Adapting to change is a way of life for most nonprofits. If we could predict change and events before they occurred, imagine how much more effective we could all be! Since we don’t have a crystal ball, we at Community Wealth Partners, along with our clients and colleagues, have done some thinking about the key issues and trends that will have the greatest impact on our work in the coming year. Here’s our tally of the trends that should be on every social entrepreneur’s radar screen:
Collaboration and partnership have always been a part of the nonprofit playbook. In 2010, look for collaboration to be focused around the following:
1. Partnering to Increase Outcomes
The continued focus on outcomes and impact measurement was the most prominent trend identified by the leaders with whom we spoke. What’s new in the year ahead is how leaders view collaboration and partnership through the lens of outcomes. Nick Torres, CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos and co-founder of the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal agrees: “Successful not-for-profits will create new models of strategic partnerships to achieve outcomes.”
2. Focus on Community Outcomes
Others believe that the focus on outcomes will shift from the organizational to the community level. “More nonprofits will band together to achieve community outcomes, rather than focusing on institutional outcomes,” predicts Community Wealth Partners Director Sara Brenner.
The call to action for organizations to consider strategies for social impact that go beyond their four walls was eloquently made by Diana Aviv, President and CEO of the Independent Sector, at the organization’s 2009 annual conference. In her keynote address, Aviv stated, “My point is that excelling at your particular mission is key—but so too is attending to the wider societal issues of the world you inhabit. Active engagement with these issues is part of the price we pay for this special place we, as a community, have been afforded by society. Doing so is the right thing to do. It is also in our organizations’ best interest.”
3. Going Local with Information Sharing
Across the sector, membership, service, and advocacy organizations are promoting cross-organization learning. Whether it’s the result of the economy or other factors, new networks are forming at the community level. Anne Wunderli, director of Abundant Table at Pine Street Inn and Social Enterprise Alliance board member, has been intensely involved in trying to jump-start the creation of a Massachusetts chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance. Wunderli reports, “I see a growing interest in local communities wanting to come together to share best practices, learn from experts in the field, and network around social enterprise.”
4. Shared Services
“More nonprofits will and should consolidate their back offices and begin to consider mergers or affiliations with other like-minded nonprofits,” says Tine Hansen-Turton, co-founder of the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal. “There is power in strategic consolidation!”
In Chicago, the Back Office Cooperative has emerged as a national model to drive down costs and increase efficiency. One of the Cooperative’s members, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago CEO Christine Bork, states, “Participating in BOC not only saves us money, it is also a great way to demonstrate to our stakeholders that we’re thinking creatively about how to direct more donated dollars to serving our clients.”
For more examples and information on shared services, see the profile of MACC Commonwealth, a shared services venture in Minneapolis, or explore the NonprofitCenters Network, a learning community dedicated to shared services.
5. Collaboration Among Funders
Andrew Wolk, founder and CEO of Root Cause, predicts that there will be an increase in foundation collaboration. Given the growing demand for limited grantmaking dollars, there is no doubt that funders of all stripes will come together in new ways to pool resources and influence.
For example, a Chicago funder reports that private foundations, community foundations, corporate foundations, and City Hall are working together to address critical issues in the region, such as education reform, workforce development, and teen violence prevention. Although there may not be consensus on every tactic among these diverse collaborators, the community gets better results when all boats are rowing in the same direction.
For some who are looking ahead into 2010, the coming year offers unique opportunities. For example:
6. Emergence of the Strategic Revenue Plan
As existing sources of revenue become less certain or more challenging to secure, many organizations are taking a strategic look at their revenue base. “Many of our clients are leveraging their strengths to build out new capabilities and develop new revenue streams for their organizations,” states Community Wealth Partners Managing Director Heather Peeler. “Nonprofit boards and CEOs are going beyond the annual budgeting process and strategic planning process to articulate holistic revenue strategies and action plans,” she adds. This means taking a critical eye to long-standing relationships by assessing revenue predictability into the future, while at the same time considering how relationships and other sources of strength can be used to explore new opportunities, such as earned income and corporate partnerships, as well as government contracts and traditional philanthropy.
7. Leveraging the Consumer Economy
Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries President & CEO Joanne K. Hilferty predicts, “In 2010, cheap will be chic. People will be looking for ways to spread their dollars and will be proud of their second-hand finds from thrift stores operated as social enterprises.” Thrift stores have long been a social enterprise success story for many nonprofits. It’s likely that 2010 will be the year to take advantage of broader consumer trends, organizational resourcefulness, and the brand strength of social causes.
8. Leveraging Federal Policy
“The creation of the White House Office on Social Innovation points to one of the powerful trends we will see in 2010: nonprofits looking for the intersection of their entrepreneurial approaches and the legislative policies that can help bring them to scale,” explains Bill Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength. “ As City Year has done with national service and Teach For America has done with education, nonprofits across the country are working to develop the expertise that will enable them to win broader public support at the state and federal level for ideas proven to work,” he adds. “It’s certainly exciting to see the White House’s interest in social enterprise/social innovation. I think we’re all very interested to see what comes about as a result of that kind of high-profile support of scalable initiatives.”
9. Leveraging Social Media
Social media continues to be in the spotlight and emerged at the top of the trend list for many of the sector leaders with whom we spoke. Jennifer Blenkle, senior director of nonprofit programs at ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, commented, “Social media is growing and changing the way people interact, relate, and connect. Many executives and organizations are struggling with how to effectively engage in social media. We see many members hiring young staff and allowing them to lead the organization’s social media activities, in most cases without a link to the organization’s strategies.”
Social media was the focus of the October 2009 issue of Vanguard, which featured several articles to help leaders better understand the potential of social media.
10. Growth through Mergers and Acquisitions
For some nonprofits, 2009 was a growth year. In fact, the Alliance for Children and Families CEO Peter Goldberg believes that approximately 15 to 20 percent of the Alliance’s membership of 300-plus organizations experienced some measureable level of growth in 2009. For many, this growth was driven by mergers.
Social enterprise leader and consultant Rolfe Larson predicts further consolidation within the sector: “Thousands of nonprofits of all sizes, from grassroots to large entities with long histories, will shrink or shut down. But most will survive, and the most entrepreneurial will grow, even flourish, meeting some but by no means all of our increasingly unmet social needs. There will be fewer, but larger nonprofits.”
Regardless of the specific trend that directly shapes an organization’s priorities and performance, it is safe to say that all organizations will be touched in some way by the trends listed above. Jennifer Blenkle concludes, “Leading an organization in the environment fostered by these trends requires different skills, knowledge and leadership styles than we generally see in many nonprofit organizations. Some of the needs include being comfortable with ambiguity, and knowledge and skills in business and strategy, online /social media, collaboration and group engagement.”