National Radio’s Morning Report carried a news item on Monday, 14 October dealing with the growing dependence of social services agencies on government contracts. It was also remarked that this inhibited social service agencies’ ability to advocate on behalf of their constituencies out of fear of forfeiting funding from this source – in effect ‘biting the hand that feeds you’. It also touched on the much debated question whether critical advocacy based on fact is in the public interest and therefore charitable.
Social bonding, if and when implemented, may further complicate this issue as some corporate partners will enter the fray with doubtful intentions requiring charities to ‘prostitute’ themselves for the sake of funding. It also has been confirmed that the New Zealand Government has given the green light for a pilot of social bonds to test the social bonds model locally.
Mention has been made from time to time of the sheer number of voluntary organisations operating in New Zealand with claims that we have twice as many as Australia and three times the registrations in the United Kingdom (per head of population). Seen in the light of our small population base compared with the other countries, it suggests an over- supply that may not be sustainable in the longer-term.
There is ample evidence of overlap and duplication driven by perceived gaps in delivery by the dominant charities in each sector. Those social services with a mission to support those with cancer is a good example where, in spite of a substantial presence by the Cancer Society, virtually every type of cancer has its own distinct representative agency looking for funding. It cannot be denied that many minor charities, which are largely volunteer dependent, operate effectively and efficiently. On the down-side these smaller organisations present an unsustainable cost in terms of administration and compliance to Government Departments and Ministries awarding contracts.
Superficially, commonsense would suggest that reducing the number of related delivery agencies by merger and acquisition deserves serious consideration. However, consideration needs to be given to a greater number of well meaning individuals, who volunteer their time with boundless enthusiasm to address specific needs in our society that cannot be satisfied by official efforts.
There is already evidence in public opinion that charities demonstrating results in alleviating disadvantage and suffering should be supported. It therefore stands to reason that substantial foundations with an organisationally-sound structure should have a head start in successfully negotiating the kind of corporate support that is at the root of social bonding. Corporate social responsibility is not only based on a desire to make a real difference, but is also motivated by marketing objectives with an objective of achieving a profit. Partnering with bigger and better resourced charities provides better outcome safeguards. This places smaller agencies, however well intentioned, at a disadvantage. Like Charter Schools, social bonds are a convenient solution for any Government looking for a greater number of contributors to deal with the growing number and needs of beneficiaries in our society.
We can imagine that there will be robust and meaningful debate before good intention converts into reality. We encourage all potentially affected providers to participate in the dialogue and prepare themselves strategically to deal with the effects of the impending change in funding sources.