Non-profit organisations are an important part of modern society. Also, they are one of the key institutionalised players in interest mediation. The main topic of the article is the issue of operation of third sector and civil participation in the Czech Republic. The notion of civil participation comprises involvement of citizens in the public sector, separated from (but not independent of) the state, and the economic sector.
Further, it encompasses the articulation, organisation, and promotion of interests of citizens within the involvement.
Non-profit sector in the Czech Republic did not emerge out of nothing after 1989. Several officially acknowledged organisations that could be considered rudiments of the non-profit organisations existed here before – ecological organisations such as “Brontosaurus”, tourist and sports clubs, etc. Aside these organisations, there were also several illegal, or semi-legal organisations – the Committee for Protection of Unjustly Prosecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných), Charter 77 (Charta 77). On their basis, several non-profit organisations were founded after 1989 (for example, the Committee of Good Will, Olga Havel Foundation /Výbor dobré vůle Olgy Havlové/). After November 1989, the non-profit sector was not really established, in fact, it revived. The sector has a relatively rich history, with its roots going back to the era of the National Revival. Back then, it mainly consisted of cultural, artistic, and education societies and associations. These organisations were important partakers in the civil life of Bohemia. After the independent Czech state was established in 1918, the non-profit sector saw a significant boom [Müller 2002].
It is very difficult to define organisations in the non-profit sector. The works of L. Salamon [cited from Šilhánová 1996] provide perhaps the most acknowledged definition. According to Salamon, an organisation must meet the following criteria to be ranked among non-profit organisations: (1.) institutionalisation; (2.) independence of state or public administration; (3.) use of potential profit for own activity; (4.) self-governance – managing their own activities independently in line with their internal rules; (5.) voluntarism (the functioning involves the element of voluntarism – voluntary work and/or contributions); and (6.) public benefit.
The last mentioned principle, however, does not apply to all kinds of non-profit organisations. From this point of view, it is possible to distinguish between two kinds of non-profit organisations. The first type contains mutual benefit organisations (especially societies and associations established in order to pursue the interests and meet the needs of its members). Members of these organisations share hobbies, social position, age, nationality, religion, etc.
The second type of non-profit organisations is public benefit organisations (also, public interest companies). Their aim is to provide public benefit services to third parties. They are open to everyone with interest from the general public. These organisations are much more beneficial for the society as a whole. Therefore, many countries give preferences to them, for example in various forms of tax concessions, over mutual benefit organisations (mutuals). In the Czech Republic, the law does not differentiate between the mutuals and public benefit organisations.
Non-profit organisations play an irreplaceable role in modern democracies. More precisely, their roles involve: (1.) participative role – citizens try to express their common interests and requirements by associating in non-profit organisations; they associate in order to resolve their common problems; (2.) service – non-profit organisations provide services especially for groups of people not able to saturate their needs anywhere else; (3.) creating opinion plurality – various marginalized groups of the society may also express their interests and needs through non-profit organisations.
As part of their powers, non-profit organisations aggregate, select, and satisfy the interests of citizens. This process of interest mediation oftentimes involves satisfying individual and group interests and needs originally defined as the functions of the state. For example, in social areas or in health protection and support, including care for disabled, non-profit organisations frequently offer not only an alternative but also the only source of satisfaction of citizen interests (care for senior citizens, work with mentally or physically handicapped children and adults, asylum homes, hospices, etc.). In the opinion of Weisbrod, non-profit organisations saturate functions of the state and offer alternative for private sector. But, moreover, by collective interests and production of collective-public good, they substitute satisfaction of individual interests [Weisbrod in: Phelps 1975: 182].