Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Meeting the Need Through Partnership and Collaboration

In distinguishing between the three major professional sectors - government, for-profit and non-profit - it may be helpful to apply a lens of unmet societal needs. The government's role as a social safety net and an institution accountable to the neediest members of society has changed over time, as its members have responded to a general, public desire to shrink the government's scope and constrain costs.
The for-profit role in serving as a safety net for society's neediest members has remained constant: the motivation to maintain a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise will always dominate for-profit decision-making, and any contribution toward a social good is only considered when money is sufficiently available. The scope of corporate responsibility, or the "obligation that goes beyond the individual to the firm as a whole" (Berman, p. 7), may be increasing, but the primary motivations of for-profit organizations are generally static. The non-profit sector has thus had to adapt to the evolving motivations of the public, government sector, and its importance has been steadily increasing over the past few decades as society's problems become more complex, and the people's willingness to assign public money and larger government responsibility shrinks. In this sense, do non-profits respond to an inherent failure of the governmental or for-profit sectors? 

The answer will differ from person to person based on political orientation. No matter one’s personal view on the size and scope of the government’s social responsibility, there is no doubting that nonprofits play a unique and important role in society. Non-profits have a unique definition of success – they adhere closely to a given “Mission”, and their activities are considered worthwhile and appropriate if and only if they constitute progress towards the fulfillment of their Missions (Renz, p. 106). This strict adherence to a given mission makes non-profits the ideal candidates for tackling some of society’s more complex problems. In other words, the purity of purpose which motivates non-profits is an appealing foundation for a sector tasked with lifting-up the less fortunate.

Berman’s piece elucidates the “synergistic” nature of the relationship between the three sectors: they are interdependent in many ways, and the non-profit sector would likely collapse without support from the capital-infused private sector and the government’s focus on public issues in the aggregate (Berman p. 7). Berman later notes that “nonprofits allow other sectors to focus on their principal purposes” (Berman p. 10), seeming to ignore his earlier point about the interdependence of the sectors. Partnerships which align profit from the private sector, public resources from the government sector, and the sharp focus of the nonprofit sector are the wave of the future. The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPP) was established in 1985 to “raise the awareness of governments and business of the means by whih their cooperation can cost-effectively provide the public with quality goods, services and facilities” ( This effort to bring the efficiencies and resources of all sectors into concert can only sharpen the ability of each individual sector to ‘focus on their principal purposes’. Not only should the government, non-profit and for-profit sectors root for each other’s success, they should increasingly combine their efforts in the name of efficiency and clarity of direction. Under such a model, each sector might find that its overall capacity is much larger than previously thought, and progress towards remedying society’s ills is not as difficult as it once seemed.   


Berman, Howard J. Doing “Good” vs. Doing “Well”: The Role of Nonprofits in Society. The
McNerney Forum: Spring 2002.

Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San
Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2010.

The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships