Game-Changing Macro Trends
As I mentioned in my last post, many non-profits focus on shorter-term planning horizons because they believe the world changes too quickly to think long-term. However, not all changes are rapid. In fact, sometimes the most threatening changes are macro trends that evolve slowly, leading the leadership team to believe they can postpone change.
Macro trends are long-term in nature, developing consistently over 10 years or more. Every organization is impacted by at least a few macro trends. Focusing on more immediate changes without considering macro trends can negatively impact an organization’s long-term viability.
To identify game-changing macro trends impacting your organization, consider assumptions that are fundamental to the needs you address and how you deliver on your mission. In many cases, your professional staff or long-term volunteers may have already identified major trends. Market research can be useful in validating or prioritizing trends already identified.
The rest of this post provides a few examples for your consideration.
Sector-Specific Macro Trends
Most trends that impact your non-profit will be specific to your organization’s sector.
For example, the Washington Society of CPAs (WSCPA) serves the needs of CPAs. One of their core services is providing access to continuing professional education (CPE). CPE revenues also provide a large portion of the organization’s operating budget. However, the market for CPE has been changing. Accountants want to access training differently, and fierce competition is putting pressure on pricing.
The WSCPA formally identified this in market research my firm conducted in conjunction with strategic planning in 2006. Of course, the leadership team already knew change was underway. Our report simply validated their assumptions. They took action early, and have become a leader in offering online education to CPAs around the country.
Macro Trends that Impact All Non-Profits
While most macro trends you should consider will be sector-specific, some will impact almost every non-profit sector. For example:
The Browning of America
In 2010, University of North Carolina professors James H. Johnson and John D. Kasarda wrote about Six Disruptive Demographic Trends: What Census 2010 Will Reveal. The changing ethnic mix of the US population is one of those six trends.
The report notes that whites made up 75% of the US population in 1995. By 2050, whites will be a minority component of the US population. As your organization considers its long-term strategies, this ethic shift should be part of the conversation. If your organization serves members, does it feel approachable and safe to all ethnic groups? If your organization serves the public, are there significant and growing populations it must reach to meet its vision?
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kasarda also identify five other demographic changes that will have an impact in the future, including changes in the prevalence of inter-racial marriages and multi-generational family living arrangements, the aging U.S. population, shifting geographic growth centers and the changing role of men in society. How will these macro trends impact your non-profit?
The Growing Free Agent Nation
In December 1997, I read an article in Fast Company magazine called The Free Agent Nation. It talked about the 25 million Americans working as independent contractors. By 2020, The Intuit 2020 report says that number will exceed 60 million people. (The Intuit article also includes 19 other trends that will impact how we work in the future, and is worth reviewing.) This mega trend has grown thanks to technology, past economic downturns, internet-based services that connect independent contractors with work, and a generation of employees who prize workplace flexibility.
This mega trend has several significant implications for almost every non-profit, and three come immediately to mind. First, this trend impacts hiring strategies. While hiring independent contractors is often more cost-effective, managing them requires different skills and tools.
Second, it impacts the organization’s potential infrastructure needs. If your organization serves a broad geographic area, you can now have a local presence from a team members who works in a virtual office, and it can operate as seamlessly as if you had a large central facility. Also, if most of the workforce is remote, physical space requirements may decline.
Finally, health and human service organizations may want to anticipate the needs of a sizable generation of workers without traditional safety-nets.
The Redefinition of Social Engagement
In 2000, Harvard University’s Robert Putnam released his book, Bowling Alone. In it, he discussed how Americans are increasingly isolated from one another. Traditional social interactions, such as political engagement, weekend entertaining, and volunteerism, are in decline. More recent research suggests social isolation continues to grow. (See this NPR interview, for example.)
The reasons are widely debated. Some, like this Psychology Today article, blame America’s long work hours and lengthy commute times. Others blame social media, although more recent research by the Pew Research Center suggests that social media’s popularity may simply be a reflection of the changing nature of social connections.
Regardless of the cause, the shift in the way people engage with one another has significant implications for non-profits’ long-term and mid-term planning processes. From communications channels to reliance on volunteer labor, non-profits who don’t think proactively about this mega trend may find themselves struggling to compete for donors and volunteers in the future.
Some organizations have already made significant shifts to address some of the impacts of this mega trend. The Girl Scouts, for example, have more girls who would like to join troops than adult volunteers to lead them. To accommodate this shift, some Councils now hire staff to lead troops within targeted populations. You can find examples here and here.
Share your thoughts!
What macro trends are impacting your non-profit? Have you read a book or report with trends I didn’t mention? If so, please share!
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