Story: Voluntary welfare organisations

Page 6. Changes in voluntary work, 1980s and 1990s

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Funding issues

In the mid-1980s government agencies distributed an estimated $75 million annually (about $200 million in 2019 terms), usually in grants and subsidies, to voluntary social agencies. Much went to nationally organised societies. Smaller, locally-based and rural groups felt excluded. They criticised the practice of funding organisations on the basis of historical precedent rather than demonstrated need for their services.

Devolution and contracting

From 1984 Labour and then National governments attempted to reduce state activity. Some social services previously provided by the government were devolved to the voluntary sector. Voluntary agencies still received state financial support, but increasingly on a competitive model. The government began to make contracts with them for the purchase of services. In the early 1990s contracting became the usual way for government to fund the voluntary sector. The contracts negotiated were often short-term and involved only partial funding. Measurable outputs were required, such as specific numbers of contact hours with clients, or of beds provided. A higher level of efficiency and professionalism was often needed to meet these goals, so trained and paid staff were required.

1990s change

The 1990s were one of the greatest periods of change in the history of New Zealand’s voluntary social services. Many newer agencies successfully competed for government funding. Established organisations undertook much-needed reviews of their activities. A greater openness to cultural diversity emerged across the sector. However, volunteers sometimes felt excluded by the new developments.

In place of the term ‘voluntary sector’, a new terminology emerged. Organisations were referred to as ‘non-profit organisations’, to differentiate them both from government and from an increasing number of profit-making providers of social services.

Zero to hero

Academic Mason Durie estimated that the number of Māori social-service provider organisations increased from ‘almost zero to more than a thousand’ in the 20 years after 1984.1

Māori and iwi social services

Before it was dismantled in 1989, the Department of Māori Affairs had fostered community-based social services for Māori, including kōhanga reo (Māori language-learning nests) and the Matua Whangai programme to support young Māori. In the 1980s Māori and government agencies increasingly cited the Treaty of Waitangi as justification for services ‘by Māori for Māori’.

The devolution of social services to Māori providers accelerated from the late 1980s. These groups, too, were successful in gaining government endorsement and funding. Many were iwi-based. Others, such as urban Māori authorities, catered for Māori who were outside or alienated from tribal structures. Activities ranged from early childhood education to health and disability services and community social services. Iwi services were often linked with other Māori development programmes in employment, housing, tourism and agriculture.

In the 1990s Māori and iwi hopes for choice and autonomy in the delivery of social services came into conflict with the government’s contracting regimes. Not all Māori agencies had the capacity to meet the demands of negotiating contracts, sometimes with a wide range of government departments. They also felt that they were being asked to meet objectives determined by the government rather than by Māori.

Business philanthropy

In the late 20th century links between business and philanthropy continued through private trusts such as the Todd and Tindall foundations. Some businesses supported charities intermittently, seeing this as a form of corporate responsibility. Business sponsorship was not necessarily directed at welfare, however, as sport and culture could generate more positive publicity.

Reaping the harvest

The J. R. McKenzie Trust has adopted as its logo a sprig of kūmara (sweet potato) leaves and the proverb ‘Iti noa ana, he pito mata’ (with care, a small kūmara will produce a harvest). The trust aims to help others to help themselves, and has moved away from making many small grants to organisations. In the early 2000s it gave fewer, larger grants in partnership arrangements, with the intention of making long-term changes in communities.

Community trusts

Community trusts resulted from reforms in electricity provision and deregulation of the banking industry in the 1980s. Governed by statute, they were distinctive to New Zealand and dispersed larger amounts of funding than private and company trusts.

Philanthropy New Zealand

Most of the charitable trusts and foundations in existence in the early 21st century emerged after 1980. Philanthropy New Zealand was formed in 1990 to promote ‘generosity in action’ by all New Zealanders at all levels. It encouraged networking among philanthropists and grant-makers. A trend was for donors to seed new ventures likely to survive on their own, in order to receive value from the funds invested.

  1. Mason Durie, Ngā tai matatū: tides of Māori endurance. Melbourne; Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 50. Back
How to cite this page:

Margaret Tennant, 'Voluntary welfare organisations - Changes in voluntary work, 1980s and 1990s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 December 2021)

Story by Margaret Tennant, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 18 Sep 2018