Nelson researcher sees ‘rocky’ future for charitiesSTACEY KNOTTLast updated 11:54, September 17 2015 Stacey KnottNelson woman Patricia Webster with her completed thesis on the marketisation of the charities sector.
Charities are “losing their values” as they move to a business-driven approach to maintain funding, a Nelson researcher says.
Dr Patricia Webster has dedicated her working career to democracy and the charity sector, and has just finished her doctorate where she has studied changes in how charities run in New Zealand.
Her PHD looked at changes in three different organisations over 25 years, from 1985 to 2010. It finds the characteristics that make up a charitable organisation are changing, becoming much more market-orientated and running like businesses.
She didn’t name the organisations, but said one was a large, national group; another was a national organisation focussed on overseas development, and the third was a smaller, local organisation.
She interviewed presidents, chief executives and leaders who had been involved in the organisations between 1985 and 2010, and found all suffered the same problems.
Money became a growing concern for them which led to programme changes.
“In the process they are losing their values and they are losing their democratic role in society. We have got a real problem, they can’t speak out or follow their own purposes. They have to do what Government wants and their values of caring and love, charitable values of altruism and compassion have actually been shoved out of the way in favour of trying to worry about money.”
She saw a growing trend among charities that were looking at how to deploy resources, without looking at the people that they are built around.
The biggest change to how they operated over the 25 year period was changes in Government expectations. The Government contracted organisations to carry out work the it wanted done, and “started dictating what organisations did.”
Governance of charities changed as a result and people were less able to rise through the ranks of an organisation.
“It used to be that most people went in because they really cared about it but now, there are a lot of people goingc for a job as a career, and you can see that in the management of them. The CEOs went from people coming up through the organisations and then changed to being people from Government or local Government that came into the organisation to manage them.”
The future of the charities sector would see a “very rocky road” with the Government cutting and changing funding and charities and NGOs needing to be more competitive to get contracts.
However, Webster said it was not hopeless, as charities were innovative by nature.
“I think social enterprises are about having endless ideas about how to do things differently.”
Webster has spent her career working in charitable and political organisations, including the Labour party, the Charities Commission and was in South Africa in 1993 working with Volunteer Service Abroad to help with the election process.
She will be speaking on September 23 at the Yaza Cafe Spirited Conversations meeting about her research and the future of the charities sector.