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Alex Murdock and Stephen Barber

What is the state of what can be described as management in the third sector? At its heart, it discusses the long-held assertion that these organizations are reluctant to accept the need for ‘management’. After all, what makes third sector organizations different, by their own estimation, from their commercial equivalents is the deeply embedded concepts of mission and values together with a distinctly complex stakeholder environment. For all that, there are also “commercial” pressures and an instinct for survival. To serve the mission necessarily needs resources. And there is a perennial tension in high-level decision-making between delivery of the mission and maintaining solvency. Third-sector organizations, like any other, are innately concerned with their own sustainability. It is here that the analysis is located and there is an opportunity to examine the topic theoretically and empirically. By introducing the concept of the “Management See-Saw” to illustrate the competing drivers of values and commercialism before exploring these identified pressures through the lens of three real-life vignettes, it is possible to appreciate the current state of play. Given all this, it is important for modern organizations to be able to measure value and impact. From a managerial perspective, the reality needs to be acknowledged that this environment is complex and multi-layered. In drawing the strands together, the discussion concludes by illustrating the importance of leadership in the sector, which is a powerful indicator of effectiveness. Nevertheless, with a focus on management, the core contention is that management remains undervalued in the third sector. That said, commercial focus can increasingly be identified and the longer term trend is squarely in this direction.