For Purpose and Profit – Changing the Mindset

By Brendon Ward, CEO Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

Social sector, civil society, third sector, community sector, charities and not for profits.  There are many terms used to describe the types of organisations that provide the essential glue that binds society. While all of them have supporters and detractors, is it fair or justified to bundle them all under one not-for-profit umbrella?

Many years ago I heard a compelling presentation from Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, who questioned why we would accept being labelled as, let alone refer to ourselves, as something we are NOT. Not-for-profit is not what we do. It’s not even how we operate. Why then do we continue to expound the issue?

Costello proposed another term for our collection of organisations as the for purpose sector. I don’t know if this is a term that has, or in the future will, meet with universal acceptance. What I do know is the vast majority of organisations in our sector have a noble cause—a purpose that is well defined, has meaning, and provides important products and/or services for the communities they serve.

Too often I have heard that the not-for-profit sector is undervalued and struggles for recognition at a Government level. That it is effectively a second-class citizen where people go to work when they downshift, or that it is a vehicle for the government of the day to quickly or cheaply achieve some of their social goals.

The key difference between the for profit sector and the for purpose sector is that our surplus (profit) is reinvested back into our operations to provide enhanced products and services for our communities, rather than being paid back as dividends to shareholders or owners. If an organisation does not make a profit (surplus) on a regular basis, it is not sustainable or viable in the longer term. Our organisations must be run as businesses. They must make a profit (surplus), and importantly, they must strive to achieve their objects.

Like the for profit sector, the for purpose sector is extremely diverse. It includes associations, charities, churches, clubs, community groups, councils, institutes, social services and a whole lot more. I believe it is acceptable for all of these to be lumped under one for purpose sector with the ability to segment as required.

Increasingly it seems our sector is being targeted as either a soft touch or target rich. Social enterprise is pecking on the crumbs in one corner while larger corporates are gnawing away on the social responsibility ropes. Government is watching on as both referee and promoter while the fighters in the middle (us) dance around scoring a few wins and being spurred on by consultants, suppliers and boards.

In order for our sector to be valued, respected and acknowledged the mindset needs to change. The for purpose sector is an attractive career choice. It holds abundant appeal for those who want to contribute to a better society or are passionate about their noble cause.

Learnings and experience need to come from other sectors and be retained within our sector. Tertiary and other qualifications that enhance the capability of for purpose organisations to deliver, are essential.

However, more importantly there is a burning need. The for purpose sector needs to disrupt the way it is perceived. To reinvent itself and secure a prosperous future as the glue that does bind society together. To be united in the terminology used to describe who we are and what we do.

I’m a supporter of Costello’s terminology—for purpose. Do you have anything better?

Brendon Ward

Brendon Ward is CEO of the Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE). AuSAE is the home for association professionals. A place where they belong, connect with others, advance their careers and feel empowered. Brendon is passionate about and has a long history in the for purpose sector having previously held leadership roles with Registered Master Builders Association, The Recreation Association and Water Safety New Zealand. He has headed up the New Zealand Charities regulator and managed the Volunteer Program for Rugby World Cup in 2011.


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