Posted by: MJ | October 27, 2019

Balancing Control in a Nonprofit Environment

In Chapter 9 of Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life (Dainton & Zelley, 2019), the concepts of unobtrusive and concertive control are introduced as those wielded often in organizations that value participatory team structures more than hierarchical systems of control. In fact, it can be argued that these newer team structures have arisen in response to bureaucratic control systems (Larson & Tompkins, 2005).

Currently, terms like “participatory culture” and “empowerment” are popularly attributed to young companies that exhibit “new power values,” as defined by Heiman & Timms (2018). These values are not restricted to entrepreneurial endeavors, however – nonprofit organizations can also exhibit behaviors consistent with new power values and team-based structures, especially as they work to innovate in a changing landscape (Jaskyte, 2004). There are unique relationships between nonprofit individuals that could be understood at a deeper level using these concepts of organizational control.

Due to varying constraints faced by restricted grant-funded roles, contractors, volunteers, and leadership staff, different members of an organization may be experiencing control at different levels identified by scholars of the subject (Tompkins & Cheney, 1985; Edwards, 1981). How are control and resistance experienced by team members in a nonprofit environment where certain team members are beholden to the stated mission of an organization, whereas others are beholden to contracts and/or the needs of an external entity (e.g. a corporate funder with its own set of organizational values)? Continuing this research as it applies to the unique structure of service-focused nonprofits may be especially revealing.


Jaskyte, K. (2004). Transformational leadership, organizational culture, and innovativeness in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership15(2), 153–168. doi: 10.1002/nml.59

Larson, G.S. & Tompkins, P.K. (2005). Ambivalence and resistance: a study of management in a concertive control system. Communication Monographs, 72(1), 1-21. doi: 10.1080/036377505200034250

Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. D. (2019). Applying communication theory for professional life: a practical introduction (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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