Flipping the narrative

My essay for NPC’s series on the future of not for profits is here:  http://www.thinknpc.org/publications/flipping-the-narrative

It starts like this:

For years, charities and social enterprises that deliver support services have been told to emulate the private sector: to become more efficient and bigger through growth and mergers. We increasingly use the language of customer service, despite the fact that our ‘customers’ often have not chosen to come to us and are not spending their money. Our branding and marketing is getting slicker, even as the budgets for our front-line services are being cut like never before. We talk about quality, excellence and the need to ‘professionalise’, whilst many charities have to employ people on minimum wage to make ends meet while some senior salaries continue to rise.

Some not-for-profits have been so successful in competing with the private sector on that sector’s own terms that it is getting hard to distinguish them from their profit-making counterparts. Others have found themselves, like some private sector organisations, at loggerheads with their own workers, local branches or ‘beneficiaries’.

There are always gains to be made from becoming more efficient, but the challenges facing providers of public services that are genuinely values-led are now far beyond solving through leaner processes or smaller back offices. They are existential. It is time to consider not how charities can emulate the public or private sectors, but what makes our sector uniquely valuable to people who need support, and how we can work with those people to ensure that our public service system values that contribution. Read more.