Why do non-profit organizations fail

Non-profit organizations: From whale savers and democracy

Today, non-profit organizations are under increasing pressure to legitimize themselves. At the same time, there is increasing criticism of their way of working. Nevertheless, they are indispensable for a democratic society, as they are, say Lioudmila Chatalova and Vladislav Valentinov from the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Development in Halle (Saale).

As you write in a letter to top agrar online, critical reports about the work of non-profit organizations (NPO) such as associations, NGOs and other charitable organizations have recently increased. The known manipulations of the ADAC, organ donation scandals or the current agricultural speculation debate are weakening public confidence in their work. In the opinion of Chatalova and Valentinov, the organizations are now obliged to rethink their usual structures and working methods. Above all, they would have to face the reproach of irrationality, i.e. the inadequate factual quality of their decisions.

“As early as the 1990s, the political scientist Wolfgang Seibel summarized the rationality deficits of the NPOs under the term successful failure together. The social problems that the NPOs deal with are often too complex or unsolvable, so that the NPOs cannot muster enough expertise, ”the two scientists explain in their statement. “And that's why they often fail because of their own claims and the expectations of society.” Paradoxically, however, because of this failure, they are indispensable for society. For Seibel, the lack of professionalism of the NPOs is by no means a disadvantage, but rather a blessing because it relieves the so-called overall social rationality.

For the business ethicist Karl Homann, the factual quality of the decisions and their legitimacy are in conflict of goals, Chatalova and Valentinov write on. From his point of view, decisions based on the best possible expertise, technology and quality, as is the case in profit-oriented companies, are not necessarily legitimized by all interest groups. Conversely, it is true that highly legitimate decisions, whether in politics or in the NPOs, may lack the desired quality.

“For NPOs this means that they can only guarantee a high level of legitimation for their decisions by restricting the guarantee of rationality. At the same time, the legitimacy of decision-making is the essence of their contribution to democracy, ”said the workers at the Leibniz Institute. In the current debate about the NPOs, whether about the agricultural speculation or the processes within the ADAC, in their opinion it is above all the factual quality of their work that is pilloried. But the factual correctness of the NPO mission is irrelevant for a democratic order, while the resulting discourse is indispensable. "If the NPOs' contribution to democracy is important to us, we have to accept their irrationality benevolently."

With their letter to top agrar online, the two researchers respond to the following message:
Why does the media never question the NGOs? (8.1.2014)