The Marketization of the Nonprofit Sector: Civil Society at Risk?

By ,     Sep 19, 2011

NAS team

This post was the result of the efforts of several members of the staff

Presidet & CEO of ITVS

Sally Fifer

As nonprofit organizations, we create value in our communities and therefore help to maintain a strong civil society.  We not only provide services to our communities but also build citizenship skills and produce strong networks. In recent years, however, the lines between the nonprofit and the private market have blurred as many of the techniques and values of the latter have been adopted by the former. Some of these new approaches are helpful in keeping nonprofits afloat in a turbulent economy. Individual organizations may be thriving, but how is this widespread blurring of boundaries affecting civil society as a whole?

In this journal article, authors Elkenberry and Drapal Kluver examine the threat that “marketization” poses to democracy and citizenship. They argue that the commercial market is driven by a different set of goals and values which can compromise the nonprofit sector’s role as a guardian of values and builder of social capital. They maintain that leaders of nonprofits must understand their role as not only service providers but also keepers of civil society and democracy to continue to add unique value.

We mark this piece as provocative because it raises some rarely asked and possibly unpopular questions about the role our organizations play in the community. Leaders may or may not agree with Elkenberry and Drapal Kluver, but reading this article will certainly get anyone thinking about the wider role and responsibilities of nonprofit organizations.

Available online »

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