Community Scoop

Never stopping till you’re done

photo of Tara D'SousaTara D’Sousa
National Manager, Social Service Providers Aotearoa Inc.

All the world loves a beaver, or so the community sector will have you believe. How else can you rationalise the extraordinary motivation behind ninety-five community workers participating in a seminar “Navigating through the Changes in the Family Justice System” held in Wellington last week? Clearly they were willing to spend the morning learning, questioning and challenging; finding out about better access to justice for the people with whom they work.

Around the country it never ceases to amaze me that community work will draw enthusiasts to after-hours meetings; week-ends for many NGO staff involve fund-raising activity or training; gathering people together around a project for social change knows no nine-to-five boundaries.

Outcomes for the people they work with constitute the usual motivational imperative for workers in the NGO sector. Non-profit organisations exist to fulfil their mission; in this context it is important to maintain a perspective on market-models of social service provision that are about incentivising efficiency or productivity in the sector.

The New Zealand non-profit sector contributes 4.9% to gross domestic product.  It employs over 200,000 paid staff and volunteers[1]. The general New Zealand public are reported as giving $2.67 billion to charitable and community causes (in 2011)[2], reflecting some confidence in the intent and outcomes of the community and voluntary sector.

Government contracts out service delivery functions because NGOs are seen to have specific organisational capital which they can draw on to deliver services for communities in innovative, responsive and specialised ways[3], and there has been a greater recognition by government agencies of the unique contribution made by NGOs as independent providers rather than just delivery arms of government[4]. NGOs are usually rooted in local communities to find and support those needing their services

As well, the NGO sector is highly efficient because it maximises resources and delivers services for the government at a much cheaper rate than the government itself. Demand also tends to far exceed contracted volumes, but this often doesn’t stop NGOs working with clients: “we can’t say no to families”.


The sector has historically driven the discussions about “outcomes-focussed” services that make a difference to minimise the number of people with multiple and highly complex needs. NGOs want funding linked to outcomes but the ownership of the outcomes is also very important, with a strong preference for cross agency collaboration and accountability at a local level when deciding the outcomes to be measured.

Service integration, working together and collaboration are already happening in the sector. Innovation is born of limited resources and tight budgets against high commitment to provide to the highest standard for clients’ needs.

Collaboration is the norm. Even in a contracting environment, providers of services “compete” through non-price differentiation for example demonstrating ‘best fit’ for a contract. In many regions or among groups of providers servicing the same community of interest, there will be internal discussion and agreement to determine which provider is best placed to tender for a contract; other providers will not tender and support through referral and by providing complementary services. Treasury has said in its December 2013 paper[5] “NGOs have already expressed that they are only partially funded for the cost of their services and therefore there would not be any desire to ‘undercut’ each other on a price basis in this collaborative environment. Price as a lever to incentivise efficiency within NGOs will be limited”

So, there is a fair case made here for NGOs who love the work they do, are deeply passionate about social justice and committed to making change for those people for whom the social and economic systems are not working to ensure well-being. They are driven by the people with whom they work, they are incentivised by the change they see, they work hard and long because “Amazing Awaits!”…and the road is long and there are miles to go.

To paraphrase Dr. Nicola Atwool, keynote speaker at the ACCAN[6] Conference held in Auckland in March-April this year: “I cannot retire till I am sure our tamariki are safe, protected, thriving and belonging”

[1] The Code of Funding Practice, Office of the Community and Voluntary Sector, Department of Internal Affairs, 2009



[4] Sanders, O’Brien, Tennant, Sokolowski & Salamon, 2008

[5] Contracting for Social Services: Treasury, December 2013

[6] Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect 2015