11/11/2010 - 00:00

Accuracy needed for community sector

11/11/2010 - 00:00


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Describing a sector by what it is not is not just inaccurate but counter-productive and damaging to the general representation of the sector.

Describing a sector by what it is not is not just inaccurate but counter-productive and damaging to the general representation of the sector.

That was the message from so-called ‘not-for-profit’ organisations, or more accurately the community sector, at a recent WA Business News boardroom forum (see pages 8-11).

Lotterywest chief executive Jan Stewart spoke from a personal point of view on this topic.

“It seems odd to me to call a whole sector, which is providing such essential community services, by what it isn’t rather than what it is,” Ms Stewart said, stressing this was not necessarily representative of Lotterywest or government, but her personal view.

Ms Stewart spoke of the need for a term that not only adequately describes the breadth of organisations within the community sector, but also demonstrates these are sophisticated, business oriented organisations.

“It is really important we understand these organisations are very business focused, that if they generate a surplus it is returned to the beneficiaries of the organisation in the way of improved services.

Others agreed and said by referring to the sector as not-for-profit, it gave a false impression that these organisations were not striving for profit when in actual fact they are looking to generate a surplus that will go toward further development of the organisation and services instead of the shareholders in other business models.

“For me not-for-profit doesn’t adequately capture what this really important sector of the community is all about,” Ms Stewart said.

She said the sector doesn’t just consist of the traditional charities that are somewhat synonymous with the term not-for-profit, but it is a broad sector comprising of organisations providing essential services for the most disadvantaged as well as local playgroup associations, school Parents and Citizens Associations and local junior amateur footy clubs.

“That is not even including organisations that want to protect the environment or save endangered animals, the organisations that look after the heritage of the community or community arts organisations,” Ms Stewart said.

“They are all part of the building of social capital in a community and all have their place in creating the kind of society that we all agree we need.”

The traditional alternative to the term not-for-profit has of course been non-government organisations or NGOs; but by referring to an entity as a NGO you leave it open to being classified as any number of things.

“Agencies working in third world countries are frequently referred to as non-government-organisations or NGOs, which is even worse in my opinion,” Ms Stewart said.

“There is a whole sector that could all be described as NGOs in that they are certainly not government organisations and they don’t make a profit but it feels to me a more positive name would promote them more effectively.”

A simple Google search returned alternative language used internationally such as ‘public benefit institution’, ‘citizen sector organisations’, ‘civil society organisation’, ‘social sector’, ‘public benefit entity’ and ‘third sector’.

However as of this edition, WA Business News will be actively supporting the shift away from referring to this sector as something that it is not, to something that it is: the community sector.



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