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Prepping for the evolution of nonprofit work

As a part of our mission, GCN is constantly monitoring the forces exerting pressure on nonprofits – forces both threatening and promising. There exists copious research, opinion, and analysis on the macro-dynamics driving work in the next decade, and nonprofits are not immune to the trends they reveal. As part of the discovery effort that’s kicking off our own strategic planning process, the GCN team has taken this data into account and paired it with what we’ve learned conducting interviews with local nonprofit and philanthropic leaders. As a preface to our in-depth findings, and the conclusions they are helping us reach regarding our strategy, I’d like to share three of the big forces that we see changing the skills our people will need in the future.

The rapid emergence of new mechanisms for capitalizing charitable ventures. Over the next decade, social impact funds and PRIs (Program Related Investments, which have long been used in other areas of the country but are newer to the South) will become increasingly common. Other mechanisms will include tax credits, bond issuances, and vehicles influenced by venture capital methods. Crowdfunding will become more sophisticated, linking up with pure return-seeking investments as nonprofit capitalization strategies blend charitable and non-charitable dollars. More nonprofits will create or partner with social enterprises to generate revenue. Key to meeting these developments are people with skills in data science, user experience (UX) design, digital marketing, and finance. These skills may be outsourced, but the nonprofit managers of tomorrow must be savvy enough to oversee strategies in these areas.

The demographics of the nonprofit workforce will shift significantly. This will require a large measure of culture management, design leadership, and innovation skills. Millennials will dominate leadership roles in nonprofits and foundations. The changes they implement will be sweeping, including an immediate escalation in technology adoption, increased use of free agents and outsourcing for everything but core functions, and a disregard for old organizational constructs. The results: a sea change in how services are delivered and how, as well as from where, operational work gets done. Keeping this dispersed, highly diverse workforce productive will involve flexible management structures (rather than typical hierarchies) and inclusive problem-solving methods that tap a wide range of stakeholders from the outset, rather than relying on staff to provide all the ideas.

Data will rule. Increasing transparency means that impact, or its lack, will be apparent to everyone. Community needs will be “knowable” in real time at the neighborhood level, allowing ever-more customized interventions to be orchestrated by loosely-affiliated entities working in concert to make targeted investments and common gains. The emotional aspect of giving will never abate, but decisions will be driven far more by data and analysis than feelings. Successful organizations will need on-staff expertise to lead the organization’s data efforts, including collection, management, and analysis, as well as presenting it to investors, clients, and the public.

GCN is always working to analyze these dynamics and turn our understanding of them into practical steps that our members can take – in action and in strategy – to navigate change, seize opportunities, and attract further generations of employees and leaders. We’ll be profiling more of our findings in coming issues of NOW. In this issue, we explore the accomplishments of forward-leaning changemakers who are using innovative tactics – including screening automation and data-sharing, system-disrupting processes, and Treasury-supported investment models – to meet the challenges ahead and prepare for the future of our work.

Karen Beavor 
President and CEO