Profit generation or community resource? Studying attitudes to the operation of a post office by a charity

BISHOP, Neil, RIDLEY-DUFF, Rory and MORGAN, Gareth (2016). Profit generation or community resource? Studying attitudes to the operation of a post office by a charity. Social Enterprise Journal, 12 (3).

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Purpose: For the past decade sub-post offices in the UK have been subject to intensive pressures to marketise their business. Actual or threatened closures have led charities to become involved in projects to preserve community post offices. This research investigated the attitudes of the trustees and staff involved in six charity-backed post offices (POs) to answer the research question ‘Do those involved with charity-backed POs prioritise profit generation or community resourcing?’ Prior work: There are few peer-reviewed studies of the potential of sub-post offices as sites for social enterprise, and none (that we could locate) on the role of charities. In this study, we contest Liu and Ko’s view (2014, p. 402) that the key task is “to install market-oriented managerial beliefs and values into the charity retailer’s decision-making”. We offer a counter view that trading can represent a further diversification of the innovations used to support charitable endeavours. Design / Methodology: This research adopted a neo-empiricist stance on the collection and interpretation of data. We treated ‘attitudes’ as real phenomena that are subjectively experienced and concretely expressed through activities in an objectively real world. Data was gathered from four or more people in each of six POs by sampling their services and conducting face to face interviews. The emphasis was on achieving verstehen – a rich understanding of a specific approach to social enterprise grounded in interpretations of human activity under conditions of naturalistic inquiry. Findings: We found that charity-backed POs were focussed on preserving POs as a community resource but articulated this by framing profitability in three distinct ways: as a PO generating a surplus that can be gifted or reallocated to a (parent) charity’s other activities; as an activity that offsets a charity’s fixed costs or enables or promotes its public benefit aims. Originality / Value: This is the first academic study to confront the complexities of differentiating ‘profitability’ from ‘profit generation’ in charity-backed POs. The subtleties in the articulation of this difference by study participants helped to account for the findings of the study and to make sense of the strong consensus that POs should be seen primarily as a community resource whilst responding to marketisation pressures.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The lead author on this paper, Neil Bishop, provided dataset and first draft of this article.
Uncontrolled Keywords: social enterprise, charity, post office, community resource, profitability
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Business School Research Institute > People, Work and Organisation
Departments - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Business School > Department of Management
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Rory Ridley-Duff
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2016 16:35
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2021 23:34

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