Commitment on the Board: A Model of Volunteer Directors' Levels of Organizational Commitment and Self-Reported Performance

Article excerpt

Previous research has established a link between the composition and performance of boards of directors and organizational performance in both for-profit and not-for-profit contexts (Dowen, 1995; Green and Griesinger, 1996; Jackson and Holland, 1998; Zahra and Pearce, 1989). Boards play an important role in governance, strategy, and management selection that has a presumed impact on the overall performance of the organization (Dalton et al., 1999; Jackson and Holland, 1998; Green and Griesinger, 1996).

Studies of board performance have focused mostly on board composition (Coles and Hesterly, 2000; Daily and Dalton, 1993; Dalton et al., 1999) and board practices (Gabreilsson and Winlund, 2000; Herman and Renz, 2000; Westphal, 1999). Although each of these is important in explaining board effectiveness, they do not take into account individual director roles. For example, Johnson et al. (1996) argued that directors should be chosen and therefore serve in one or more of the following roles--control (e.g., governance), service (e.g., advice and counsel), and resource dependence (e.g., access to critical resources). Assuming that each director is diligent in fulfilling one or more of the above responsibilities, the performance of the board as a whole is ultimately dependent on the performance of individual board members.

The purpose of this article is to propose and test a model that examines the relationships between an individual's experience and role on a board of directors, the director's level of commitment to the board, and the director's self-reported performance. The following sections offer a review of the organizational commitment literature, and hypotheses regarding the antecedents of organizational commitment and director's self-perception of performance. The hypotheses are empirically tested and the results are reported. This study concludes with a discussion of our findings.


Organizational commitment has been given considerable attention in management research over the past twenty-five years and has also been a popular concept with practitioners. It has formed the basis of the widely-held assumption that higher levels of commitment among employees lead to improved work performance and a wide range of other positive organizational outcomes, such as reduced absenteeism and turnover (Riketta, 2002). In fact, Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, and Topolnytsky's meta-analysis (2002) identified 70 published articles, dissertations, and other empirical research dealing with the concept of organizational commitment from 1985 to 2000. This high volume of publication and interest in the topic underscores the continued relevancy of organizational commitment to the fields of management research and practice.

Commitment has been conceptualized in terms of behavioral patterns, intentions, motivations, or attitudes (Goulet and Frank, 2002). The attitudinal approach, which has been the most widely used, describes commitment as "the relative strength of an individual's identification with and involvement in a particular organization" (Mowday et al., 1979: 231). In meta-analyses of the concept, researchers continue to find significant correlations between attitudinal commitment and numerous organizational outcomes, including job performance (Mathieu and Zajac, 1990; Meyer et al., 2002; Riketta, 2002).

The preponderance of the organizational commitment research examines the commitment of traditional, paid employees to their employer (Meyer el al., 2002). Volunteers are fundamentally different from employees in that the behavior of volunteers is less likely to be subject to coercive power than is the behavior of employees because volunteers are less dependent on organizational rewards (Pearce, 1993). This creates conditions of normative uncertainty--a situation where social expectations and organizational values are less certain and more fluid for the volunteer than they would be for the paid employee. …


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