Philanthropic Organizations Forecast Disruption and Innovation

The next decade will be a period of intense disruption, evolution and extinction for philanthropic organizations as empowered donors use an amazing array of collaboration technologies to target social problems and scale up solutions that blur boundaries, business models and organizational identities to get results.--Marsha Rhea, Signature i

Philanthropic members of the American Society of Association Executives wrestling with this future forecast concluded that a digital strategy is essential to rise above the din and engage volunteers and donors to maintain their credibility.  

Marsha Rhea, Signature i President, crafted this forecast to spur a strategic conversation January 13 within the Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee. To write this forecast, she scanned and summarized several future studies on how demographic changes, technological advances and other changes are disrupting business as usual for philanthropic organizations. The ASAE philanthropic leaders found the forecast probable with some reservations about:

  • How much extinction will occur among large, established organizations, except through consolidation; and
  • Whether empowered donors will drive these changes or the organizations themselves will lead them. 

They concurred that the more dynamic, ad hoc entrepreneurial networks are perceived as less bureaucratic and more exciting ways to get things done.  However, legacy philanthropic organizations have the advantage of history and scale to sustain their efforts. Their successes have created the context in which these new organizations can emerge.

Legacy organizations can also adopt networking power to organize their work with volunteers and collaborate with other organizations. They can use this greater capacity to redefine volunteerism and engage with many people through strategies like crowdsourcing and microvolunteering. 

But the eternal challenge for philanthropic organizations remains how to tell their story to secure volunteers and donors.  In this more crowded and dynamic marketplace, organizations need a digital strategy to rise above the din.  The best stories are told visually in a YouTube era.

Donors are using Guidestar and other third party evaluators as well as social networking to find organizations that match their own philanthropic objectives. The ASAE members said single funders are less influential than they once were because the better functioning agencies have more diversified funding sources. But they do see large donors using their contributions more to influence outcomes. While donors have more choices about where to give, these ASAE leaders did not have significant examples of individual donors driving their agenda.  

Blurring the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors continues.  As social responsibility and the promise of emerging markets become a priority for more businesses, philanthropic organizations will be challenged to demonstrate that their way is the best way to lead significant social change.  The best way to get big results will be through hybrid approaches that blend and leverage the influence, capabilities and resources of all sectors.