“Convergence” is a great report produced by La Piana Consulting for the James Irvine Foundation. The report argues that there are five converging trends which are aligning to shape the future of the sector. Successful organisations will be the ones which can adapt to these trends:
· Demographic shifts redefining participation;
· Rapid advanced in technology;
· Networks enabling work to be organised in new ways;
· Rising interest in civil engagement and volunteering; and
· Blurring boundaries between the sectors.
The report outlines the ways in which organisations will need to respond and how we will need to develop the sector’s leadership to rise to these challenges.
For me the highlights are the quotes from sector leaders which explain what these changes will mean and present some real challenges to our thinking:
Tara Mohr, a coach from San Francisco said on the growth of inter-organisational networks:
“The organisation as an entity is becoming less and less important... We need to be looking at entrepreneurs, programs, organisations and networks of organisations, and thinking about how we organise our work and organise our impact across all four of those things, and less focused on the organisation as a central unit of how we get our work done.”
Shiree Teng, a consultant working with the sector argues that a radically different approach is needed for the models of leadership (not necessarily on-message for ACEVO!):
"It’s interesting to look at recent studies on nonprofit leadership deficits. That’s very conventional thinking — "replacement thinking." I think generational shift, along with trends related to diversity and technological advances, will change how we look at the leadership pipeline. Less replacement theory, more demand to revamp the executive director job so [it is] more doable. [We need to] increasingly look at the single leader model... and challenge that assumption of "leader." We need to move to more shared leadership for organizations."
Stephen Bauer, from American Humanics warned of the consequences of ignoring good HR:
"In our drive to put mission first, sometimes the staff are sacrificed. There are some funders out there that have taken the initiative in supporting effective HR functions and staff development, but if we don’t do more to take care of our own folk, we are going to lose them to other sectors."
David Eisner, former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, champions the need for new partnerships:
"Organizations must become more facile around all sorts of dynamics, from 'co-opetition,' where an organization they are competing with they must also have to cooperate with, to understanding joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions activities. The geographic world is changing dramatically. In the business landscape, there have been massive changes about how organizations are meeting supply; a lot of big nonprofits have not been able to restructure themselves to meet these new realities."
Peter Brinckerhoff, another consultant argued that funders have a key role in supporting organisations through these changes:
"As nonprofits, we can’t set money aside in a fund; you have to spend all the money according to the norms, which are "If we are not poor we are not holy." This gives us no cushion to thinking strategically. If nonprofits always budget just to break even, they can never grow and help more people."
As we focus on the immediate challenges we face around spending cuts and responding to the new government it is easy to forget the broader context and the longer term evolution of our environment. However we will ignore this at our peril.