Jack-of-All-Trades – The Dark Side of Capitalism’s Impact on Social Enterprise Organizations

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“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Volunteer Airdrie is a member of numerous local organizations that bring together local resources to collaborate and address a specific community issue.   Groups like Welcoming Airdrie, Airdrie Cares, Airdrie & Area Resource Council and the Airdrie Interagency Group, to name a few, meet regularly to update each other on their respective services and programs.  Oftentimes, this provides a forum for identifying new unserved needs in the community and opportunities for two or more organizations to collaborate to address these needs.

However, in today’s world of limited non-profit funding, it also provides each organization with insight into what “the competition” is doing.

The result?  Duplication of services and competition for funding to provide those services.

Sounds like capitalism, right?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

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Perhaps the capacity of the organization providing a desirable service is limited and the new entrants are simply filling an unfulfilled demand for those services.

Where it becomes a bit trickier is when the reason for adding a look-alike program is to attract another source of funding.  By doing so, are we creating social profit organizations that are more “Jack-of-all-Trades and Masters of None”?  Are we sacrificing quality of the one service to improve the chances of survival?  Are we spending scarce resources to only create an environment of over-capacity, overlap and competition between organizations?

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In 2003, the U.K. developed a strategic plan blueprint for the following five years of English higher education. The strategy extended the government’s policy of specialization and pledged extra cash for teaching excellence and for collaboration with local businesses.

At that time, universities were rewarded for excellence in widening participation and research.  The new approach rewarded them for playing to their strengths.

Each university and college were encouraged to undertake core work in teaching, research, widening participation and links with business and the community, with the option of specializing in one or more of them. The proposals were contained in the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s strategic plan for 2003-08.

Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, said: “Individual universities and colleges will have to recognize that they cannot all meet the full range of customer and stakeholder needs. They must work to build on their own chosen areas of strength, in collaboration with other providers, so that the sector as a whole continues to deliver all that is required of it.”

“Each institution should be proud to play to its strengths. Such specialization is not a sign of weakness. The corollary is to recognize that there are some things that other institutions do better – and that limited resources could be better concentrated where they can be put to best advantage.”

Remember the old saying: “Stick to your knitting (and I will stick to mine)”?

Decisions regarding the diversification of a charity’s programs and services should not be taken lightly, or done simply for gaining funding or political advantage!

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