About Competition

If you want to be incrementally better, be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better, be cooperative.

Competition happens where there is scarcity, cooperation happens where there is abundance.

In our schools, they teach us that “competition is good”. Few online forums are without multiple instances of that phrase too, it’s everywhere. It trumps cooperation every time. Our biology teachers describe to us a cut-throat world of kill or be killed, one in which constant struggle is the rule and only the fittest survive. To balance out this skewed view of the world, The lives of a Cell, by Lewis Thomas is well worth reading. It can help to even out the inaccuracies we’re subjected to, which came from the tormented mind of a Victorian from an elite (and inbred) family obsessed with power and devoid of love.

Everything I’ve been able to find online about the big charities’ structure—from the arguments about directors’ salaries to scandals about expense accounts and the general waste of money—focuses on arguing about the details of how these charities are run. We see debates about a CEO’s six-figure salary, in which it’s compared with salaries in the business sector as a justification. Apparently they need to pay this kind of salary to attract the needed talent. It’s a convincing argument, so long as you assume that charities need to be run like businesses.

All the big charities and most of the small ones are run by business people. The monopoly is so complete that it sounds stupid to even suggest that some other way might be more appropriate. The existing structure is composed entirely of people who are experts at running competitive businesses, and they are unable to imagine any other way to do it. It never even occurs to them that there could be another way. Such a suggestion would be met with a snort of derision.

As long as this situation exists, there will be no change in the way charity is done in our society. If you don’t question the underlying assumption that charity is a business, then there’s no rational argument against any of the legal squandering of money that they do. This is how people like Sir Stephen Bubb can say”There are all sorts of inequities in pay, but while nobody gets worked up about footballers, the chief executive of the Red Cross is pilloried“. He can say stuff like that and be treated as a respectable person because the underlying assumption is that charity is just another trade, like sport or banking. He’s head of Acevo, which represents chief executives from the charity and non-profit sector, and that’s what he said to the UK’s the parliamentary select committee on public administration. (link)

Charity is Not Business

If charity is a business, then Bubb’s opinion makes perfect sense. Football is a game, and people play it all over the world. The business of football is something else, it’s a small subset of all the football played all over the world, commoditized and packaged for sale in the mass market. The people involved in the marketing have every right to take whatever amounts they can from the kitty because the consumers let them. In a free market, there’s nothing wrong with this because the people who pay the money can choose what team to support, or not to support them at all. We can choose to support a small, local, non-league team, or even just play football without any money.

The football business doesn’t own football, it’s just a presentation of something that already exists. The charity business is the same; it just presents charity opportunities to people and takes a cut of the proceeds. The needs would still exist if the business disappeared. We can do it differently if we want to, and there’s no need to call for expensive government controls on charities, nor to spend time and energy arguing about the merits of this or that charity, when we can just make our own arrangements.

If you think charity should be a business, then there’s no problem, but if you think you’d prefer your money to go to a charitable purpose without a business taking its cut and controlling the direction of the recipients’ lives, then you need something else. If you think charity is different to football, cosmetics and car manufacture, then Direct Sponsorship is for you.

In business there is a clear relationship between a seller and a buyer. In charity there is no seller and no buyer. Forcing a charitable process into a business model changes its nature, so that it is no longer really charity.

Notes to be summarized at some future time!

Fixation on competition threatens charity sector (Sydney Morning Herald)

The Regulation of Organised Civil Society – By Jonathan Garton (Link to word search “competition”)

See also Transparency

The fact that they all call it a sector is revealing too.

  • Why Competition is Unhealthy for Charitable Sector.pdf
  • Wall Street Taking Over Nonprofit Sector.pdf
  • Is Competition Among Charities Bad – UTexas.pdf
  • Effects of Nonprofit Competition on Charitable Donations.pdf
  • Fixation on competition threatens charity sector.pdf