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Abstract

In contemporary American society, the nonprofit board is accountable for ensuring that an organization has sufficient resources to carry out its mission. Filling the gap between demands for services and the resources to meet them is often a struggle for small nonprofit organizations, a problem of nonprofit organization effectiveness. I conducted a hermeneutic phenomenological study that examined how board members of small local nonprofits in the focal community perceived nonprofit organization effectiveness. A review of the literature revealed that nonprofit organization effectiveness involved the action of contributing to the organization and the motivation behind the action, both of which were associated with trust and reciprocity. Guided by social constructivism this research involved a qualitative analysis of repeated iterations of semiotic data from board members (n = 30) and text analysis of organization mission statements (n = 21), generating thick description of board members’ understanding of effectiveness. The analysis revealed that strategies focused on developing reciprocity and mitigating mistrust among board members contributed to board members perceiving their organizations as effectively achieving their objectives. Application of the findings and conclusions, developed from the lived experiences of members of small nonprofit boards, contributes to social change among small American nonprofit organizations by suggesting means to address the stresses that compromise the availability and quality of their programs.

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