In this piece from the UK online publication Third Sector Lucy Sweetman asks some important questions about the future of third sector not -for- profit organisations.
Writing about the UK experience, Sweetman suggests that the increasing focus on service delivery and winning contracts to deliver services on behalf of Government, coupled with the uncritical adoption of the rhetoric of social enterprise and business has fundamentally transformed the sector's ethos and purpose.
And Sweetman argues that it is the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, the very people the sector exists to serve, who are worse off because of these transformations.
I’ve been worried for a long time that the sector’s charities have been drifting too far from their campaigning and fundraising roots and into service delivery. What started out in the sector as an interesting stroll down a path towards the creation of diverse public service partners has opened up into a gigantic free-for-all.
Predictably, the sector is now populated with social enterprises, social businesses, community interest companies and others, all willing to be in receipt of the state’s dollar to deliver our public services. And they are all competing with the charities that paved the way through the Compact.Public service delivery is now a vast and open market.
But when the large children and young people’s charities prefer to call themselves ‘social businesses’ in order to compete in this overcrowded marketplace, we move inexorably into territory where charitable purpose becomes meaningless and even undesirable.
For vulnerable and disadvantaged young people this is not good news. As we have seen with the Work Programme, the need to meet targets in order to justify or even receive funding for a service, leads to the people with the most complex needs being ignored. They are those who cannot be ‘resolved’ or moved on quickly and inexpensively.
So if charities stop thinking like charities entirely, who will be there for the most disadvantaged, those most in need of the long-term, expensive solutions? And who will take the time to set up and fund the types of projects that have less tangible outcomes, like those devoted to raising young people’s self-esteem or engaging them in the arts?