• Michelle Walker

Q5: Who Suggested Written Policies


Industrial sign in the shape of a question mark
Curiosity never rests.

The next question asked the respondents to share who suggested the need for written policies.

Q5 from 2014 IP Survey

This question was a follow-up to the 10 organizations that said they had written policies for their intellectual property. They indicated that the idea for the policies came from the following roles:

  • Two (2): Board of Directors

  • Five (5): Management

  • Two (2): Outside legal counsel

  • One (1): Other, Internal legal counsel


I think that internal legal counsel fits within the classification of management since that role is staff, even if they may not participate in a senior leadership capacity. That makes internal policy origination just over half of the organizations with written policies. External recommendation, i.e. board and outside legal counsel, represents just under half of the origin of the suggestion of written policy. Within this sub-group of organizations, the majority of management teams appear to be aware of the importance of intellectual property with their organization and are proactive in the development of policy tools to manage and safeguard it.


Diving Deeper into Nuance: Management Expertise and External Forces on Managerial Choices

With a sample this small none of these results are statistically significant, but the point of the question was intended to shed some light on the awareness of tools for managing and safeguarding IP by leaders in the nonprofit sector. Further, it opens up the field to further investigate the extent to which management choices are driven by the knowledge, skills, and experience of internal talent or adopted by the pressure or influence of external forces.


Why is internal management knowledge and expertise even in question? The academic study of nonprofit management has often tried to understand the skills and knowledge of management in a widely diverse sector. Added to the diversity of the work of the sector is the diversity of motivations that bring individuals to work in the sector. In the United States, the history of the sector is grounded in voluntarism and the related amateurism associated with voluntary efforts have pervaded some of the thinking about leadership, management, and skills in nonprofit organizations.


That thinking has shifted, as has the research and academic preparation available to individuals who choose careers in the nonprofit sector and nonprofit management. For example, I have a BS in Business Administration (University of Pittsburgh), an MA in Philanthropic Studies (Indiana University), and certifications in philanthropic advising along with more than 15 years working in nonprofits. Until I started my own consulting practice my entire professional life was in nonprofit organizations – it was a career decision and is a career path for many. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2016 there almost 12.3 million jobs in nonprofit organizations. That level of employment accounts for 10.2 percent of total U.S. private sector employment. It is no longer possible to conceive of the sector as voluntary and amateur; it is a significant part of the U.S. economy.


However, management choices are not just at the agency of the staff leadership. Nonprofit organizations are required to have boards of directors that ensure that nonprofits adhere to their missions and act in the public interest – these are key roles in their fiduciary duties. It follows that staff are not the only individuals to bring skills and expertise that influence the choices of managers.


The same happens in industry. Powell and DiMaggio describe in their work on institutional theory of organizational behavior that isomorphism can explain the homogeneity of organizations in a field. It’s why we see similar management structures throughout the nonprofit sector and possibly why most nonprofits look and appear to behave much like for-profit businesses. Members of nonprofit boards are often experienced business leaders who bring their own skills and expertise to their board service and, as Powell and DiMaggio suggest, can cause the nonprofits they serve to adopt specific managerial choices through coercion, mimicry, or normative influence.


What Does This Tell Us

The question in the survey does not offer any clarity on specific forces of institutional theory that led the respondents to have written policies. But, we can see that managerial expertise and external forces both lead to organizational decisions. And, in this particular small sample, at about an equal rate. Do internal managers bring their expertise and desire for written policies from prior experience in industry, because they know their peers are doing the same, from professional development, or some other tacit and explicit knowledge? The question I asked in the survey does not provide any clarity, but it opens up a new set of managerial choices to further research.


You can skip to the summary of all of the responses in the Social Entrepreneurs and Intellectual Property Management paper. Or, read through each of the blog posts tagged as Intellectual Property Data V1.0 for a more recent analysis of the data.