At first look this seems a rather daft question. Charities for profit? Isn't that a contradiction? Well, yes, and no. The public would certainly find NSPCC plc a hard one to throw into the bucket for. So, on one level, yes it is a non-starter.
But I raise the question because I there is a hypothesis I would like to test. Which is this: Would NSPCC deliver more social bang for buck if it were owned and managed as a for-profit venture? Part of me, you see, believes it might just do that. And if that were so, what would that mean for the charity model of raising money and spending it?
First though, how on earth might a private NSPCC deliver more for children. Well, I am fairly confident that it would very quickly focus the business on areas where the evidence suggested most gains could be made for least investment. Charities are, in my experience, not as skilled at focus full stop. Nor do they like to kill programmes that are good - but not quite good enough. Secondly, a private NSPCC would definitely have fewer staff, less bureaucracy and a more simplified and faster decision-making structure. Almost without doubt. Thirdly, a private charity would be better at driving down costs and would do this instinctively, rather than as a nice-to-do.
But there will never be a private NSPCC so why bother even thinking about it? Well, it's not quite as simple as that. Many charities now do work in fields that for-profit companies also operate.
Take my own sector, advocacy services for vulnerable groups. While charities predominate, there are a few private sector players, one of which is owned by a professional friend of mine. His business is is carefully organised to make profit (which he then puts to a variety of good uses on top of providing for his family.
But my friend believes, correctly I think, that his broad focus on profit actually leads the company in the direction of getting it right as a service. On processes. On delivery. On costs. On people. On measureable impact. Yes, a profit focus actually helps, on some level, to get these others things right.
I say all this because we have struggled, as a non-profit minded organisation, for to get some of these things sorted quickly. It is only now, when the medium term future is less certain (i.e. our top and bottom lines are under threat) that I seem to be able to generate the impetus for change.
Indeed, I have often wondered, in my darker moments, whether if we were run for profit, like my friend's business, we would have resolved the drag-factors on our business which only now we are starting to resolve.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, I think what comes out for me is that we need to rid ourselves of the fantasy that profit just takes from delivery. That third sector organsisations are somehow better because we don't aim for profit.
This is lazy thinking. The truth is that many charities that could make a profit toput to good use actually refuse to do so in the misguided belief that it is always better to leave costs in the business. If charities produced profit-targets - and stuck to them - I am personally fairly sure that the sector would, in a very short time, be delivering the same for a lot less money.
So yes, while I agree that charities can never be run for private profit, I do believe charities would, overall, do more good if they set ambitious targets for profit (to be reinvested or whatever) and pursued them with the same vigour and focus as would a private sector business.