Back to the Future with the Nonprofit Sector

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You may be familiar with the National Council of Nonprofits’ role as a trendspotter for charitable nonprofits, including annual rundowns of overall sector trends or trends in state policy that impact nonprofits. But, in celebration of #BacktotheFuture Day (the day Doc Brown and Marty McFly travelled forward to in Back to the Future: Part II), let’s look at a longer time horizon – back 30 years to see what has changed since 1985 and forward 30 years to imagine the future of the nonprofit sector in 2045.

How things have changed for nonprofits since 1985

Mobile engagement
During his trip to 2015, Marty is approached to make a donation on a mobile device. (Ok, so that device was a thumbprint scanner, not a phone or iPad, but the prediction is still pretty impressive!) While we’re not donating with just a thumbprint yet, the last 30 years have seen technological advancements that make it much easier (and less expensive) to reach a broader audience and engage them as donors, volunteers, or advocates. Of course, mobile engagement is just the latest widely-accepted iteration of technological whiz-bang developments that have changed the nonprofit world since 1985. “Back in the day” – without email, without websites, and without Facebook or Twitter – communications were done in boring black and white by snail mail and fax machines.

More tools for accountability and transparency
Nonprofits have always been stewards of the public's trust - knowing that we can't advance our missions without people knowing that we will be responsible stewards of donations of time and money. But with the intervening advent of the Internet, cable television, and the 24-hour news cycle, it has become imperative for every nonprofit to learn, practice, and model accountability and transparency. There are now more resources than ever to help nonprofits operate efficiently, effectively, and ethically. From the resources on the National Council of Nonprofits' website to the Principles and Practices/Standards for Excellence programs run by state associations of nonprofits to the information contained in nonprofit profiles on Guidestar, benchmarking and gaining access to training, best practices, and samples has never been easier.

What the nonprofit sector will look like in 2045

Virtual impact demonstrations

We all know how important it is for nonprofits to demonstrate their impact to donors, funders, the media, and more – and make that impact feel personal. With infographics, motion graphics, pictures, and video, nonprofits can connect with potential supporters thousands of miles away like never before. How long until we can provide virtual tours and presentations via hologram or other virtual reality technology? With technology like Google Glass (also predicted by the movie), we may not have to wait too long.

Nonprofits having the resources they need to achieve their missions

This may seem like as far off as flying cars, but we’re closer than ever to making this reality. Nonprofits performing services through contracts and grants funded by the federal government are now entitled to be paid for their indirect costs through the new OMB Uniform Guidance. With efforts underway to dispel the “overhead myth” with individual donors and to help nonprofits know and protect their rights to fair reimbursement from governments – along with more nonprofit board members standing for their mission, it shouldn’t take a trip in the DeLorean to reach that future.

Your vision for the future

What do you think the landscape will look like nonprofits in 2045? Let us know below or on Twitter or Facebook with hashtag #np2045.

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