Saturday, October 27, 2007

Industrial disease? The corporate culture of some charities

Last week the Guardian carried an interesting article by Richard Burdett, the editor of Pavement – a magazine for homeless people. The main argument of the article was that there was a growing “homeless industry” with an industrial scale and culture:

These organisations see running charities as dog-eat-dog business … a charity when it needs to pull on heartstrings, but a business when it cones to selling services to local authorities.

Similar arguments are made about other charities as well as not-for-profit and public sector organisations involved in seeking success in contracting and commissioning. (Particularly when contracts are packaged up on large scale as a result of the "efficiency agenda" pressures on central and local government.)

I accept that there can be problems – smaller and specialist organisations being squeezed out; staff being demotivated. But I would suggest these issues are not an argument for turning the clock back on choice, competition and contestability. The challenges are to:

1) government to protect and promote smaller organisations – particularly in better regulation and intelligent commissioning; and

2) boards – who need to make sure that not-for-profits don’t lose sight of their mission when seeking growth and surpluses.

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