There are certain disruptive forces that pose both challenges and opportunities for non-profits over the next decade and how they respond to these forces will determine if they are challenges or opportunities. Here are just a few examples.
· A very large and quickly aging population will be supported by a much smaller, more educated but less knowledgeable, younger population.
· A powerful and intrusive government will add more regulations to the social service sector but, because of its out of control deficit and debt, will be forced to reduce its funding to that same group. The end result will be a remarkable strain on the non-profits caring for the greatest needs.
· More competition between non-profits (over a hundred are started every day) for fewer donors and dollars to care for more severe and complex needs.
· Technology, one way to save money and add impact, will continue to outpace most non-profits ability to keep step.
· A coarsening pop-culture will be even more poisonous for the impressionable young and will increasingly magnify every social problem we have today.
In response to these and other disruptive forces, non-profits must plan strategically for such a future. Below are three strategic actions that can build a stronger, more effective organization that can positively respond to any future scenario.
1. Brand the cause not just the organization: Many non-profits tend to promote their model or method of service instead of their mission to service. Organization easily becomes attached to particular model. But that is short-sighted. To survive these disruptive forces they must switch their focus to their mission. Models become obsolete and methods change but the mission is timeless and its scope is beyond any one method.
Non-profits must focus their attention and resources on the cause not the method, promote the needs of their clients first and the needs of the organization second. Brand the cause the organization started for. If they do this, non-profits can stay relevant and even more so as these disruptive forces unfold.
2. Greater impact with lower cost: Impact is the entry ticket to a successful future. Agencies must be able to demonstrate that their particular interventions (models/methods) have efficacy and results. Well informed supporters will expect greater impact at lower cost and therefore it is imperative that non-profits find ways to do more with less.
As donors become more selective about where they invest their hard earned dollars they will be looking for organizations with good reputations, solid fiscal management, and lasting results. Donors will increasingly look at non-profits the way investors look at for-profit companies. The groups that can produce the greatest return on their investment will receive their cherished funds. This is one area where non-profits can never rest. They must always look at ways to improve and save.
3. Build networks and partnerships: One way to increase impact while improving cost is to collaborate rather than compete with other successful, like-minded organizations. It’s not always about building more buildings, growing a larger organization, or hoarding all the resources. I believe that networks and partnerships are the future. I am convinced that every non-profit can max out its mission by working in conjunction with other groups who share their cause.
We should not be frightened by these disruptive forces - concerned, yes, frightened, no. I believe that there are solutions to every problem and resources to every need. Non-profits leaders just have to have the courage, faith, and creativity to discover them.