INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: MEMBER VIEWPOINT - The 'third sector' as a concept may be hazy, but the need is clear

John McLoughlin, head of individual giving at the London School of Economics

The term 'third sector' is a very tidy concept - perhaps too tidy. Adapting management guru Peter Drucker's words, it's the 'not-for-profit' part of society concerned with 'changing lives', as opposed to government which regulates and business which delivers services and goods.

The reality, though, is messier. For a start, many of us deliver services which are subcontracted by the Government and funded in part by the taxpayer.

An extreme example is education. Right now UK universities receive about 40 per cent of their income in direct government grants and a further 5 per cent in research funds.

The concept of the 'third sector' becomes even more of a mess when we think about its extraordinary diversity. Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, recently described a high-profile workshop, which had representatives from community level organisations, small charities, regionally focused groups, campaigning organisations, and charities concerned with health, environment, youth, welfare and animals. Can such diversity really amount to a single sector?

The 'sector' is also highly segmented. Educational fundraisers, for example, have their own organisation CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education), an international organisation founded in the US more than 25 years ago. And it is to America that we turn for most of our strategies and inspiration.

Diverse, maybe even fragmented, this sector is about transforming lives and helping people fulfil their potential. It is this, not fundraising, specialist techniques, nor even professional pride, which I think gives value and shared purpose to our work.

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