Who Serves Who?

Probably the best way to differentiate between a commercial enterprise and a nonprofit organization is by asking, “Who serves who?” Whether it is a small business or a major corporation, the commercial enterprise is primarily concerned with serving its customers. In general, such companies will go to great lengths to keep their customers happy in order to promote repeat business and improve cash flow. They are also fully aware their customers have choices, if they are not satisfied with their product or service there is always someone else waiting to take the business away from them. It’s called the “free enterprise system.”

A nonprofit organization is another beast altogether.

In theory, a nonprofit is supposed to provide a service or product for its constituents. Such people are pooled together primarily due to a common interest of some kind, be it a professional trade group, a homeowners association, a sports club, a fraternal/civic organization, a union, etc. Such organizations are usually legal entities operating under the sanctions of a state government and perhaps a parent organization. Normally, nonprofits are administered by a board of directors which include officers serving for a specific term of duty involving various responsibilities, such as a President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Committee Chairman, etc. It is not uncommon for people to covet such titles as it looks impressive on a resume and is often used to climb a social ladder. Whereas the intent for the administration of the nonprofit is to serve its constituents, quite often the reverse is implemented whereby the membership is coerced into serving its officers thereby creating a monarchy where one should not exist. As trivial or petty such organizations may appear, there are certain types of people who become drunk with power, probably because they never accomplished anything of substance in their professional lives.

Ideally, in a nonprofit, the officers should be ego-less and ever reminded that such groups are typically volunteer organizations and, as such, are under no obligation to follow orders. True, such groups will undoubtedly have governing documents defining specific duties and responsibilities; regardless, it is a volunteer organization where people participate as it suits them. The last thing a nonprofit needs is a bully or someone exerting his/her will to disrupt the harmony of the group.

Then we come to governmental bodies and agencies, be it at the municipal, county, state, or federal level. Like nonprofits, officers are elected from the constituency and, in theory, they are intended to represent the interests of the citizenry. As government bodies become too massive and complex we tend to become somewhat attached to our officials and less inclined to change them fearing it may hurt the system and services. This, of course, lends itself to the monarchy phenomenon and creates career politicians. If officials are left unchecked, a dictatorship begins to take root representing a genuine threat to freedom and democracy regardless of the institution.

So, what should we do when we find the constituents are serving the officials?

Voting is obviously the first alternative that comes to mind, but people can be rather apathetic and behave like sheep, which officials count on to manage the flock. Brainwashing and information management (aka “spin”) are devices commonly used for such control. Term limits is another alternative, unless it is discovered a one party system has been implemented whereby cronies take turns running an operation for someone else behind the scenes.

Perhaps the best approach though is to privatize government or nonprofit organizations thereby causing administrators to truly work for the people. Such institutions are certainly not new. To illustrate, commercial management companies are proliferating throughout the country to serve homeowner associations (since the officials are too lazy to assume responsibility themselves). Although you have to pay for such service, you can change companies at a moment’s notice. Privatizing government and nonprofit organizations offers one important advantage; since they are run by commercial enterprises, who understand the need for properly serving their customers, we would at least know “who serves who.”

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant who writes commentaries about the times we live in be it in the corporate world, the Masonic world, or our personal lives. His writings are well known on the Internet and are humorous, educational, and at times controversial. You won’t always agree with him, but Tim will definitely get you thinking.

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  1. In theory that sounds great. In practice, not so much. The unfortunate reality is that, republican propaganda not withstanding, for profit institutions usually end up going after the money even to the detriment of the customer. Without a disinterested moral commitment to service, for profits tend to let greed overcome their goal to serve. I have seen this in many for profit institutions. It is in fact, precisely what brought Wall Street and the housing market down.

    “Let the free market police itself” remains, as demonstrated, a disaster waiting to repeat itself.


    Eoghan : .

  2. I recommend reading Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies to refute the idea that “Non-Profits” are somehow automatically endowed with a moral commitment to service. His dissection of the Education industry is very interesting in this regard. This is not to say that there isn’t a plethora of fallacies sprinkled in his own arguments. It’s just nice to see someone take apart the idea that a non-profit is somehow automatically exempt from greed and corruption that comes from human nature.

    I personally am starting to believe that big anything (business, government, etc…) are generally detrimental in someway to our own human sensibilities about what’s right and wrong.

  3. Surprised to see such a hyper-political slanted rant here (maybe).

    Nonprofits require a much higher standard of reporting than privately held companies and small businesses. Their accountability is much higher. They also compete for public dollars in donations, compete for grants and even compete for paid services they offer. All while significantly more accountable than any private businesses.

    They aren’t always saints, but they can be revoked as entities once they walk outside their mission and anyone complains and files against their many publicly filed documents. That can’t happen with a small business, because their only chartered mission is to profit.

    Should we privatize all of the masonic institutions created under nonprofit status? Privatize all those created under fraternal statuses? All lodges should be under free market to operate more according to our landmarks?

    I guess that’s the point of including this on a masonic blog.

    What does a free market lodge and grand lodge look like? Competing for “customers”?

  4. Well, you aren’t able to do that under any US Grand Lodge. However, don’t fret, within about 10 years at the current rate of decline, there will be no Grand Lodges left to stop anyone from doing what they want, and calling it Freemasonry. And the big heads up – only members of the Grand Lodges have any reason to be upset by that.

    It has happened before. In the 1770s-80s most provincial lodges in France and no small number of Parisian lodges simply decided the Grand Orient was irrelevent and went about their own business. As we can see, Freemasonry did not die for the want of a Grand Lodge. Some might argue that the demise of the 50 odd US Grand Lodges are what will guarantee Masonry’s future rather than seal its fate.

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