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5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2012

By Nell Edgington



My annual predictions for the coming year are probably a bit more wishful thinking than actual prediction. It’s hard to say if my predictions for 2011 became a reality for the sector as a whole. But I am ever an optimist and continue to think that the nonprofit sector is getting smarter, more effective, and better able to create real, lasting change in our communities. I truly believe that our challenging economy offers nonprofits a real opportunity to reinvent themselves.

So here are my predictions (hopes) for what the nonprofit sector will move towards in 2012:

  1. More Open, Engaging Organizations
    Smart nonprofits are getting better at engaging armies of supporters. In order to do that, they have to cede some control. Nonprofits that can allow volunteers, donors and advocates to engage their friends in their own way will unleash a growing army of support for their organizations. Those  nonprofits that continue to control the message and the method, that only engage their donors when they need money, and ignore the increasingly networked world will wither on the vine.

  2. Smarter Boards
    I am an endless optimist when it comes to nonprofit boards of directors. Boards are, for the most part, dysfunctional, but I believe that they are getting smarter and more effective. I think boards will start asking more and better questions, increasingly put themselves to their highest and best use, focus more on strategic issues as opposed to day-to-day tasks, empower their staff leadership to take the organization in more innovative directions, and start putting their money (and their networks) where their mouth is. Because this new harsher environment absolutely necessitates a smart, strategic, innovative board.

  3. More Honest Communication Between Nonprofits and Their Donors
    Oh yes, I do, I do believe it. The nonprofit sector’s proclivity to endlessly beat around the bush, tell donors what they want to hear, and sugar-coat the truth will start to wane in the new year. Because the reality is that a severely under-resourced nonprofit sector is the new normal.  That truth is harder and harder to hide. Nonprofits need more money for infrastructure, more and better staff, technology. And they need their donors to step up to the plate and fund it.  Those nonprofits that continue to fear their donors will continue to struggle. Those that take the leap and tell donors how it is, how it REALLY is, will propel themselves out of the starvation cycle.

  4. More Strategic Approaches to Solving Social Problems
    It’s increasingly meaningless for nonprofits to talk about the “good work” they do. In order to attract donors, nonprofits must be able to articulate what they do and how it results in change. This necessitates an overall strategic approach to their work. From creating a theory of change, to developing on a comprehensive strategy, to raising the money required to execute on that strategy, to aligning money and mission, to evaluating their efforts, to translating their evaluation into a compelling story, nonprofits have to get more strategic. Those organizations that take a step back and create, and fully integrate their organization into, a long-term plan will be much more successful and sustainable.

  5. More Financed Nonprofits
    As part of this more strategic approach, nonprofits will (must) move towards a broader, more strategic approach to funding their work. They will realize that the hamster wheel of chasing receding dollars in a scattered approach just isn’t going to cut it anymore. As the fundamental economic restructuring that we are currently experiencing continues, nonprofits must create a financial model for their work.  The financial status quo just will no longer work in the nonprofit sector.

I’m not a fortune teller, but I am an optimist. I have tremendous hope for our great nonprofit sector. We may be in the depths of an on-going, structurally transformative recession, but it in no way is the death knell for the nonprofit sector. It is simply an opportunity for nonprofits to get smarter, more honest, more open, more strategic, and more sustainable. And that’s exciting.

Photo Credit: riptheskull

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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8 Comments to 5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2012

Janet Pike
December 15, 2011

You have taken the words from my mouth. As a project manager of a third sector organisation, I have realised that it is imperative that we must generate income to maintain the status quo and I am trying to do this by starting a business with a social purpose. The funding culture has withered and if the voluntary sector is to continue to offer services at a fraction of the cost of that charged by statutory organisations it will have to raise its own funds to do so. I am committed, passionate and poorly paid. Is there still any room in the world for animals like me?

Christine Sculati
December 16, 2011

Great post, Nell. This is a period of reinvention for many nonprofits, and this article reinforces how organizations can survive challenging economic times and at the same time emerge on stronger ground.

[...] Click here to read full post [...]

[...] the same time, I came across the best fundraising blog ever, Nell Edgington’s Social Velocity – and her reference to nonprofits’ “starvation cycle.” This term is new to me but it’s [...]

[...] 5 Nonprofit Trends to Watch in 2012 by Nell Edgington, President of Social Velocity “We may be in the depths of an on-going, structurally transformative recession, but it in no way is the death knell for the nonprofit sector. It is simply an opportunity for nonprofits to get smarter, more honest, more open, more strategic, and more sustainable. And that’s exciting.” Read the entire story here. [...]

[...] Nell Edington recently wrote in her 2012 predictions, as non-profits are getting “smarter”, donors and boards are asking for more and asking [...]

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[…] Creative, communicative organizations.  It’s not a new thought: the organization that has conversations with their donors, […]

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