Project Director

Horne, Chris

Department Examiner

Baker, Sybil; Khmelko, Irina; Mauldin, Marcus


Dept. of Political Science, Public Administration and Nonprofit Management


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


As the nonprofit sector increases in size, many organizations are choosing to collaborate as a new approach to delivering goods and services to the public. Collaboration occurs when “organizations work together to address problems through joint effort, resources, and decision making and share ownership of the final product or service” (Guo & Acar, 2005). In my research, I ask the question: How do nonprofit administrators conceptualize this kind of interorganizational collaboration? These conceptualizations are referred to as tacit theories: the wisdom and knowledge of administrators that is implicitly known as a result of experience. I compare these tacit theories to two well-known, competing management theories, principle-agent theory and stewardship theory, to find whether these tacit theories better align with either existing theory. For my study, I chose a food distribution network which serves 12 counties through over 300 partner organizations. I chose this network because of my interest in food security and the network’s 30 years of experience in nonprofit collaboration. After gathering qualitative data from 21 semi-structured interviews within this collaborative nonprofit network, I used a grounded theory approach to explicate the tacit theories of these administrators. Using this same qualitative data, I conducted two more data analyses: searching for the presence of principal-agent theory factors in the first and the presence of stewardship theory factors in the second. From here, I compared my three data analyses and drew conclusions about how nonprofit administrators conceptualize interorganizational collaboration, and whether these concepts better align with principle-agent theory or stewardship theory. In this study, I have found that these tacit theories take on concepts from both theories, with a tendency to move from principal-agency theory to stewardship theory over time as trust builds.


Dr. Chris Horne, Director

IRB Number



B. S.; An honors thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Science.




Nonprofit organizations -- Management; Organizational behavior


nonprofit; network; collaboration; tacit theory; management theory


Political Science

Document Type



42 leaves




Under copyright.