Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Roles of Government, For-profits, and Non-profits.

We have a complex and sometimes messy relationship with society. We place expectations on society. We want things from this relationship such as security, support, and to feel valued. Our demands are rigorous and our expectations high. Society finds itself struggling to keep us happy. To keep EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US HAPPY. 

I for one, do not envy the job society has in front of them… Did I mention our demands and expectations are constantly changing?

So how does society manage to succeed at keeping us content? Society has evolved. Society has diversified. Society has learned that it cannot meet these expectations as a solitary being. Society has created a division of labor split between 3 sectors that work together to meet our needs. The 3 sectors I speak of are government, for-profits, and non-profits (Berman, 2002).  These 3 sectors attend to our demands and expectations (in general, our social welfare) so that society as a whole can live up to its obligations in this relationship.

What does government do for us? What can’t it do?

Government is very capable of providing members of society with reliable structure and form (Berman, 2002). Government is very good at helping us to feel secure and looked after, but not so good at being adaptable to change or providing clarity of action (Berman, 2002). Government can provide us with social framework, but cannot respond quickly to change or represent population subgroups effectively.

How do for-profits provide for our social welfare? How do they not?

For-profits (also known as businesses) are controlled by market principles. While social welfare may be a concern for businesses, it is not their mission. That is not to say that businesses do not contribute; they contribute by dispersing economic resources to employees, who then in turn, contribute (Berman, 2002). Again, since the purpose of a business is to make profit, they do not make any guarantees to be concerned with social welfare.

How do non-profits fit into the picture?

Non-profit institutions round out the fulfillment of society’s responsibilities in several ways. Whereas government is slow to move and perhaps too big to care, a non-profit is nimble and can represent more individualized interests. A business is concerned with profit first, and this limits their involvement in making social contributions. A non-profit only needs enough revenue to sustain itself, giving themselves the freedom to choose how, and what, they will be involved in.

We need all three sectors of society to feel secure, supported, and valued in this relationship with society. Government provides the security and limited support, for-profits contribute by allowing us to contribute, and non-profits can fill in the gaps where the others fail. Each sector could not be free to do what they do best if they were trying to balance all of our needs and all at once. In this manner the sectors are simultaneously individual, yet still part of a bigger picture that allows society to function and attend to both our individual and group needs.


Berman, H. (2002). The McNerney Forum: Doing “Good” vs. Doing “Well”-The Role of Nonprofits in Society. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 39 (5-11).