Organisations in the Australian disability sector have new regulatory pressures challenging their governance structures. Increasing levels of political, economic and social pressure means that membership of third sector boards is poised to become less attractive to both current and future incumbents. Non-executive directors, considered social elites, may utilise their experience, skills, education and networks to enact strategic cognition as a form of symbolic power (Bourdieu 1989) based around cultural and social capital, utilising networks known as director interlocks. Strategic cognition (Narayanan, Zane & Kemmerer 2011), learned and developed by directors involved in the governance of organisations, is seen as an advantage when directors are being appointed to boards.
Strategic cognition becomes contentious (Bourdieu 1989) when the benefit gained by the individual director serving as a volunteer non-executive director is greater than the potential benefits accrued to the third sector organisation. The reasons for this are explored in terms of fields, the space between the fields of commercial and non-profit sectors which begins to blur with the movement of directors between the two; capital in its different forms as it moves across the space between these fields; and the habitus as it advantages a socially elite group wishing to fulfil their personal agendas.
There is a high probability that disability third sector organisations will continue to follow an alternate strategic business and governance model and process to that followed in the commercial sector (Cornforth 2001, 2012; Cornforth & Edwards 1999). Conventional commercial strategic thinking (Bonn 2001; Jarratt & Stiles 2010; Moon 2013; Narayanan, Zane & Kemmerer 2011) is questioned as a valuable form of cultural and social capital that is easily applied in the third sector.
If there is such a significant value in terms of directors learning between the commercial and third sector fields then the attraction to non-executive directors of sitting on third sector boards remains unclear.