Charitable intent

Nonprofit Organisations
June 2, 2006

The challenges of writing a textbook on "nonprofit organisations" are formidable. There is no consensus about the meaning of the term, yet there are numerous apparently related terms including "voluntary organisations", "NGOs", "social enterprises", "civil society", "social movements" and "charity". There is also no consensus about whether "nonprofits" constitute a distinct academic field; can they not be studied within fields such as organisational behaviour, strategic management and public policy? This lack of consensus raises questions about appropriate selection of source materials.

In the light of these challenges, Helmut Anheier is to be applauded for producing a pioneering text that is packed with scholarly reflections covering a broad intellectual canvas. He tackles the definitional challenge head on, by-passes the question of academic fields, and unapologetically selects materials according to personal interests. The format is exemplary; each of the 16 chapters begins with a list of learning objectives and key terms and concludes with review questions and vital references. An appendix supplies case studies, and a full bibliography is provided.

The book's major limitation as a text for the UK is that its underpinning assumptions about the nature, purposes, values and policy context of the nonprofit sector are grounded firmly in US experience. Examples from other countries are introduced occasionally, but this is not sufficient to make the book useful for international audiences.

There are a number of programmes and courses in the UK at diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate level that focus on our voluntary and community sector from a management and/or public-policy perspective. Until now, teachers have been obliged to make their own choice of articles and book chapters for students, as there has been no textbook. But those who decide to adopt this first textbook will need to continue to be selective about which parts of the book they refer students to. They will also need to provide supplementary materials that include UK-relevant cases and draw on a broader range of specialist nonprofit research.

Anheier's text is heavy on generic theory and academic context, but it conveys little of the distinctive problems of or passions behind nonprofit management in a complex policy environment.

Margaret Harris is professor of voluntary sector organisation, Aston University.

Nonprofit Organisations: Theory, Management, Policy

Author - Helmut K. Anheier
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 450
Price - £90.00 and £25.99
ISBN - 0 415 31418 6 and 31419 4

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