Too many civil society organisations have become overly focused on money rather than their mission, a new report warns.
Social Power: How Civil Society Can ‘Play Big’ and Truly Create Change, due to be published today by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, looks to identify the lessons the voluntary sector can learn from recent successes in achieving social change.
The report, which is based on a year-long conversation with practitioners through a "Community of Practice" – a group of people drawn from across the not-for-profit sector – plus a review of existing evidence, focuses on what the voluntary sector could achieve if it was working to its full potential and how it could contribute to positive social change if it was working optimally and without constraint.
"Civil society is far from a poor relation of government and the private sector, as some would have it," the report says.
"Working optimally, without unreasonable constraint and as a respected partner of government and business, it holds the keys to addressing some of society’s most pressing problems: from trans-generational issues like climate change to knife crime and street homelessness."
But the report says there are concerns that the sector is increasingly working to "commercial models and cultures" that prevent it from working as effectively as it could.
"Our Community of Practice expressed concern that many civil society organisations have allowed themselves to become too focused on the model and the money, rather than the mission," the report says.
"They talked about barriers to collaboration, to working creatively, to thinking afresh about how to pursue change. They cited performance management systems that cannot cope with complexity or uncertainty, and that actively work against agility and responsiveness."
The report calls for sector leaders to be bolder and challenge the status quo in their own organisations and beyond.
Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, said the sector was "fighting with one hand tied behind its back".
She said: "We urgently need the sector to embrace its inner radical and take a much bolder and braver approach to driving change, not least by putting parochial concerns aside and genuinely collaborating.
"At the same time, we need government and other funders to step up the funding and then step out of the way so civil society organisations can put that bolder, braver approach into action and unleash the sector’s full social power."