Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Third Sector? Does it really exist?

29 December, 2010 - 11:01 -- John Burton

The Charity world is often referred to as the 'Third Sector', but as time goes by I am really beginning to question its existence as a cohesive sector, and wonder if it is a good idea to group together charities in this way.

After all, what does the World Land Trust (WLT) have in common with a National Health Service Trust,  a military benevolent fund or a fundamentalist church? In fact, our mission is in many ways directly opposed to the mission of some charities.  I read the charity press and get invited to numerous conferences and other meetings, but only very rarely do they have the slightest relevance to the interests of the World Land Trust. Of course managing a gift aid collection scheme will apply across the so-called Third Sector, but I also see huge differences in approach across the sector, and I generally feel much more at home working with for-profit businesses than most other charities. And as for the concept that charities need to become more effective, by learning from the business world, this is surely a bit of a joke, since we operate on a 15%  overhead -- which is effectively making an 85% profit -- something most businesses would die for. Actually not strictly true, but it does illustrate a point.

It is, in my view high time that the environmental charities dissociated themselves from the rest of the charity world -- they share very little with organisations like Christian Aid, or the Royal Opera House -- and instead of joining in the annual conventions, back slapping awards etc, should get together only with like-minded charities, sharing similar underlying philosophies, and perhaps make the world move a bit faster. What do you think?


Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

The Third Sector is an interesting term. It implies a rather stodgey, complacent acceptance that things are really kinda okay. Ease back – enjoy salving your conscience with a bit a loose change flung in a charity’s direction.

But most charities surely represent societal FAILURE rather than ‘do good-ing’. It is, after all, an indictment of civilised values than starving children and say, earthquake victims, have to rely on good ol’ charidee begging for funds, while nuclear weapons and armament procurement NEVER has to go to the public begging bowl, even when ‘defense’ budgets sky-rocket off into the crazy.

And now, our government has become quite brazen about charidee filling in the gaps where public money used to be mandatory. Never mind chasing up on tax avoidance/evasion – no, you, chumps, must stump up a second time by donating to charities. But this time – hey, feel the love (warm inner glow of sanctity).

But as for environmental concerns, I, for the most part, don’t want governments trying to do conservation. They are useless at it, their track record stinks; whereas small well-focussed non-governemental groups almost always do it better because they truly know AND CARE about the long-term outcomes (Govts are here today, gone tomorrow). And – they have us their supporters breathing down their necks asking hard questions if things go awry.

I wonder if others feel this critical (as we see John cracking lumps off ‘em as above) of the Third Sector and the blythe assumptions that charity is just ‘A Good Thing’, whatever.

Submitted by John Burton on

It is strange that things like ‘Defense’, never seem to get cut, and the cost of a single modern Tank would do so much for conservation. And probably if we spent it where the tanks are being used, it would do even more good. But Dominic is probably right, only if the NGO sector did it.

Submitted by sustainable on

I am not sure what you are asking for
Why do you need to worry about the rest of the charity world? I thought the small charities kept their heads down and got on with the job as they do not have the manpower to jamboree.
Is not the Jamboree bit and “back slapping” an (unfortunate) natural development of pushy advertising of your charity, keeping a high profile as well as networking (for what?)
Re Dominic’s thought that Govs are not so good at doing things, maybe they are too bureaucratic and procedure led whereas charities are nimbler and (sometimes) slimmer.
Working together? I do often wonder about this when there are numerous charities apparently doing the same thing or at least the same thing in different places and vica versa . but I guess it’s this niche thing a bit like an efficient ecosystem. Which is not quite the angle you want, I think.
Nor is this: Should conservation charities work together with agricultural aid charities. As conservation often requires the local community not to exploit land in some ways or to change their ways and use existing land more efficiently
Similarly water aid (grants for wells) as well as getting the locals to take responsibility for the wells surely they need to introduce water catchment techniques into the agricultural system. Your water catchment forest areas come in here.
I do think now that so many people in so many parts of the world are tackling these various issues there is a need for local workers to have ideas discovered elsewhere made available for their assessment. It is alright asking the locals what they want but they need to know what is available.
All this talk of duplication reminds me I do not dear much of the WLT type charity spawned by the great and good of government.

Submitted by Robert Burton on

Until recently I was a trustee for a wildlife conservation charity. To learn more about the duties of a trustee and legal requirements and advice for the governance of charities, I examined literature put out by the Charities Commission. It seemed to have little revelance to our situation. The charities they gave as examples were in a different world.
On the other hand, discussions with John revealed many similarities with the WLT and useful hints on how we could improve our operation.

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