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Public Service Motivation Theory in a Nonprofit Context: An Explanatory Study of Nonprofit Board Member Motivations

Katrina Miller-Stevens, Kevin D. Ward, Katharine A. Neill


This exploratory study examines examines the utility of using public service motivation to explain individual motivations to participate on nonprofit boards of directors. High-ranking members of nonprofit organizations and boards of directors were convened in a roundtable discussion to explore the motives of their board members. Using the rational, normative, and affective bases of motivation, it was reported that affective motives appear to be an important driver for individuals joining nonprofit boards, while both rational and affective motives are important in the decision to continue to serve. It was also suggested that a service ethos early in life is an important antecedent in both the attraction and retention of most board members. The findings will help nonprofit administrators and boards better understand the underlying motivational constructs of board members, thus resulting in improved board governance practices. The study illustrates that public service motivation theory is particularly relevant for explaining board member motives.


public service motivation; board of directors; nonprofit leadership

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