Like many of you, we have been wrestling with the 21st century: What will it be? What should it be called? With hindsight, we are clear that the 18th century was the Agricultural Age, the 19th Century was the Industrial Age, and the 20th Century was the Information Age. What will the 21st Century be known for? It is 2014, and we still haven’t determined the best fit. In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink suggests that it will be called the Conceptual Age. Two other authors also suggest similar notions – in The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin talks about connection, and in his upcoming book, Aaron Hurst talks about purpose. We also saw the emergence of a new trend in 2013 – the sharing economy. Whatever we land on, we believe that the social sector is in a state of flux and will have a drastic change in expectations and philosophy between the 20th Century and the 21st Century, which are reflected in all these theories. As usual, we start out the year with word shifts we are seeing, which are subtle signs of the larger shifts:

  • Adaptation vs. Growth: For many decades, strategic planning was about growth, but now it is more about adaptation. How can you better meet the needs of your changing clients? How can you better meet the needs of the community? How can you best connect with donors? The social organizations that stay relevant and evolve as needs change will be the ones that thrive. Growth can be a function of adaptation, but bigger isn’t always better. Better is better.
  • Engaged Philanthropy vs. Transactional Philanthropy: Funders, especially foundations, are looking to make an impact. In order to do this, they are often looking for social sector organizations who are not just providing a good or service they can buy, but want to experiment with them to create greater impact. This new philosophy will require new types of relationship building and a closer connection between program and fundraising staff.
  • Co-Creation vs. Ownership: With the explosive growth of the sharing economy, we expect a spillover effect into the social sector. Rather than “owning” something, organizations will see it as community property and work together in higher forms of collaboration to seek the greatest utility for every resource. Maybe share an HR or IT Director or other shared services? Maybe co-locate programs to improve care?
  • Progress vs. Niceness: In order to truly adapt, engage, and co-create, you have to be transparent about your ideas and express your unique point-of-view. However, the social sector gets blocked by “niceness” – wanting to always be in agreement and in harmony. True change comes from a higher form of communication – dialogue, which is a constructive exchange of ideas and points-of-view.


If you missed last year’s word shifts, check them out. We welcome your feedback on these or other word shifts. Future articles will further delve into each of these topics and we welcome your help in TrendSpotting!

Sign up to receive the Social TrendSpotter e-newsletter

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Email