As nonprofit leaders create their business or strategic plans to guide their organizations through the years ahead, it is important to understand that the landscape within each nonprofit sector is changing rapidly.
Imagine advancements in technology that will allow for-profits to impede the nonprofit world. Imagine the service models of every nonprofit sector changing in ways that organizations are not able to conceptualize in their strategic planning. Imagine massive consolidation of nonprofits within the next 5-7 years.
The pace and direction of change is evolving in such a way that many organizations will be left unprepared to respond.
This creates a significant challenge for nonprofit leadership. In order to ensure future viability, leaders must find a balanced approach to time management. They must manage their organization effectively while simultaneously aligning it to the major trends reshaping the nonprofit world. These trends must be a part of Board conversations, strategic planning, and business model adaptation.
Currently, there are three major trends shifting the landscape within nonprofit sectors: Customization, Decentralization, and Integration.
The advancement of technology is now allowing companies to capture deeper levels of client data. This affords these companies the ability to create customized services and solutions at a person-centered planning level. Behavioral data gathered from smart phones, wearables, sensors, and other solutions are beginning to tell the story of who we are as individuals. Data is captured, stored, and run through a system of analytic solutions with the goal of being able to support people at a personalized level. For example:
- Healthcare: Electronic medical records, wearable devices, and analytics work to gauge eating habits, exercising habits, lifestyle, and a variety of other factors, with the goal of providing feedback at an individual level. This can be utilized for preventative healthcare or for providing more accurate and higher quality direct care.
- Human Services: Similar to the healthcare solutions, organizations that provide long-term support services, behavioral health, and housing can capture data through multiple channels and make changes to service models to improve the level of impact and increase the probabilities of positive progress and/or care.
- Higher Education: Understanding how students learn as individuals, and the pace at which they learn, will allow for the customization of curriculum delivery through the use of technology. This will dramatically change the learning experience and alter the landscape of education.
An additional shift that is occurring in relation to customization, is that organizations will need to develop program or service differentiation. Organizations must have a more niche focus as opposed to the traditional broad approach to service. For example, if a college or university is widely known as providing exceptional nursing and teaching degree programs, why shouldn't that institution start to build a niche focus or competitive advantage around that top tier strength?
Another major trend that is also supported by the advancement in technology, is decentralizing services.
Uber and Bitcoin are two prime examples of the decentralization of transportation and financial industries. These massive disruptions and countless others, are being driven by technology.
Solutions, such as Uber, are impacting thousands of companies and State Agencies around the country and worldwide. One singular technology concept could consolidate thousands of companies under one smart phone application and create thousands of jobs as a result. The same is happening with Bitcoin. It is a peer-to-peer financial solution that removes the need for financial institutions. Yet another technology concept that could consolidate thousands of banks and financial service companies.
The common thread to these solutions is that technology is without boundaries and is collapsing industries. Think about amazon.com. What industry would you classify it under? Retail, food, or transportation? Data storage, entertainment, advertising? E-commerce, banking, or healthcare?
The fact is, technology is collapsing many industries under one solution, Nonprofit organizations can be at the forefront of these new technology solutions or gobbled up as a result of not being intentional when designing their own future.
How will decentralization impact the nonprofit world? The dramatic shifts in funding at the State level is going to force organizations to figure out ways to move programming and services out of brick and mortar institutional walls, and drive it towards peer-to-peer technology solutions. Think of the costs and overhead associated with a program or service. There is physical space, employees, utilities, among many other budget considerations. What if peer-to-peer technology solutions could be created as a new way of delivering service? Organizations could use their existing business and service delivery models to build a technology solution that empowered community residents to service other community residents.
This may seem like a foreign concept but for-profit organizations have already begun to develop solutions that will transform many nonprofit models and may even ultimately become competition. Given this trend and the impending change, organizations should consider their strengths, develop a niche focus, and determine if it can be built into a decentralized technology solution.
Another major trend that is occurring as a result of major shifts in funding, is the integration and consolidation of nonprofits across the country.
Consolidation & Integration
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. 33,900 of those are located in Massachusetts. Human service focused nonprofits account for 6,300 of these Massachusetts-based nonprofits.That translates to 6,300 organizations seeking funding from the same Federal, State, Foundation, and Philanthropic sources. These nonprofit organizations vary in size, scope, geographic reach, services, and financial need. As the number of nonprofit organizations has grown, it has become clear that they may no longer be financially sustainable. While technology is creating opportunity to customize and decentralize, it is also creating the need for organizations to share services, build partnerships, or merge together in an effort to save money, increase capacity, diversify revenue, and position themselves competitively.
Throughout the last several years, we have seen mergers in Higher Education, a sector that has traditionally not been known to consolidate. We have seen massive mergers in Healthcare, and are starting to see Human Service agencies integrate. Boards of Directors and Senior Leadership need to begin discussions about working with other organizations in the same vertical market or expanding across horizontal markets that would add value.
The three major trends impacting all nonprofits are real and are happening today. The way and manner in which we prepare for the next 5 to 10 years will be dramatically different then what has been done in the past. We must challenge ourselves to think and act differently in order to preserve the value nonprofit organizations have on our quality of living and the people that surround us.
By Eric W. Curtis