Ruth K. Hansen and Gregory R. Witkowski
Dr. Ruth K. Hansen

Dr. Ruth K. Hansen
Assistant Professor, Nonprofit Management
Director, Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies
College of Business and Economics
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Gregory. R. Witkowski

Dr. Gregory. R. Witkowski
Senior Lecturer on Nonprofit Management, Columbia University
Affiliate Faculty, National Center for Disaster Preparedness
Book Series Editor of Georgetown University Press “Philanthropy, Nonprofits, and Nongovernmental Organizations” Series

Sector Theorists Should Consider How Social Values Determine Unmet Needs

Reimagining Nonprofits: Sector Theory in the Twenty-First Century
Cambridge University Press, 2024

“Sector Theorists Should Consider How Social Values Determine Unmet Needs” is a book chapter in the volume, Reimagining Nonprofits: Sector Theory in the Twenty-First Century, published by Cambridge University Press in 2024. In this chapter, the authors explore how sociopolitical power manifests itself through for-profit, nonprofit, and public sector practices and policies. They write:

While there are differences between the sectors, socially constructed preferences and sociopolitical power supersede these differences, foregrounding the needs of people with economic, political, and social power and repeatedly leaving others’ needs unmet. Drawing on postcolonial theory, we argue that the dominant explanatory framework for the interaction of the market, government, and nonprofit sectors—Three Failures Theory—works best for those needs that society recognizes as important. The theory is often understood as explaining the provision of goods across society, but only illustrates how certain needs are met. On its own, it unconsciously reflects and reinforces the social constructions that deem the demands of some people as important and of others as irrelevant (e.g., Schneider & Ingram, 1990, 1993).

We take issue with the notion of “needs” that are taken for granted in Three Failures Theory. All needs are not the same, and some needs are recognized while others remain hidden. Gaps in provision are neither evenly spread nor random but correlate with societal values. In essence, groups who are “on the margins” of society are often ignored or exploited because of culturally ascribed characteristics. For the nonprofit sector, these groups represent a challenge and opportunity to show societal leadership and to engage with these needs.

In this chapter, we draw on both critical theory and social science to develop the Cross-Sectoral Bias Theory to understand which needs are likely to be met and which are likely to be excluded. We see Cross-Sectoral Bias Theory as an important supplement to the Three Failures Theory by explaining why some societal needs remain unmet. Social systems and perceptions, defined by those with power, affect the behavior of decision makers in all sectors, resulting in differing access to goods and services. By bringing critical theory into dialogue with the BIAS framework and Three Failures Theory, our interdisciplinary Cross-Sectorial Bias Theory offers a refined lens for understanding of how the three sectors define whose needs are met, and how.

Ruth K. Hansen, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s College of Business and Economics, and director of the Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies. She teaches classes in nonprofit organizations, fundraising, organizational behavior, and research methods. Her research focuses on the theory and practice of fundraising, and equity and inclusion in resource mobilization. Dr. Hansen has more than 20 years’ professional experience as a fundraiser, and is a former board member of AFP-Chicago. Recent publications include “Applying a stakeholder management approach to ethics in charitable fundraising,” published in the Journal of Philanthropy and Marketing and “Gary Neighborhood House: Managing mission and uncertainty in the Civil Rights era,” in the edited volume Hoosier Philanthropy. She contributed the chapter “Theory in Fundraising,” to the new edition of Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, which was featured on Bill Stanczykiewicz’s First Day Podcast from The Fundraising School. Her research with Dr. Lauren Dula on fundraising appeal letters, supported by the AFP Foundation, is the subject of a recent article in Advancing Philanthropy.

Gregory R. Witkowski is a senior lecturer of nonprofit management and affiliate faculty at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He is the series editor of the Georgetown University Press Series “Philanthropy, Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organizations,” which publishes books for scholars and practitioners. Witkowski has authored or edited three books: The Campaign State, German Philanthropy in Transatlantic Perspective, and Hoosier Philanthropy. He has also contributed additional chapters to prominent edited volumes and articles published in scholarly journals. His research focuses on both local interactions where the majority of philanthropic gifts go and on transnational giving, which add the complication of cross-cultural exchange. The Social Science Research Council, American Historical Association, German Academic Exchange, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the New York Public Library, Rockefeller Archive Center, and Columbia University have all supported Witkowski through grants.