Are we moving into an era where the non-profit business model becomes the norm? Perhaps in some niche markets this is indeed becoming the case, says Ruth McCambridge in a recent NPQ article.
While it may be heresy in some circles to admit that the free market cannot accomplish everything, there is a growing acknowledgement that in some areas at least, the non-profit model can provide goods and services to communities otherwise left behind by the "invisible hand" of the marketplace.
Example 1: A North Carolina literary arts society is opening a small, independent bookstore. This shop-around-the-corner business model has been driven to near extinction, first by mega-bookstore chains then by internet booksellers. As a not-for-profit enterprise, this small store can position itself as a major, yet intimate contributor to the local arts and culture scene in ways a corporate would quickly find untenable.
Example 2: Non-profit legal services. By offering legal services at significantly reduced rates, even those of modest means can afford access to quality legal counsel. This met with surprising support from the legal community in terms of donations and referrals. Law firms see the demand in their practices every day, but simply cannot afford to take the time, much less actively market themselves to low-income clients.
McCambridge cites the growing wealth gap as the reason for the increasing viability of this "new" business model. If such is indeed the case, then it would seem that South Africa would be a place where such "small business" non-profits should thrive.