The voluntary sector is sometimes known as the third sector because it resides neither in the public nor in the private sectors but fulfils necessary roles in a free market economy. The voluntary sector is composed of businesses known as non-profit organizations. These organizations are prevalent in areas specializing in technical research, medical services, agriculture, religion, disaster relief, philanthropy, and the arts. It is a growing sector and has even inspired some popular universities to offer non-profit management degree programs.
The Voluntary Sector and Its Impact on Today’s Society
The voluntary sector, which interacts with both the public and private sectors, are usually service based businesses. Many organizations within the voluntary sector are politically non-partisan, which often opens international doors more readily than public sector organizations. For instance, countries facing hardships because of disaster emergencies may allow the Red Cross to enter its borders, but may not welcome help directly from another nation’s public sector organization. Many nations view the Red Cross as a neutral, international company whose mission to provide disaster relief services transcend political boundaries.
A few voluntary sector organizations’ missions are to offer goods and services to economically disadvantaged members of the community. Gifts In Kind is an example of a company that has partnered with the private sector to give discounted goods to those in need through donations given by private sector companies. Organizations like Gifts In Kind saw a need and provided a venue that would provide a positive impact on their local communities.
Some organizations within the voluntary sector provide unbiased, independent research to aid decision-making in the public and private sectors. These businesses often recruit top scientific talent to work as consultants in various “think tanks.” The RAND corporation is an example of a voluntary sector company that provides specialized research and analysis for government policy makers. Because healthcare has become an increasing concern in today’s society, many voluntary sector organizations conduct third-party medical research. The results of their work influence public health policy making as well as medical academia.
The benefits of the voluntary sector are well established. Philanthropic organizations offer a meaningful way to meet the needs of the community without adding tax burdens for more government provided support for economically disadvantaged groups. These voluntary sector organizations receive tax breaks and incentives to operate, and they are usually independently audited to make sure that they meet regulatory requirements. One concern about these types of non-profit businesses is that they may meet the legal though not ethical classification of a non-profit business and gain an undue advantage over for profit businesses in the private sector. Perceived concerns usually arise only when non-profit organizations begin to generate significant income reflected in the dramatic salary increases of their executive management teams.
Non-profit scientific and medical research organizations have played critical roles in innovation and technological advancements used globally. Non-profit research and analysis organizations have also conducted studies that have resulted in better use of government resources. However, the main source of concern with these organizations are their close ties with government clients. Sometimes these organizations become quasi-government organizations. By becoming so closely associated with the government and receiving government funding to conduct research and analysis, these companies could run the risk of losing their unbiased, independent status.
Voluntary Sector Success Stories
There are many successful nonprofit organizations operating for the greater good in the areas of philanthropy, employment for the disabled, and medical research. The Salvation Army ranks number one for community services and emergency relief operations. The faith-based organization takes the biblical mission of service to others seriously. They provide food, clothing, and temporary shelter to those in need. The Salvation Army also uses donated funds and goods to be a first responder to disaster victims at home and abroad. Locally, they offer rehabilitation services for those caught in the clutches of drug and alcohol addictions. Their prison ministry and outreach ministry to former prisoners are well-known to community families and authorities.
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation promotes medical research through partnerships with top scientists and physicians. They seek to identify and overcome the underlying causes of human diseases through innovative exploration and problem solving. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation disseminates the results of their research to the rest of the medical community as well as to the public. They use their extensive resources to offer continuing education and training to medical professionals.
Goodwill Industries provides more than just discounted, used goods. Their primary mission is to provide employment for disabled and handicapped employees who would otherwise have a hard time securing paid work. The work that they offer to these under-represented groups come from retail sales, commercial service contracts, and public and private sector support funding. The revenue received from all of its endeavours make Goodwill Industries a billion dollar business.