Predictions for the Nonprofit Sector

• Continued overlap and blurring of lines between socially responsible business and nonprofit enterprise. Eventual new categories to the tax code. The best musing on this is being done by Allen Bromberger, who has sketched out a hybrid model, and is certain some change not yet defined is coming.

• Explosion in the number of new nonprofit organizations started by retiring baby boomers. I get calls every month. Some wonderful new energy and ideas. Many of the ideas seem too quirky (even for me), stale, unlikely, and (I’m sorry) uninspiring. A bunch of these organizations will get started, but will represent an opportunity cost (in energetic, smart people with life experience and networks who could partner with existing organizations and go further faster). Most will peter out over time. I agree with Bob Giannino-Racine’s comments in the Chronicle or Philanthropy’s article on nonprofit predictions, which ran December 31. He sees it in young people. I’m seeing it in Boomers.

• Foundations cycle away from “venture philanthropy” and back to general support, infrastructure, and capacity-building grants. For a while.

• Mega foundations (Gates) with the budget, and therefore similar, power, of national strategies and policies. Someone else (my guess, a non-American) will establish another mega foundation. The Ford, MacArthur, and other such long-standing mainstream large foundations suffer minor identity crisis.

• We will have learned what really works in social networking. The practical opportunities, enduring benefits, and honest limitations of generating fans and building community online become common knowledge and no longer mysterious (or the object of overheated attention). I like how Daniel Ben-Horin, founder and co-chief executive officer, TechSoup (formerly CompuMentor) in San Francisco puts it in the Chronicle article.

• Small becomes Big (Microtrends and Seth Godin’s Small is the New Big). The internet and some deeper authentic evolution of social networking continue making it more and more possible for small organizations to get wildly big attention and traction. Freshness and innovation in our sector will come from here. Local, global, small, big converge.

• Substantive networking, exchange of ideas, creative collaboration across international boundaries. And therefore, programs get better, marketing (and community connecting and fan-building) gets better, and all boats rise. Kiva is just one example.

• The sector’s reputation suffers more through high-profile scandals and stinking personal ethics of CEOs. Congress steps in further than we’d like without understanding or appreciating how most of our modest organizations and committed leaders operate.

• Mainstream, well-known charitable organizations cannot change fast enough. Responsive, flexible, culturally-diverse, technology-current, mostly smaller-staff organizations doing decent work create relevant, remarkable programs and generate transformative ideas that inspire fans and allow donors to get close and personal.

• A stormy economy along with the widening gap between rich and poor leaves surprised “middle class” folk in urgent need of services. Government (of elites) do not step in sufficiently while holding up examples of the creative wow-ness of some nonprofits as the answer. The nonprofit sector simply cannot fill the gap.

• Economy, again, forces execs in their 30s and 40s out of nonprofits and into private sector. Newly retired corporate and government sector baby boomers take executive jobs in nonprofits because they can afford the pay. But they don’t count on the steep learning curve, particular constraints, and different rules.

• Philanthropy becomes cool, an idea from Tim Walter, chief executive officer, Association of Small Foundations (Washington) from the Chronicle article. Not certain he’s right, but I like his thinking

“On the presidential front: Obama wins, public service becomes cool. Or Clinton wins, Bill becomes Philanthropist in Chief, and philanthropy becomes cool. Or Bloomberg wins, public service and philanthropy become cool.”