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Future of Third Sector Research

23 January 2003 at 12:01 pm
Staff Reporter
Australia urgently needs a much more detailed examination of the Third Sector according to a Sydney researcher who is now in consultation with the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Staff Reporter | 23 January 2003 at 12:01 pm


Future of Third Sector Research
23 January 2003 at 12:01 pm

Australia urgently needs a much more detailed examination of the Third Sector according to a Sydney researcher who is now in consultation with the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS has joined together with the UTS and the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre of Philanthropy to discuss the current range of statistical information and identify the priorities for future research.

Mark Lyons a Professor of Social Economy at the University of Technology in Sydney says future research must provide a clearer and more comprehensive definition of the Not for Profit sector and its activities.

He presented his recommendations in a recent paper called “What does it all Mean and Where to from Here?”

Prof Lyons says the third sector is large, comprising associations, charities, churches, clubs, unions, professional societies, private schools and hospitals, and co-operatives. It is supported significantly by other sectors such as households, business and government.

It makes a huge contribution to Australia – to the economy, to society and to maintaining a democratic political system. But few Australians he says – even in the third sector – understand this.

Prof. Lyons says there is some evidence that the third sector may be starting to decline – certainly it is changing dramatically, but there is no data to help understand the dynamics of these changes.

He describes the ABS as one of Australia’s great national institutions – like CSIRO and the ABC (though with less controversy) performing many central public services.

He says now the ABS is beginning to collect and publish statistics on a large section of the third sector, the Not for Profit sector. It is also collecting and publishing data on some of those activities that maintain the NFP sector – volunteering and giving by business. However he says while this is a good start more is needed.

Prof. Lyons says such research must provide a greater “disaggregation” of fields in which NPIs are significant actors. For example the ABS could double the number of categories in the Satellite Account/ Industry Surveys from 6 to twelve to include subgroups that the sector needs to know about such as culture and recreation: culture and arts; sports; recreation and social clubs.

He says industry studies are the main place for ‘disaggregation’, but there is a
need for NPIs to be identified in certain existing industry studies such as the arts, property and business services, book publishing.

Other industry studies where NPIs are important actors include interest groups, education, and health. Data is also specifically needed to identify government grants, membership dues, and donations.

He says statistics should provide clearer measures of contributions by
NPIs in the area of volunteering, giving, and participation.

For example he says there is a need for a regular collection from a sample of individuals of donations by individuals broken down into donations to NPIs and donations to government organisations. This should be a regular survey

He says data from the household expenditure survey is not designed for this purpose – e. g. it does not indicate where the money goes.

He says fundraising professionals and fundraising organisations (charities) desperately need regular data on giving to calibrate their own efforts

Ideally, he says the voluntary work survey would identify those volunteering for government organisations and for NPIs.

 It should also identify those volunteering for organisations that employ people and those volunteering for the hundreds of thousands of organisations that rely exclusively on voluntary effort to maintain them.
 It should also collect data on people’s informal volunteering as well as formal (i. e. for/ through organisations) volunteering.
 Data on volunteering, giving and civic participation should be regularly collected by the same survey, possibly every three years
 The survey on the generosity of business should be repeated every three years.
 A regular survey of endowed Charitable Trusts – the size of endowment, what it earns and what they give and where.
 NFP sector and wider third sector should use the data there is – and not be reluctant to ask for more.
 And should seek to enter into regular dialogue with the ABS – possibly a role for the new National Non Profits Round Table.

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