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The Promise and Limits of Collective Action for Nonprofit Self-Regulation: Evidence from Asia

28 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2008  

Mark Sidel

University of Iowa

Date Written: February 1, 2008


Self-regulation is a new mandate in American nonprofit life, both for the nonprofit sector itself and for its government overseers. In the United States, this new self-regulation imperative is the product of oversight and hearings by the Senate Finance Committee on nonprofit and philanthropic accountability and malfeasance, the rise of strengthened self-governance among highly networked and occasionally threatened nonprofit sector industries, the rapid strengthening of voluntary and educational efforts at the state level, and other factors. The National Principles on Self-Regulation drafted by an advisory committee of the Panel of the Nonprofit Sector are the most visible new product of collective action within the nonprofit sector toward self-regulation.

But the new self-regulation drive is not limited to the United States. Self-regulation is the product of collective action by the nonprofit sector that can have many and often overlapping motivations, and it is emerging throughout Asia as a means to defend against encroaching and increasing state pressures expressed through law, policy, and politics; to strengthen the quality of governance, services, financial management, and fundraising in the sector; to improve an public, corporate, media and other perceptions of nonprofits and charities; to organize an unruly sphere and marginalize lower-quality actors or other outliers; to access governmental or donor funding; as a market mechanism to exclude competitive or unproductive actors; and as a learning opportunity for nonprofits and their networks at state and national levels, a means to clarify and strengthen shared identity in particular parts of the nonprofit community.

This working paper reviews the history of nonprofit self-regulation in Asia and discussions of it in the academic literature, and discusses and analyzes the various forms of nonprofit self-regulation and private governance in Asia, emphasizing developments in India, Cambodia, the Philippines and Pakistan where nonprofit collective action toward self-regulation is most active. The paper analyzes the initial successes of this collective action in formulating standards and mechanisms for self-regulation, as well as the difficulty that the nonprofit sector has in collectively moving toward implementation, enforcement, and scale-up of these self-regulatory systems - a problem that occurs in the United States as well.

Keywords: Nonprofit organizations, Self-regulation, Nonprofit self-regulation, Collective action, Private governance, Private regulation, Codes of conduct, Accreditation, Certification

JEL Classification: L3, L30, L31

Suggested Citation

Sidel, Mark, The Promise and Limits of Collective Action for Nonprofit Self-Regulation: Evidence from Asia (February 1, 2008). U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-06. Available at SSRN: or

Mark Sidel (Contact Author)

University of Iowa ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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