2016 nonprofit predictions, the Eeyore version

Eeyore's in the Alps, Chamonix, France
Image credit: Sheri

This post was inspired by Joanne Cave’s and Lee Rose/Claude Lauziere’s recent pieces on predictions for the Canadian nonprofit sector in 2016.

Consider mine the Eeyore version. You know, one that’s a little bit of a bummer. 

Here are my predictions/wishes for the Canadian nonprofit and charitable sector in 2016.

1. Death of “social innovation.” Please.

Especially as a catchphrase. Or at least this is my solemn wish.

Social innovation is a new-ish word for a thing that has been happening since the beginning of charity. People and organizations finding different, improved, transformational ways to benefit their communities. Piloting, experimenting, trying new things. This is all good. But it’s not new.

I previously found it hard to articulate one of my discomforts with the focus on social innovation, but I recently identified it while reading a lovely 2013 Salon article on why innovation (currently) has nothing do do with being creative. It’s that in today’s world, in order for something to be considered “innovative,” it has to be acknowledge by the institutionalized “innovation class.” For social innovation in Canada, that would be orgs like SiG or CSI or MaRS or McConnell etc. As Thomas Frank writes:

Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. … What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

There are so many issues with social innovation as a thing right now.

  1. More and more organizations are feeling forced to label their work “social innovation” to fit funding opportunities. When really funders should be focussed largely on what works, not only what’s new.
  2. Most of the people talking about social innovation are mostly doing that – talking. The ones that are doing social innovation use the word because it’s “in group” language, not because of its inherent value for our communities (admission: I use the word too).
  3. The new and trendy and “innovative” which attracts people, attention, and funding rarely does the deep, sustainable work that our communities and the vulnerable people in them desperately need.

Instead, I dearly hope that organizations will work to improve upon knowing what works well, and trying new ways when things don’t.

2. People and organizations with lots of money will continue talking about the opportunity for social finance to unleash capital for social good. Skeptics will question the ethics of commoditizing disadvantage. Nonprofits will question the relevance of social finance to their work. They will all be correct.

I don’t think social finance is the be-all-end-all to funding interventions, but I do think we need to experiment with new funding models, and this is one set of approaches.

I question whether risk is distributed well (especially in the case of social impact bonds) and whether big business would be better to spend their money ensuring they don’t, um I don’t know, exploit the poor or the environment through unchecked negative externalities.

And most nonprofits are absent from the conversation. As they should be. Because either they don’t measure their impact to the level necessary for social finance, or their work doesn’t fit the social finance model (e.g. social impact bonds currently focus on employment, literacy, recidivism, and other short- to medium-term outcomes).

3. Nonprofit leaders of large nonprofits who suffer from data and tech illiteracy will unwittingly hurt their causes.

Not internalizing the importance of integrated use of data and technology will mean missed opportunities. And because it’s hard to know when something isn’t there (as opposed to spotting obvious issues like funding gaps or broken equipment), it will be easy for organizations to continue to ignore opportunities like shared platforms, data standards, automation, and other uses of tech and data that streamline our work and provide opportunities for collaboration and advocacy. You know, mission-related work.

4. Nonprofit leaders will wax on about the salary inequities within and outside the sector and then continue to pay shitty wages and use contract employment.

To be fair, they often do so because of the uncertainty of their funding environment.

But many pay little because they can get away with it. Not in a mwa-ha-ha evil way, but because it’s been done before, money is tight, and the job market continues to allow it.

5. No (large) nonprofit or charity will recruit unpaid interns for more than 15 hours per week.

Recruiting for unpaid internships over and above about 12 to 15 hours per week mean only the most privileged will benefit from these experiences, as the rest of job seekers are working and/or going to school full time. Public awareness about the exploitative nature of internships has increased over the past year in particular, and I hope that nonprofits (and not just businesses) have heard the message. Just because we are charities, doesn’t mean that full-time volunteer roles are ethical.

6. Increasing voice of Gen X and Y leadership.

Baby boomers continue to hold the traditional “leadership” roles in the sector. However, Gen X and Y will continue to move up in traditional organizations AND lead newer, non-traditional initiatives, and these new initiatives will hold greater space in the traditional national conversations hosted by organizations like Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, etc.

These new initiaitves are already holding their own conversations, learning from each other, and networking (and not just with other nonprofits). They don’t need traditional organizations to gain leadership legitimacy, but they can and do play nice when the potential power of new forms of structure and strategy are more and more respected, admired, and coveted by the old guard.

7. Southern Ontario will continue to get most of the attention, support, funding for sector-level work.

I’m always amazed (or…annoyed) that people in Ontario can call their initiatives “national” as long as they invite/email people from outside southern Ontario, but the same initiative out of Halifax or Saskatoon or Vancouver wouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt (or benefit of funding/sponsorship). This means many of the important conversations about the future of the nonprofit sector are happening among a narrow set of people, and that’s not OK for our diverse organizations and missions.

8. Rise of the quiet changemaker.

Well, this prediction is just selfish. It’s my own initiative and one that I hope will raise the voices and potential of the more quiet and introverted people making the world a better place. Read more here.

What are your predictions for the nonprofit sector in 2016? Can you out-grump me?