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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

How do the public and third sectors intersect?

by Peter R. Elson

Three things to know about Third Sector Relations:

1.   Non-profits have been around for a long time and they aren't going away.
The first non-profits in Canada were established in the early 1800s by the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec and by others in Maritime port cities to deal with the poor and impoverished that were "exported" from England after the Poor Law Amendment in 1832 that first distinguished between "deserving" and "non deserving" poor.  Non-profits provided social supports long before governments felt any obligation to intercede.  

2.   Non-profits emerge to address social market forces.
In Nordic Countries that have a healthy and sustainable social and educational support system, non-profit organizations focus on the expressive dimension of life – sport, culture, religion, recreation.  In Canada, more than 85% of non-profits are focused on an instrumental or service role in society. Many continue a role started in the 1800s, but all strive to provide quasi public goods and services left unattended or underfunded by governments.

3.   Governments leverage non-profit social capital.
It has been well established that non-profits, on average, receive 85% percent of the full cost of delivering a good or service for government. Not only are profits rarely allowed, but the additional 15% gap is filled with time-consuming fundraising efforts and/or skilled and underpaid workers with few if any benefits.
Three Myths about Third Sector Government Relations:

Myth #1: Non-profits are risk adverse.

Reality:  When the risk that non-profits assume involves becoming a cog in a program rather than a contributor to community well-being; when services are underfunded; and when contract or grants operate on a year-to-year basis, the risk assessment by the non-profit is very high indeed. 

Myth #2: Non-profits just need money.

Reality:  Non-profits may talk about needing money, but what they really need is a) a meaningful and productive funder-fundee relationship; b) a relationship that is consistent, reliable and based on shared outcomes; and c) funding that provides a living wage for all.

Myth #3 Non-profits are disorganized.

Reality:  Non-profits are as diverse as small businesses and while herding cats may be an apt analogy, groups like the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) and the emergent Saskatchewan Network of Non-profit Organizations (SNNO) are making strides to present a more collective voice for their respective non-profit sectors. Meanwhile, there are umbrella organizations in abundance that represent the collective voice of program specific priorities, whether sport or social services.   

Elson, Peter R. (2011). High Ideals and Noble Intentions: Voluntary Sector-Government Relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Elson, Peter R. (2014). Third Wave, This Third wave, third sector: A comparative provincial analysis of the governance of third sector relations, Canadian Public Administration Vol 57 (4), pp 527-547.

Peter R. Elson PhD is Adjunct Assistant Professor, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria and Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Community Prosperity, Mount Royal University.
His research focuses on social enterprise, nonprofit-government relations, and Canadian grant making foundations. He is editor of the Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research and editor of a forthcoming IPAC Series in Management and Governance book, Funding Policies and the Nonprofit Sector in Western Canada: Evolving relationships in a changing environment

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this blog contribution. Such an important topic. I hope we can do an IPAC event around this.