The New Nonprofit

 Post by James V. Toscano

We often hear of Creation Myths. Genesis has two; most southwestern tribes’ creation involves turtles; and Asians attribute their origins to complex deities.

In the U. S., we have creation and creator stories, such as presidents who can’t tell a lie, clearly ancient history. Mythologies of the American Dream, streets paved with gold, two chickens in every pot, and, more recently, high tides raising all boats motivate us to specific actions.

Idealistically, we could frame “Destination Myths” about where we would like to go as a society. What does the future hold for us and how do we create self-fulfilling prophesies needed to motivate our society.

What are some of the future certainties? For example, examining demographic projections in ethnicity and race, one conclusion is dominant: white Americans will still be the largest racial group by 2050, but as a plurality, not a majority. Within age groups, Millennials of all races and ethnicity emerge with different value systems from the Boomers who precede them.

With these trends in mind, futurists indicate such potentially positive concepts as inclusivity, multi-ethnicity and pluralism will be part of that destination frame, in which opportunity, freedom of conscience, democratic process, constitutionalism, equal rights, economic security, and peaceful conflict resolution may have prominent places.

These facts, combined with the contemporary values to which we aspire, will help decide direction of the society. And it will not happen in 2050; it is happening now. In many parts of the Southwest, white inhabitants are no longer a majority. In many big cities, Millennials already constitute the swing factor in elections.

The Challenge to Nonprofits in this Evolving Society

Do such transforming examples require redefinition of mission, purpose, and meaning of nonprofits? Where does cultural competency that anticipates these demographic changes, e.g. accepting, understanding and benefitting from racial, ethnic and age diversity, fit into the DNA of a nonprofit?

What if a nonprofit mission statement contained such phrases as “nurture, support, partner with, enable, assist individuals and groups to achieve goals defined by their values and preferences” as a way to increase overall social capital?

If nonprofits are based on the highest inspirational values of a society and charitable donations to them are based on an exchange of values between supporters and organizations, nonprofits have a significant role to play in coming societal change.

The Nonprofit Opportunity

Nonprofits are well qualified to lead in this societal transformation to a new multicultural consensus, given a record of responsiveness to societal need. If such transformation is accepted, where would nonprofits look for support, especially private support in terms of approval, legitimacy, and resources?

Support processes essentially will remain the same: building lifelong relationships based on shared values. Support dynamics and content change in terms of people, program methodology, media and inter-organizational collaborations. With donors, if socioeconomic status is held constant, all ethnic groups and races donate to charity at approximately the same percentages, thus opening a large potential for new prospects as a more diverse middle class develops

In this scenario, Boards evolve in terms of broader-based membership, diversity, and participation. Boards create and own the new mission focusing on recipients of what their organizations do. Boards plan the transformation, often in collaboration with groups representing diverse values and interests.

Volunteers reflect constituency and help define program concepts, architecture, texture, process, content, and expected outcomes. These very outcomes will result in a more motivated, focused cadre of volunteers willing to help. And such volunteers constitute the best sources of diverse donors. This is especially true among the Millenials, who often volunteer and sample before donating.

It follows that diversity in staff is a necessity. The greater need for multicultural competency will involve a new professionalism, with longer and deeper training, fluency in various languages of those served, and empathetic rather than paternalistic response to need.

Sources of Support

More diverse boards, volunteers and staff, mirroring the changes in the larger society and a new consesnsus transcending race, religion, ethnicity and other demographic and social variables, will advantage nonprofits in the establishment of a broader constituent base as the traditional donor is augmented in numbers and proportion of wealth.

Such organizational programs and results will cast a broader appeal to emergent wealth from all sectors of this new society. Diversity will produce a larger, deeper pool of prospects, donors and solicitors. Results will enable the organization to track better with economic growth and continue lifelong dialogues and relationships.

What are the barriers to the emergence of the New Nonprofits? Essentially, they are the same problems we face today: the lag in nonprofit response to change, and the ossification of action and people over time. At times, Boards respond to last year’s crisis, executive directors clutch to their jobs, volunteers want routine and donors are upset by change.

Leadership, courage and strength are necessary, although go just so far. What is required is:

1. Comprehensive vision and planning to meet future societal need.

2. Specific actions anticipating demographic change and the emerging societal consenus

3. Transformation as organizational culture

The dynamics are complex, the challenges are many, and the voices are loud. If nonprofits are completely up to transforming themselves, we will succeed in what we are always intended to do: enhancing social benefit. The future beckons.

Copyright 2011, The Good Counsel, division of Toscano Advisors, LLC. May be duplicated with citation.

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