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU
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Bringing democracy within: Should the internal working practices of nonprofit organisations be more democratic?


Nonprofit organisations are often argued to be "schools of democracy" that "produce citizens able and ready to participate in society" (Dodge & Ospina, 2016, p. 479). They are claimed to help increase public participation and empowerment, inclusivity and involvement, and to build social capital and develop citizenship. However, there is growing evidence that this capacity for democratic renewal is being weakened through measures like the anti-lobbying legislation leading to the erosion of a distinctive civic ethos. Thus following Dryzek (1996, p. 481), we ask: how do we distinguish between civil society formations that contribute to democratisation and those that do not? Whilst most responses to this question look at the external role of nonprofits, this paper looks at their internal organisational processes of these bodies.

By drawing on the appropriate literature, we explore three main justifications for workplace democracy – consequentialist, deontological, and teleological or virtue ethics – and apply them to the nonprofit sector. The paper argues that much of the manner in which nonprofits are managed and organised has stressed the notion of being businesslike and professionalised (Hwang & Powell, 2009; King, 2016; Maier, Meyer, & Steinbereithner, 2016) relies on a narrow reading of consequentialist ethics that nonprofits should be managed around means-end calculation of efficiency and productivity. In this paper, we argue that such consequentialist arguments are too narrow, as they could also be used for greater workplace democracy, such as increasing the motivation of volunteers. Furthermore, we also argue they could be broadened to deontological ethics (that it is the right thing to do regardless of the outcome) and teleological or virtue ethics, (whether a process, such as workplace democracy, is for the sake of a given end). The paper concludes by arguing for a broader vision for how nonprofits are managed, and that we should consider the internal organisational processes of nonprofit organisations within their wider social mission of how they organise themselves, for greater democracy and freedom (Griffin, Learmonth, & Elliott, 2015).


  • Dodge, J., & Ospina, S. M. (2016). Nonprofits as "Schools of Democracy" A Comparative Case Study of Two Environmental Organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(3), 478-499.
  • Dryzek, J. S. (1996). Political inclusion and the dynamics of democratization. American Political Science Review, 90(03), 475-487.
  • Griffin, M., Learmonth, M., & Elliott, C. (2015). Non-domination, contestation and freedom: The contribution of Philip Pettit to learning and democracy in organisations. Management Learning, 46(3), 317-336.
  • Hwang, H., & Powell, W. W. (2009). The rationalization of charity: The influences of professionalism in the nonprofit sector. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54(2), 268-298.
  • King, D. (2016). Becoming Business-Like Governing the Nonprofit Professional. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.
  • Maier, F., Meyer, M., & Steinbereithner, M. (2016). Nonprofit Organizations Becoming Business-Like A Systematic Review. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 45(1), 64-86.

About the author:

Daniel King is Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Nottingham Trent University, UK, and research coordinator for the HRM division. Dr King's research focuses on three main, interconnected areas: the contribution critical perspectives of management can make to transforming organisational practice; alternative organisations and alternative ways of organising; and critical perspectives of managing in the third sector. He has published in Organization Studies, Human Relations, Management Learning and Nonprofit Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and is co-author of Organizational Behaviour 2nd Edition with Scott Lawley (Oxford University Press).

Martyn Griffin is Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Leeds University. He completed his PhD thesis – Deliberative Minds: Skills, Virtues and Emotional Intelligence for the Deliberative Democratic Citizen – in 2011, and has since built upon his experience and interest in numerous disciplines to explore issues in organisational behaviour. He has particular interests in organisational democracy, power and freedom in the workplace, and the application of republican and poststructuralist theory to understand alternative organisations. Martyn has published in journals such as Journal of Management Inquiry, Management Learning, Studies in Philosophy and Education, Journal of Value Inquiry, and the London Review of Education.

For more information and to book your place, please email Daniel King.

Booking information

For more information and to book your place, please email Daniel King.

Location details


TBC, Newton building, Main Entrance


Nottingham Trent University
City Campus
Goldsmith Street

Past event

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