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Since the opening of the Swedish welfare system to private providers in the early 1990s, civil society organizations (CSOs) have expanded their activity in the provision of welfare services (Johansson 2001; Wijkström & Einarsson 2006; Lundbäck 2012; Raphael 2014). With multi-level mission statements; complex ownership arrangements; non-profit distribution constraints; and the role of factors such as altruism, CSOs differ radically from the other type of private welfare provider: the for-profit firm (Fama & Jensen 1983; Hansmann 1996; Kumar & Roberts 2010; Cornforth 2012). Yet, we know surprisingly little about the nature of governance arrangements in CSOs in general, and about how production of welfare is governed and controlled within such organizations in particular .(Caers 2006; Steen-Johnsen, Eynaud & Wijkström 2011; Cornforth & Brown 2014). This limits considerably our understanding of why these complex organizations behave and operate as they do, and what we can expect from them as providers of welfare.
Our paper is part of a larger project that addresses this gap by studying and theorizing the distinct nature of CSO governance, and its implications for the operations of CSOs. The paper explores the character of the governance chain in the Church of Sweden (one of Sweden’s largest nonprofit service providers) with focus on three types of provided services: deaconry, kindergartens or pre-school care, and refugee reception. Theoretically, the discussion is grounded in corporate governance theory as well as organization theory, and the research question concerns the extent to which the character of the governance chain in this kind of a large and complex CSO corresponds to one of the three mainstream theoretical models of organizational governance: the principal-agent model, the stewardship model, and the stakeholder model.
The empirical discussion is based on a study of seven congregations within the Diocese of Stockholm, which all display different levels and combinations of welfare provision. The study is a qualitative one, based primarily on the analysis of (i) over thirty semi-structured in-depth interviews, and (ii) a number of key internal policy documents. The preliminary results indicate the presence of an intricate mix of elements and mechanisms from all the above three governance models in the Church’s governance arrangements, and the paper’s concluding discussion points to a number of ways in which this result may be interpreted and the contribution it makes to the development of CSO governance theory in particular, and to organizational governance theory in general.