Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Human services and the voluntary sector: towards a theory of comparative advantage

By David Billis and Howard Glennerster


his article explores whether human service organisations in the voluntary sector possess characteristics which might assure them of possible comparative advantages over the for-profit and public sectors with respect to certain sorts of users. We argue that there are inherent structural characteristics of organisations in each sector (for example, ownership, stakeholders and resources) which predispose them to respond more or less sensitively to different states of ‘disadvantage’ experienced by their users. These states are defined as financial, personal, societal and community disadvantage. We suggest that voluntary organisations have a comparative advantage over other sector agencies in areas where their distinctive ambiguous and hybrid structures enable them to overcome problems of principal–agent gap, median voter reluctance, weak messages from politicians to staff and lack of market interest. By taking ideas of comparative advantage into account, a coherent case can be developed regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the expanded role of voluntary agencies in welfare provision. In essence, the article contends that a diminution in stakeholder ambiguity, resulting from organisational growth, lowers the comparative advantage of voluntary agencies

Topics: H Social Sciences (General)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 1998
DOI identifier: 10.1017/S0047279497005175
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

Suggested articles


  1. (1979). A theory of non-market failure’
  2. (1975). Across the Generations: Old People and Young Volunteers, Allen and Unwin, doi
  3. (1995). An Introduction to the Voluntary Sector, doi
  4. (2012). and the Voluntary Sector 97 Downloaded:
  5. (1971). Bureaucracy and Representative Government, doi
  6. (1976). Culture and Communication, doi
  7. (1993). Developing the mixed economy of care: emerging issues for voluntary organisations’, doi
  8. (1987). Economic theories of nonprofit organization’, doi
  9. (1993). Government by the market?, doi
  10. (1993). Hovels to High Rise: State Housing in Europe, doi
  11. (1983). If not for Profit, for what?,
  12. (1992). In search of the nonprofit sector 1: ‘The question of definition’, doi
  13. (1991). Managing Human Service Organisations, doi
  14. (1987). Of market failure, voluntary failure, and third-party government: towards a theory of government-nonprofit relations in the modern welfare state’, doi
  15. (1993). Organising Public and Voluntary Agencies, doi
  16. (1980). Outside the State: Voluntary Organisations in Three English Towns, doi
  17. (1994). Parent management committees and pre-school playgroups: the partnership model and future management policy’, doi
  18. (1997). Paying for Welfare: towards doi
  19. (1993). Privatization in Four European Countries, doi
  20. (1993). Sector blurring and nonprofit centres: the case of the UK’, doi
  21. (1992). Social services’
  22. (1981). Social Welfare and the Failure of the State: Centralised Social Services and Participatory Alternatives, Allen and Unwin, doi
  23. (1992). Taking the strain of change: UK local voluntary agencies enter the post-Thatcher period’, doi
  24. The ABC of profit and nonprofit organization’, doi
  25. (1993). The evolution of community care and voluntary organisations’
  26. (1978). The Future of the Voluntary Sector, doi
  27. (1994). The governance of nonprofit organizations: law and public policy’, doi
  28. (1993). The marketization of welfare: changing nonprofit and for-profit roles in the American welfare state’, in Social Service Review doi
  29. (1965). The politics of bureaucracy, doi
  30. (1989). The private provision of public services: a comparison of Sweden and Holland’,
  31. (1992). The role of nonprofit enterprise in 1992: Hansmann revisited’, Paper presented at doi
  32. (1980). The role of nonprofit enterprise’, doi
  33. (1992). The social economy: value-based organisations in the wider society’,
  34. (1990). The sociology of nonprofit organization and sectors’, Annual Review of Sociology doi
  35. (1987). Theories of the State, doi
  36. (1986). Towards a theory of the voluntary nonprofit sector in a three-sector economy’, doi
  37. (1973). Two major issues of public policy and organization of supply’,
  38. (1993). Understanding Nonprofit Funding, Jossey-Bass, doi
  39. (1981). Voluntary Agencies and the Welfare State, doi
  40. (1984). Voluntary Nonprofit Enterprise Management, doi
  41. (1996). Who cares whether your organisation survives?’

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.