Briefing encounter

Managing without Profit
April 5, 1996

In his introduction, Mike Hudson lists the people likely to need "succinct briefing" on managing "value-led" or third-sector organisations. It is a rather grand list, ranging from members of boards to managers, employees, civil servants, foundations, academics and students of social policy, and even governments. If all these people, he says, have dog-eared copies of Managing Without Profit in their briefcases, the book will have achieved its objective.

I fear this is unlikely. The key phrase, is "succinct briefing". People are busy today, especially those working in the third sector, whether as paid staff or as part-time and usually unpaid board or committee members. What they often need is guidance on specific problems of policy, organisation or management. What they do not need is 300-plus pages of rather vague theory, interspersed with case studies, tables and "dialogue boxes" that do little more than perk up a rather flat narrative.

There is also some muddled thinking. This manifests itself as early as the first paragraph of the introduction, when Hudson defines what he means by the third sector: "People want health, welfare, educational, humanitarian, environmental and cultural services to improve the world we live in. They expect the organisations that provide them to be 'not-for-profit' and also 'not in the public sector'." The latter part of this statement is clearly untrue, at least as regards health, welfare and education: we still expect a great deal from our public services and to a large extent get it. Moreover, Hudson contradicts himself a few pages later in a chart showing the overlapping boundaries of the third, public and private sectors - health authorities are placed firmly in the public sector.

Hudson's first chapter is devoted to an overview of "The undiscovered sector", giving rather random examples in the text and in tables. The second chapter has some useful, but not new advice on the functions of governing bodies and the relationships between them and their executive staff. The author then goes on to describe different phases in the life-cycle of governing bodies - the founding, the youthful, the adult and the mature - each one initiated by a period of crisis. This pattern is mildly interesting but certainly not universally applicable, and is repeated later when the author takes the cycle a phase further to decline and makes the point that charitable organisations seldom die, but sometimes ought to.

The book contains some useful things, such as the chapters dealing with different aspects of good management, many of which would apply equally well to a commercial or public-sector organisation. But it is as well to draw attention, for example, to the necessity for all concerned with third-sector organisations to have and to hold on to a clear idea of the purpose of their particular body; to the difficulty of monitoring outcomes when the end users of services are far away and not in a position to feed back opinions; to the need to take into account the concerns of all stakeholders (yes, stakeholders); and to the diplomacy needed when managing people who have volunteered their services.

Planning, development, finance and appraisal are also dealt with, and there is a section on reorganising management structure.

Ultimately, the book's greatest weakness is that it uses a broad brush to paint a picture of a vast range of organisations so that generalisation is the order of the day, with real-life examples illustrating points. Anyone searching through the index for practical advice on, say, financial systems, information technology or fundraising would not find it.

I cannot see many government officials, or even people active in the sector, carrying Management Without Profit in their briefcases, but it might be a useful source of information for students.

Jane Reid is administrator, Wingate Scholarships, and chair of governors, St Martin-in-the-Fields High School.

Managing without Profit: The Art of Managing Third-Sector Organizations

Author - Mike Hudson
ISBN - 0 14 023886 7
Publisher - Penguin
Price - £9.99
Pages - 336

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