With a bigger share of America’s population reaching old age and growing more diverse, social-service organizations are in for some big changes in the not-too-distant future. Adding to the challenge: the turbulence in government and private financing.
For the past six months, the Alliance for Children and Families—a membership group for human-service charities—has interviewed nonprofit leaders, gathered focus groups, and conducted surveys to identify the emerging trends organizations must embrace to succeed.
Today the alliance has published its findings in a new report, “Disruptive Forces: Driving a Human Services Revolution.”
Some of the six trends detailed in the report will sound familiar, such as the need for nonprofits to demonstrate to potential donors the results of their programs as well as the emergence of new types of financing that combine social and financial returns.
But the report also includes some provocative observations that are likely to spur debate. For example, when discussing “information liberation,” which refers to the fact that a new generation of consumers is more likely to share information about themselves, it’s clear that the report’s authors disapprove of social-service groups’ approach to handling client information.
“The human-services sector has used ‘privacy’ and ‘confidentiality’ as an excuse to avoid developments that promote information sharing,” they write. “Information sharing can improve service-delivery models such that they ultimately give consumers more control over how their information is shared and allow other agencies in the same continuum to provide better care.”
The report calls on organizations to integrate advances in science and technology into their work and suggests that brain scanning might be one way for charities to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs.
“Boards will find themselves challenged by the ethical tension between high-tech and high-touch approaches,” the authors write.
Other forces cited in the report that require nonprofits to act: growing competition that requires a willingness to take risks on innovative projects, plus a focus on “branding causes, not charities,” to persuade donors to focus on the issue, not on a particular group.
Power of Networks
The disruptive forces the report identifies all point to a need for social-service groups to stop focusing on their own organizations and recognize the importance of networks, write the authors.
As a result of the troubled economy, they say, too many organizations have adopted a “bunker mentality,” focusing on what makes them different and creating niches within the marketplace.
“That has discouraged, and even prevented, maximizing on new opportunities, including collaboration and partnership opportunities,” write the authors. “To execute a large-scale sector shift, this mentality must change.”
What do you think are the biggest “disruptive forces” social-service groups—and all charities—will contend with in years to come? Do you think it’s realistic that nonprofits will stop focusing so much on their own organizations and put more energy toward building networks? Let us know by adding your comment below.