Philanthropic researcher, educator predicts a year focused on equity, smaller donor pools, innovation, mission and new HR policies

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

As local nonprofit teams plan for another calendar year, the agenda most likely will include strategies for embracing change, innovation and sustainability in numerous areas, according to Amir Pasic, Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

With the pandemic and social protests representing some of the most disruptive events in the nation’s history, nonprofits are being forced to regroup on how to carry out their mission and operations, Pasic noted. “Almost all of our lives were turned upside down in many ways,” Pasic said. “The nonprofit philanthropic sector was no exception.”

Pasic pointed out six trends that nonprofits will likely need to address as they move into a new year.

1. Integrating equity as a long-term solution. While conversations and news around racial equity may not be as intense at the height of social justice protests, it will remain at the forefront of agendas of nonprofits, Pasic said. 

“When you had the kind of material, economic consequences of COVID, and then afterwards the killing of George Floyd and other black citizens, you saw the rise of racial reckoning and that becoming a global phenomenon. Equity and inclusion became major topics,” he said. “The fervor might have dissipated a bit, but I think those priorities are going to be there permanently for the nonprofit sector because so many of us became aware of the fact that our institutions and practices have been exclusionary.”

With the growing awareness around racial equity, Pasic added, it will have a “differential impact on nonprofits, depending on where they stand.”

2. Relying on a smaller pool of donors, mostly wealthy. Another trend that emerged during the pandemic is a shrinking pool of donors, Pasic said. “One of areas of research that has been interesting but somewhat worrisome is that giving continued to grow, but it came from a smaller number of donors,” Pasic said. “There was pretty strong evidence that donations are coming from a smaller number of wealthier people. We will be looking to determine if that trend will continue.”

Pasic said that nonprofits will need to make further adjustments if that trend remains. They will need to understand the best strategies for engaging a smaller number of donors until they can expand their donor base. “They need to ask, ‘How do you balance that with planning for a future where you’re trying to replenish those donors over time?’,” Pasic said

3. Rethinking employee work schedules. Another concern related to equity emerged during the pandemic when some employees easily transitioned to working online, while others faced downsizing or layoffs because they jobs demanded an in-person presence,according to Pasic.

Human resource leaders will need to explore ways to adopt hybrid work models while addressing the needs of all employees. “It looks like there’s going to be all kinds of different combinations of people working remotely,” he said.  

4. Offering a mix of in-person and online volunteer/giving opportunities. During the pandemic, a significant number of nonprofits offered volunteers ways to continue to support the mission remotely, Pasic said. “More people started giving online, engaging online and trying to figure out who they can help online,” he said. “At the same time, we saw an upsurge in neighbors helping their neighbors. We saw people knocking on the doors of neighbors they may never have met before to see if they could help by shopping for groceries.

“I think we’re going to see more of this type of decision-making in the future,” he added. “People will continue to figure out what it is that they can do remotely and when they have to travel.”

5. Remind your team of your mission. With many nonprofit organizations undergoing unprecedented changes in adjusting to challenges, it’s important to take the time to focus on the mission, Pasic said.

“In times of difficulty, it’s important to remind yourself why you exist. What is your mission?” he said. “Revive that purpose. It’s not only a time to remind yourself of what that is, but for those who are your champions. It can sometimes be forgotten when we’re all scrambling to make it through the day, but I think that that sense of mission can be rejuvenated and give you some energy to start the next day.”

6. Embrace innovation as an ongoing pursuit. “The pandemic has shown us that there’s no reason to keep doing the way we’ve been doing,” Pasic said. “A sense of innovation and possibilities are some of the positive things that came out of the pandemic. When we know our mission, then we can think of innovative and interesting ways to pursue that. We need to take some of the things we learned during the pandemic and apply it to the future.” 

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