Representation in Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations: A Conceptual Framework

Chao Guo and Juliet A. Musso

It is held that nonprofit and voluntary organizations contribute to democratic governance by representing the interests of their constituents to the state. Yet little is known about the capacities of these organizations to represent effectively their constituents and the larger community. This study proposes a framework for understanding the varieties of representation in nonprofit and voluntary organizations. The authors argue that the nature of representation within an organization is indicated by five dimensions: substantive, symbolic, formal, descriptive, and participatory representation. Formal, descriptive, and participatory representation are different means of achieving substantive and symbolic representation; the latter being measures of the extent to which organizations “act for” and “stand for” particular constituencies. They further suggest that this conceptual framework serves as a useful first step toward examining the representational capacities of nonprofit organizations. Two illustrative cases of community-based organizations are presented to tease out the complexity of representational mixes found in nonprofits.

Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 36, no. 2 (2007): 308-326