Paternalistic or Participatory Governance? Examining Opportunities for Client Participation in Nonprofit Social Service Organizations


Kelly LeRoux is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Kansas. Her research interests include service contracting, government–nonprofit relations, and civic engagement.


Nonprofits represent a substantial group of third-party agents that deliver public services, yet little is known about the extent to which these organizations embrace participatory governance practices. Using survey data from nonprofit social service agencies in Michigan, the author examines how these organizations provide opportunities for client participation and identifies factors that contribute to these practices. Four methods of securing client involvement are examined: participation in agency work groups, client feedback surveys, advisory boards and committees, and client service on the agency board of directors. The results indicate that government funding plays a systematic role in promoting these activities within nonprofits. These findings carry important implications for the government–nonprofit contract relationship by demonstrating that government funding shapes the practices of nonprofits in ways that promote democratic governance.