Change is all around us – political, social, technological and even generational. Many sociologists say we are at an 80-year shift. Similar to the monumental shift from horse and buggy to automobiles, the very way we live is changing and it is impacting every aspect of our lives. We all have different reactions to this change. Some embrace it and are ready to take it on. Others resist it and want to return to simpler times. For me, it depends on the day. I do miss having time off when I could completely unplug from work without emails or text messages, but I also appreciate the ability to easily work with clients across the country.

The best advice I ever heard about change is connected to surfing. Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I like this philosophy because it suggests that change, like waves, doesn’t start or stop. It is continuous. No two waves are alike, and they form patterns. For surfers, the difference between a good surf and a wipeout is studying the wave as it forms and anticipating how it is going to hit you. And then, knowing that the wave is coming no matter what, making a choice on how you plan to tackle it.

For the past two years, as one of the country’s leading social sector futurists, I have been crisscrossing the country giving my “megatrends” keynote; I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts with our nonprofit family and hearing theirs. We recently recorded my presentation to my friends from the Nonprofit Alliance of Bermuda. You can watch it and take notes on our action sheet.

The following are some of the questions that came up the most:

What are the biggest external changes impacting the social sector?

Three external changes are having the greatest impact on the social sector. First, we are now experiencing four generations together in the workplace for the first time. These four generations have had different life experiences, which can be a great asset to the sector, but it can also lead to conflict due to differing work habits and communication styles. We shared the slide below, which features the mantra, values and style of the three oldest generations, and it was probably the most “snapped” picture.

I had a millennial walk up afterward and say, “Now I understand why my baby boomer CEO likes in-person meetings!”

Second, economic shifts – alongside generational shifts – are changing donor habits from merely transactional (e.g., checkbook philanthropy) to transformational (e.g., investor mindset). This shift requires nonprofits to intentionally engage donors in their work and focus more on relationship-building.

Finally, and it goes without saying, but technology is now a horizontal that impacts every aspect of our business. We predicted this outcome in our 2020 Annual Trends Blog. You cannot go anywhere without hearing about AI or how technology is transforming our home life and work life.

What are the biggest challenges within the social sector?

Right now, nonprofits and the entire social sector (e.g., government, social entrepreneurs) are recalibrating based on a two key shifts. First, we have seen and are going to continue to see more executive and staff transitions. Some have been well-executed with formal succession planning. Others have not been executed as well and are damaging to the organization. Second, funding is shifting away from COVID relief, which was focused on providing a safety net, back to impact-based funding, with less funding available to the sector overall. Some nonprofits saved this extra funding while others spent it and are now having to consider downsizing or mergers. We are seeing this in the for-profit world as well.

What is the best way to navigate all the changes?

This is my favorite question. First, the best change tool is conducting a strategic plan. There is nothing better for an organization than to review its current state, analyze external and internal influences and decide on the best course of action as a collective team. In this world of seismic shifts, strategic plans are no longer 5- and 10-year long-range plans. A short-term plan focused on right-sizing the organization can help provide critical direction. Our megatrends session is chock full of assessments to help you analyze where you are and provides plenty of success stories and examples of how we have worked with clients to navigate these shifts.

Like the tide, change is coming whether we want it to or not. The only decision is how to respond. We recommend actively riding the waves and seeing change as an opportunity for renewal and disciplined innovation.

If you feel a bit unsteady, know you are in good company. But one thing I know to be true – we are in this together as a nonprofit family. We hope the recording, action sheet, and slides allow you to reflect, celebrate your wins and navigate the change ahead successfully. We’d love to hear if you use these tools in your organization and how you’re navigating these large-scale shifts.


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