July 14, 2010; Source: Financial Times | A long time cause célèbre in the U.S. has been how much some people just hate the word “nonprofit.” Some of the alternatives, a few notably cringeworthy, include “third sector,” “independent sector” (odd name for a sector substantially dependent on government grants and contracts), “the voluntary sector” (odd name that implies volunteering when much of the sector is paid and professional), “social sector,” “community-owned sector” (many communities don’t feel ownership over the larger nonprofits in their midst), and “community benefit organizations,” plus Claire Gaudiani’s “social profit organization,” Dan Pallotta’s “humanity sector,” and California Endowment chief Bob Ross’s idea of the “delta sector” (delta is the Greek letter for change). Whew!
In the UK, “third sector” is frequently used in government and nonprofit circles (we at NPQ often quote from the British journal Third Sector Online). The new Tory prime minister, David Cameron, just weighed in on the name game, with this recent comment offered during the Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ) time in the House of Commons: “we will want to do everything we can to help what used to be called, rather condescendingly, the third sector but I believe is the first sector: the excellent charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises that do so much for our country. . . so often these first sector organisations have the right answers to the social problems in our country.”
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Call nonprofits anything you want, but as Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” If the Tory/Liberal government cuts their funding, first sector, third sector, or humanity sector organizations will be hard-pressed to live up to their monikers and deliver the “right answers to the social problems” in the U.K. or the U.S.—Rick Cohen