The world of work is changing, and changing fast. Being mindful of the trends that might affect the future of nonprofits can help you protect your organization and your career, and position yourself to take advantage of new opportunities.
When we talk about the future of work, we often focus on technological advances, like automation and artificial intelligence. But there are many other changes that could affect nonprofits in Canada. In this article, we asked the experts to weigh in on some of the other trends that might affect nonprofits and nonprofit work in the next 10-15 years.
In a recent report, futurists at the Brookfield Institute shed light on a broad range of changes that could impact Canada’s labour market in the year 2030 and beyond, pushing us to ask “what if?” What if Canada sees a rise in wildfires, floods and mudslides? What if we meld work and retirement well into our eighties and nineties? To avoid blind spots and manage risks, we need to ask these kinds of questions and imagine the possible implications, says the report, entitled Turn and Face the Strange: Changes impacting the future of employment in Canada.
“I think nonprofit leaders are very well versed in understanding the environment they’re working in and how the landscape is changing,” says Jessica Thornton, Senior Projects Designer at the Brookfield Institute and co-author of the report, “but it can be easy to keep in mind the changes that are most relevant to whatever issue or area you’re working on, which means that some of the broader changes might catch you off guard.”
According to the report, one such trend may be the disappearing middle class.
Disappearing middle class
“Many people fail to make ends meet in today’s economy and are overstretched by credit, loans, and housing costs,” it says. Canada seems to be facing an expanding wealth gap, with income inequality on the rise.
“If you’re looking at an organization that is membership-based or reliant on donations, and we have a reduction of the middle class, that’s obviously going to impact those mid-level donors,” says Thornton. Since people have less disposable income to spend on things beyond basic necessities, that will definitely have an impact, she adds.
The increasing polarization between rich and poor could also mean more families and individuals in need of support. According to Brian Emmett, Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector at Imagine Canada, income inequality is one factor contributing to the broader trend he calls the growing social deficit: the result of charities and nonprofits being unable to meet the rising demand for essential services.
“At the end of the day, 10 years from now, what will you see? You won’t see a balance sheet with $26 billion on it,” he says, the amount he estimates would reflect the impact of the social deficit, if given a dollar value. “You will notice charities that are overworked, charities that have long waiting lines, and charities that are unable to service their clients.”
While the sector continues to face a slowdown in economic growth, social and demographic trends like income inequality, the aging population, and the growing needs of immigrants and refugees, continue to drive up the demand for services.
Another trend that could contribute to the spiking demand for services is climate change.
In their recent report, future-of-work experts at the Brookfield Institute point to some key trends associated with climate change, including resource scarcity, growing numbers of climate refugees, and an increase in wildfires, flooding, and mudslides. In one way or another, all of these trends could impact the future of nonprofits in Canada.
For instance, “there could be a growing demand for products and services that support flood and wildfire monitoring and disaster recovery,” according to the report – a prediction that would seem all too real for those dealing with the effects of extreme flooding this spring in regions across the country and the early start to wildfire season in the west.
The damage caused by climate change could also reduce economic growth, says Emmett, “and that would exaggerate the effect of a slowing economy on funds available to the charitable sector and for everybody else.” On the other hand, “it could also increase the demand for advocacy and increase the number of donations going towards climate-change oriented groups,” he adds.
In times of growing uncertainty, one thing is clear: we’re going to need to get creative. As the Turn and Face the Strange report suggests, “creativity could be the most in-demand skill sought by employers across all industries.” This includes the nonprofit sector, says Thornton.
For instance, more and more organizations are shifting towards Design Thinking, an iterative process that helps organizations gain a deeper understanding of the people they serve in order to come up with creative solutions that will meet their needs.
“I’ve already heard some nonprofits talking about trying to build the capacity for Design Thinking and thinking in more creative ways,” says Thornton. If you’re not already thinking about this and what it could mean for how you deliver programming and plan for the future, you should be, she adds.
“We need to have creativity – and the ability to read a situation, to connect, to know when to ask people for things – because the rate and pace of change is going to be even faster,” says futurist Hala Beisha, principal and founder of Resilience Factor and certified Leadership and Executive Coach. “We’re going to be experiencing scarcity of resources, so you need to be resourceful, you need to be creative.”
Creativity will also be critical when it comes to financing, suggests Emmett. “Nonprofits and charities should be really open-minded and innovative about financing and look at options like social finance, because I think donations are going to be under a lot of pressure,” he says.
Another trend that will impact the nonprofit sector is the shift towards lifelong learning. As the Brookfield Institute report suggests, Canadians may move away from “one-time postsecondary education to self-directed learning, micro-credentialing, and learning through employer training programs.”
In the nonprofit sector, growing your skills and managing your careers can be particularly challenging because you don’t always have the resources or the time, suggests Beisha. But again, this is where you need to be creative.
“Ask for stretch assignments. Put up your hand for things that you haven’t done before but you think you can do. Partner with people that you haven’t worked with before,” she says. “And try to accumulate knowledge across different areas of discipline.”
Of course, one way for people to gain these skills is to volunteer – a prospect charities and nonprofits might be able to tap into. “There is an opportunity for nonprofits to position themselves to say, ‘come spend some time here and learn about these things,’ and then they will also get to benefit from a broader set of skills and expertise coming into the sector,” says Thornton.
Our rapidly aging population is undoubtedly driving up the demand for essential services. But people are also living longer, which may have other implications. “As lifespans increase dramatically, people will start to work longer to support their financial needs,” says the Brookfield Institute report.
Baby boomers are already staying in the workforce well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, says Beisha. “Work is beyond just the money that we make – work is the way we make contact, we have friends, we derive value,” she says. “It helps us not lose our marbles, it helps us derive purpose and meaning.” This means organizations will need to start focusing more on intergenerational collaboration, she adds.
“For many people, some of these trends might be outside the scope of their purview and what they’re working on,” says Thornton, “but I think in preparing for the future, it’s good to at least ask yourself ‘what if?’ and ‘how will we prepare?’”
Rachel is a graduate of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and Carleton University’s journalism program. She has been a contributor to Charity Village since 2012.