It has been 15 years since Brighter Strategies was born—a decade and a half of partnering with good organizations to do good work. This year we’re exploring the ways the work we do has changed during the past 15 years. We look forward to going back in time, remembering who we were, and celebrating how far we’ve come. Join us, won’t you?
The Nonprofit Sector
“Nonprofits have been at the forefront of every movement for social change during the last five decades of American history,” according to the Consumer Reports Advocacy 2013 report, Changing Times: A New Era for the Nonprofit Sector. “They led the civil rights movement, the battle for a cleaner environment, the fight for equality for women, and many other social causes that have changed the nation. By working to serve society’s unmet needs, nonprofits acquire a unique perspective on these needs. This special window on the world has placed the nonprofit sector at the center of our nation’s struggle to achieve a civil society.”
One decade later, this identity still rings true. Nonprofits are special because they exist primarily to deliver services, not to make money. Nonprofits are uniquely positioned as change agents for the community. They seek to fulfill the ever-evolving needs of our nation and be our society’s educators, advocates, and allies.
Yet, in many ways nonprofits have evolved. They’ve gotten better at accomplishing their missions by growing their capacity to do so. Here are five ways the nonprofit sector has changed in the past 15 years.
Business change in the nonprofit sector
Most nonprofit organizations have professionalized. Leaders learned that nonprofits are businesses and need to function as such. They adopted strategic planning, systems thinking, and organization development practices to ensure they are seeing around corners and innovating accordingly. They now understand that investing in their people, planning, processes, and performance allows them to have a greater service impact.
Fundraising change in the nonprofit sector
Twenty years ago, nonprofits primarily raised money through fundraising and grants. Today, nonprofits have shifted toward commercial activities to diversify their revenue capabilities. Mergers and acquisitions, for-profit subsidiaries, and joint ventures are all on the table. And more traditional philanthropy income has evolved to provide more choice for the donor. Many individuals use modern payment methods such as Apple Pay, Venmo, and PayPal. More progressive nonprofits are even investing in cryptocurrency.
Sales and marketing change in the nonprofit sector
With growing business savvy has come a better sense of marketing and promotions. Many nonprofit organizations have developed sales and marketing teams that rival their for-profit counterparts. They have upgraded their systems and technology to operate more effectively and efficiently. The use of content marketing, customer management software, email marketing, and SEO are now common practices.
Nonprofit Hub’s article, “A Brief History of Nonprofit Organizations (And What We Can Learn)” notes that the Internet ushered in the most revolutionary nonprofit marketing trend of the 2000s. Small community organizations suddenly had a means to advertise their services to the entire world. Social media took such promotions to another level. The #BlackLivesMatter movement of 2013 and ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 are two examples of causes that exploded due to social media.
Prioritizing evaluation and change
There was a time when nonprofit employees worked tirelessly for their mission, with little-to-no information about whether they were making a true difference. They thought any sort of data collecting or metrics setting was a waste of precious time that could be spent on more high-impact work.
With the shift to better business practices, nonprofit leaders began to understand that spending time measuring success was the only evidence-based way to determine real impact. Thus, the focus on program evaluation—including theory of change, impact analysis, and outcome measurement—has skyrocketed in the past two decades. The National Council of Nonprofits now formally endorses evaluation and “encourages nonprofits to embrace a culture that supports evaluating the difference your nonprofit is making.”
Leader and employee development
Nonprofits might be tax exempt, but they still need to follow good management practices. A focus on strong Board governance and executive leadership are now critical for nonprofits. And a recurring exodus of nonprofit leadership only supports the need for a strong succession planning pipeline to supplement such efforts.
Nonprofits today have developed coaching, leadership development, and employee learning programs through partnerships with both internal and external consultants. They care about employee engagement, career advancement, and mental health and well-being. They seek to understand workforce trends like the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, and they adapt hiring and training practices to better serve their people.
Fifteen years ago, people in positions of power in nonprofits didn’t look much like the community they served. Today, many nonprofits now ask the people they serve to decide how those services are provided. These individuals hold board seats, participate in focus groups, sit on planning committees, and join town hall meetings.
Thanks to nonprofits, a movement for greater diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and access has swept the nation. Social justice-minded agencies have paved the way toward more diverse workforces, inclusive practices, and cultures of belonging. People who were traditionally underrepresented now have a voice and an opportunity to use it, thanks to more distributed leadership structures. If there were ever a time to work in a nonprofit, that time is now.
You want to change the world, and we want to help you do it. Whether you’re an NGO working within rural villages on the other side of the world, a small charity that wants to make a big impact in your local community, or a for-profit business with a mission, Brighter Strategies was founded specifically to help you. Contact us today to learn more.