Thursday, April 27, 2017

Societal Shifts Impacting Non-Profits

Our society is an ever-changing system; the US population and its institutions are increasingly influx, and the leaders of the non-profit sector must be responsive to these changes to ensure the continued health of their organizations.

As we learned at the beginning of our course, the state, the market and the non-profit sector are becoming increasingly similar in the roles they play in our society. The state is calling upon non-profits to help with service delivery and accomplishing missions of public good. There is also a proliferation in the number of non-profits, and the competition between these organizations is mirroring the competition seen in the for-profit sector. Non-profits are providing services without the stable tax-base enjoyed by the state, or without the income level of for-profit organizations, and are depending upon donor contributions to fund their work (Dobkin Hall).

Economic shifts are also occurring. In the United States, the middle class is shrinking and wealth is being concentrated among fewer individuals in society (Temin). There are drastic changes in the age demographics of the United States, as well as increases in the racial diversity of the country (Thomas; Robinson). Members of the largest generation – the Baby Boomers – are reaching retirement age, and the younger Generations X, Y and Z are moving into the labor force (Williamson). The internet is also expanding our focus beyond local concerns, and organizations are learning how to use new technologies to reach their stakeholders.

These economic shifts, changes in racial and age demographics, and the rise of globalizing technologies pose additional challenges for the non-profit sector. Tax-incentives may have been a motivator for past non-profit contributions, but lower earning members of society have less to give and are less likely to receive the same benefits for donating to non-profits. Younger generations are suffering from the changes in the economy more than older generations (Temin). Because of their widespread use of technology, these generations may think more nationally and globally, and overlook the benefits and the needs of local non-profits. With the demographic changes in the donor base and the increased number of non-profits, we may see that a shrinking number of contributions are being divided among more and more organizations.

It is the responsibility of a non-profit's leadership to be mindful of these demographic and societal shifts to guide their organization in the increasingly strained non-profit environment. A useful tool for mindfully addressing obstacles is engaging in a SWOT analysis for the organization (United Way). Some leadership responses that may help ameliorate the shifts I have mentions above include increasing the diversity of staff, and collaborating with other non-profits to resist the additional pressures being place upon the sector.

Leaders should also be innovative about how to reach younger generations that have less to give and that are harder to reach because of the rise of the internet and the increase in globalization. In order to gain insights into these groups of potential donors, organizations should focus on increasing the racial and generational diversity of their staff, hiring younger and racially diverse staff members (Thomas, Robinson). Including diverse perspectives with staff benefits the organization’s effectiveness (Thomas). Diversity requires a long-term investment of valuing diverse perspectives, and must be treated like any other business investment (Robinson, 237-238).

In order to combat the additional pressures being place upon the sector by the state, leaders my need to create partnerships with other complementary non-profit organizations to help with the survival of both organizations. If the expectations for service delivery are increasing, non-profits should cooperate rather than compete to draw a bottom line in order to create some stability for their funding and workforce within the sector.  If a stand is not made for stability, then the expectations may become too great and the non-profit sector may buckle under the pressure.

Work Cited

Dobkin Hall P. “Historical Perspectives on Nonprofit Organizations in the United States.” The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. Pg. 3-42.

Robinson, G., Dechant, K. “Building a Business for Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall. Pg. 228-240.

Temin, P. 2017. “The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy.” (

Thomas D., Ely R. “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall. Pg.

United Way Dane Country “Strategic Planning Process.” Provided by Leslie Ann Howard. Pg. 1-7. 

Williamson, J.B. and D.M. Watts-Roy. (2009). Aging boomers, generational equity, and framing the debate over social security.  In Boomer Bust?  Economic and Political Issues of the Graying Society, edited by Robert B. Hudson.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.  153-169.