By: Carol Cone, CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and Founder of the Purpose Collaborative
The social sector regularly made headlines in 2018, from corporate activism on social issues to major new philanthropic funding, and from a storied NGO filing for bankruptcy to major investors prioritizing purpose. And…all of that might seem relatively quiet compared to the twists and trends ahead. Here are nine predictions for philanthropy and social purpose in 2019 – and what you can do to prepare. (Hint: A lot comes down to the power of “and.”)
1. Economic warning signs: Those flashing red lights aren’t just for the holidays. They’re signs the U.S. economy may be slowing down. That will stress smaller givers and corporate partners. Now is the time for nonprofits and funders alike to get clear on their strategy and purpose, create both long-term plans and alternate budget forecasts, and diversify revenue sources.
2. Personalized impact: Metrics matter more in tougher times, so expect more organizations in all sectors to up their game with digital impact trackers that are personalized for specific donors. (Check out Philanthropy Cloud for a good example.) That goes not only for individuals, but for companies that increasingly aim to stand for something. At the same time, data isn’t everything. Smart social impact leaders are starting to place a premium on long-term outcomes and less tangible social impact, such as the life satisfaction students might feel years down the road.
3. Sophisticated storytelling: If data feeds the brain, stories move the heart. In the market, expect to see clever communications via co-branded media channels, interactive serialized video, augmented and virtual reality, and even new takes on old-school tools. One of the hottest advertising trends? Billboards, like this one the Brooklyn Community Foundation used for #GivingTuesday 2018. The take-away is to consider alternatives and make communications a core program strategy, not just a sideline.
4. Power of connections: In 2007, 4 of the 10 largest U.S. charities either delivered disaster relief or were networks with local impact. Today, the number is 8 in 10. In fact, while overall giving rose 5.2% last year, gifts to international NGOs dropped 4.4%. Expect that trend to continue in 2019, while savvy development officers try to make global causes feel personal in this GoFundMe era.
5. Third-party influence: 2019 will continue the dramatic shift toward people finding and funding causes via intermediaries. Think Facebook, Paypal, Amazon, and even Fortnite. Third-party platforms make critical first impressions and are channels nonprofits and their partners can’t afford to ignore.
6. Participatory grantmaking: Shouldn’t people impacted by programs and funds help direct them? One result of inclusion movements is a growing interest in bridge-building, deep listening, and broad stakeholder engagement — within, and sometimes between, ideological camps. So funders and nonprofits alike should ask themselves how to get candid feedback from program participants and other core stakeholders, potentially expanding their cohort of advisors. Better yet, they ask someone in a community they aim to serve and/or might overlook.
7. Direct relief vs. systems change: Just as the Gilded Age gave way to seismic social change, we’re on the cusp of history here, people. The months ahead will only heighten concerns about deep-rooted inequality and the foundations of democracy. One example of an organization to watch is Code for America, a nonprofit discussing the role of government in the digital age. Forward-thinking donors and activists will invest in long-term transformation while urgent needs like disaster relief, feeding programs, and homelessness will soak up remaining funds. If your programming falls in the middle, prepare to get squeezed.
8. Grand challenges: From X-Prizes to the Communities Thrive Challenge to focused initiatives like the George Barley Water Prize, grand challenges and big bets aren’t going away. (Neither are big problems.) If you’re a funder, make the most of work others have already put in by supporting pre-vetted programs, like the ones in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Solutions Bank. If you’re a nonprofit, innovate.
9. A new philanthropy of despair gives reason for hope: Running alongside these trends is what I call a new “philanthropy of despair.” Ugly symptoms like rising gun violence, suicide rates, and opioid addiction reflect deeper diseases of partisanship, inequality, social isolation, and a planetary-level existential crisis. Expect more players, from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Acton Family Giving to small innovators across the social sector, to collaborate in countering these forces. Next year, we may see even more efforts to foster empathy, opportunity, and sustainability, which is reason for hope in 2019 and beyond.
For more inspiration, check out these corporate giving and volunteering resources:
- How You Can Volunteer to Help Tomorrow’s Workers
- New Report from United Way Reveals What You Can Do to Help Reduce Poverty
- One Million Ways to Make a Difference
About the Author
Carol Cone is considered the “godmother” of social purpose, having launched the first social impact consultancy for companies, nonprofits, and foundations in the early 1980s. Today, she continues her journey to enhance purpose for these organizations and for individuals as CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE, and Founder of the Purpose Collaborative.