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Reinventing the new

ACWA Inc - Thursday, September 04, 2014

In the wake of Tim Costello’s broad ranging speech at the Philanthropy Australia conference perhaps it is timely to think about the sustainability of the not for profit sector. According to a recent Probono article Tim suggested that mergers of like not for profit organisations would have the effect of reducing competition and increasing the survival rate of struggling organisations.

Many ACWA members go to work each day knowing that cuts to funding and competition for donations make their work a little more stressful and their jobs a little more precarious. Many have to wait until the 11th hour to know if their contracts are being renewed or extended and worse, many have to turn away clients and reduce services. The not for profit sector is massive and contributes more to GDP in this country than some of the major industries, yet it is becoming more fragmented and thin. 

Maybe Tim is correct; some organisations could merge and we have seen examples of this in the past where a merged organisation becomes a relative giant in the community sector, cleaning up most of the government funding. But is this what we want? The very diversity of the third sector makes it a valuable counterpoint to the business and government sectors. It is true however, that the nonprofit sector is notable for its duplication of services. So is the solution to encourage mergers, or is it to discourage a reinvention of the new? 

It seems to me, having worked in the not for profit sector my whole working life, that much time, energy, and skills are being put towards reinventing what already exists and calling it new: hence the proliferation of duplicated services and competitors in the field. What is it that drives people to do this: ego; the belief that they can do it better; the need to be in charge; the inability to recognise the value in the work of others; the need for recognition or just plain arrogance? Who knows - but let’s nip the trend in the bud. Some organisations may have a better chance of survival by merging with a like organisation - but once they have let’s not see yet another competitor springing up to contest the space. The experience of many nonprofits is that they are not competing against all not for profits but rather against those who seek to provide the same type of services to the same client groups or cause. That’s how donations work: they come from people with an interest in a particular cause. 

So here’s a novel idea, why don’t would-be not for profit entrepreneurs get involved in existing organisations and start the change from within instead of putting more pressure on funding, expertise, volunteer involvement and community support and donations?

Sha Cordingley
Chief Executive Officer, ACWA

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