Competitive Practices of NPOs

Perhaps the dominant force shaping the non-profit sector at the present time is the widespread commercialization or “marketization” of social and economic life. While commercialization is nothing new to the non-profit sector, in recent years the sector has not only reacted to the market but also embraced it on a scale not previously seen, integrating market impulses into non-profit operations in often creative ways, though with consequences that are not completely clear.

Sources of Market Pressures. the pressures propelling non-profit organizations towards greater engagement with the prevailing market system are multiple. They include declining government financial support, slow growth in private giving, increased service demands from widely disparate population groups, growing competition from for-profit and non-profit organizations, increased accountability demands, and the increasing presence of potential corporate partners.

Growth of Fee Income. In response to this combination of push and pull factors, many more non-profit organizations seem to be reaching out to the market, and on a much broader front. Perhaps the most obvious evidence of this is the growth of non-profit reliance on fees for service charges. But non-profits are also deriving money from the sales of ancillary goods and services, such as merchandise in gift shops and facility rentals.

Social Purpose Enterprises. Non-profits are also integrating the market more directly into the pursuit of their social missions through the formation of “social purpose enterprises,” or “social ventures.” These hybrid organizations use market means to pursue non-profit objectives. Here the market is not simply a source of revenue but a preferred vehicle through which to achieve a social purpose.

Corporate Partnerships. Non-profits are being drawn further into the commercial orbit by alliances with the corporate world. Businesses have found that teaming up with non-profits adds respectability and trust to their images while cultivating new markets, new sources of employees, and new pools of research and expertise. In exchange, corporations donate money, form employee volunteer programs, sponsor events, loan out executives, and provide equipment, space and contacts.

Incorporation of the Market Culture. As they have come to operate in an increasingly competitive, market-oriented environment, non-profits have also increasingly absorbed the culture and manner of the market into their internal structures and operations. Non-profits are no longer bashful about aggressively advertising their services or competing for charitable contributions. Indeed, they have become increasingly “entrepreneurial,” worrying about their “market niche” and engaging in “strategic planning.” Agencies are increasingly adopting performance measurement techniques, adopting smaller, corporate-style boards, and building more elaborate organizational structures.

A New Enterprising Social Sector. Emerging from these various developments is a new picture of the “social sector,” a picture of a self-propelled set of organizations loosened from their original moorings in charity or as a passive agent of government and much more closely connected to the market system, while still somehow tied, however tenuously, to the pursuit of public benefit. Unquestionably, the non-profit sector has gained many advantages from this closer association with the market. Marketization has offered the non-profit sector access not only to an enlarged resource base but also to the energy and creativity that the market system has long represented. Armed with earned income, non-profits may become more fully independent than either government support or private charity has made possible. Engagement with the market also opens possibilities for leveraging enormous private resources and talents for social purposes, and for erasing widespread images of non-profit ineffectiveness, establishing instead the image of a set of organizations that has learned how to bring the most efficient means to the service of the most valued ends.

But if the potential advantages of the non-profit sector’s embrace of the market are considerable, so too are the risks. Market pressures can undermine non-profits’ commitments to their core values, to doing what is right as opposed to what is popular or commercially viable. They can also threaten the sector’s public support if efforts are not made to keep the public engaged and informed.

The solution to these problems may not lie either in restricting the commercial involvement of the non-profit sector or in relying blindly on the restriction on distribution of profits to ensure appropriate non-profit performance. Rather, more direct mechanisms of control may be desirable—performance measurements and mechanisms that empower key stakeholders, such as donors or the users of non-profit services. Under any circumstances, while it is essential to keep the challenges posed by the market clearly in view, it would be foolhardy to let the opportunities it presents to the non-profit sector go unexplored.

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Bamboo Based Industries in India

India has huge natural bamboo stocks that have been an integral part of Indian culture for many millennia. Bamboo in many ways is the mainstay of the rural Indian economy, sparking considerable social and ecological spin-offs. In the early part of the century, large tracts of bamboo occurred in many parts of the country but were treated by forestry sector (which was then cast in a production forestry mode) as a weed of little economic value and were used mostly by the rural communities for crafts, making implements and as housing material. It was the discovery of bamboo as a source of long-fibre by the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun that started the process of using bamboo in a variety of industrial applications, so far unexplored, with several paper mills and rayon mills being set up. But in the absence of a clear policy of husbanding of the resource there was rapid degradation and decimation of the resource in much of the country. Bamboo resources plummeted so alarmingly that at present the resource is limited to few pockets in the country. Two-thirds of the bamboo in the country is restricted to the North-Eastern Region (NER) while the remaining one-third is spread across the country.

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