2019 marked a pivotal year for the social good space, particularly with regards to the advances in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Some believe business “purpose” was front and center for the first time. I’d agree, however I believe this is just the beginning. More so now than ever before is CSR becoming viewed as a necessary business function. Younger generations expect businesses to have a greater social benefit. But there’s still much to do as the challenges become more complex, more prevalent.
As I reflect on the last five years I’ve noticed some trends, each transcending just a single calendar year. I've realized It’s not enough to identify and anticipate the trends for just 2020. Social and environmental issues often span generations. So, we must be look further out. And I'm not going to spout off suggesting those in the social good space need a five-year plan. But, what I will say is our programming must be evergreen and impermeable to constant change. To accomplish this, we must understand and project the next five years.
Here are the trends I believe we must recognize and prepare for.
The decline of individual giving.
Let’s face it, there’s been a decline of institutional giving over the past two decades. This should raise concern for non-profits of all sizes. Matter of fact, since 2000 the percentage of all individual giving has decreased from 75.8 percent to 68.1 percent in 2018. To make matters more grim, since 2008, the percentage of Americans making donations to charitable organizations has also decreased from 65 percent to 53 percent. That’s just an eight-year span. If this trend is any indication than I fear what 2030 will look like.
Individuals are becoming less loyal to formal organizations and institutions and are shifting focus to addressing the cause-area itself. This trend is also impacting how people are volunteering (and we'll cover this). But, what does this mean for those working in the social good space? I’ll explain.
With over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States, smaller non-profits that rely heavily on individual giving will feel the greatest strain. As consumers use their purchase power to buy socially and environmentally conscious products (as a statement of their values) they’re increasingly buying these products in lieu of donations to a non-profit. This action will increase the competition for smaller non-profits. I also assess there will be an increase of giving directly person-to-person through crowd raising apps.
Long-term, this will undermine foundation and non-profit organization sustainability. It will negatively impact their ability to provide services (through grant funding) beyond the grant life-cycle. It has the potential to disrupt the financial flexibility for small and medium sized non-profits needed to build capacity around programs that otherwise wouldn’t be possible through restricted funding (from corporate and government grants).
Worst case It’ll increase the influence of the individually wealthy and corporations with greater spend power.
These changes are also reflected in how individuals give their time. Matter of fact, we’ve been seeing this shift for four years. But, there’s more, keep reading.
Increase in advocacy and non-institutional volunteerism.
According to the United Nation’s State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2018, 70 percent of all the world’s volunteering is informal. What’s informal volunteering you ask? It’s the unpaid, voluntary work that’s performed (direct person-to-person) and engagement not coordinated by an formal organization or institution.
Some of the most simplistic acts of informal volunteerism take the form as people helping their friends, family and neighbors when they’re in need. But those more passionate about a cause (rather than an institution) are more aggressively engaging in activism to educate others, influence legislation, demonstrate, and get the press involved to generate public awareness.
This will increase.
With so few organizations advocating in such a disruptive way, individuals are forced to bypass these formalized structures. Organizations not designed or programmed for this style of engagement will fail to harness this energy.
Similarly, companies that don’t support or "sanction" activism or other disruptive styles of volunteerism may risk losing touch with their employees. Those employees who feel strongly about activism may perceive the lack of support as censorship of their voice or devaluing their values.
This may call those in the social good space to rethink their policies, programs, services and how they seek to engage.
Consolidation and integration of technology platforms.
Costly siloed platforms with limited capability will go the way of the dodo. There will be greater incentive to invest in technology platforms that are integrated and more robust in capability.
While it’s estimated fewer than 10 percent of major companies use dedicated CSR tracking tools, I believe this is attributed to most companies lacking formalized employee volunteer or sustainability programs. The result? Few companies adopt the technology because they don't have the need. The root cause may be that corporate EVPs are still largely viewed as philanthropic actions, not core business functions necessary for growth. Regardless, it’s just been in the recent years that the CSR technology industry has seen the consolidation of technology companies and platform capabilities.
Just last year (and most significant), Blackbaud (a global cloud software provider serving the entire social good space) acquired YourCause, positioning Blackbaud as the industry leader in CSR and non-profit solutions. Fast forward to just a month ago, YourCause (now part of Blackbaud) joined in an innovation partnership with Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) and Benevity. Why is this significant? This partnership will allow Benevity and YourCause to automate delivery of giving and volunteering data for companies that participate in CECP’s annual Giving in Numbers survey and its resulting industry trends report.
At the same time, Benevity also created a partnership with VolunteerMatch. This partnership now offers Benevity users a content-focused experience and a capability of personal choice as they seek volunteer opportunities. To put it in clear words, this capability offers employees direct connection to VolunteerMatch opportunities through the Benevity platform. This may very well crack the nut social good professionals have been working to solve. A technology platform that connects their employees directly to aggregated opportunities all in one place.
I think you get the picture. When a platform vendor acquires another platform vendor, the advantage is technical. For some robust platforms they also become more scalable to a global market. But wait, there’s more.
There’s also been a shift in meeting the needs of platform users seeking connection to specific programs. Two examples of this include America’s Charities’ acquisition of CauseCast and Saleforce’s partnering with United Way. These moves address the need in the social good space to create ease-of-access for users to connect with specific programs.
All of this is good news unless you’re using an outdated siloed platform. This trend will remain along with the growing expectation of impact reports being more content-rich with greater outcome focused data.
Here’s my advice; If you’re using a siloed legacy platform (you know who you are), while the migration to a more technically capable platform will be difficult, it’ll be well worth the trouble.
Being able to more accurately and robustly track your progress will also allow you to more purposefully blaze a trail moving forward.
That type of knowledge and focus will be necessary as we continue to face critical issues in society and the environment.
Society’s increased hyper-focus on “shiny objects”.
In 2017, human rights and immigration were at the forefront. In 2018 you can argue it was plastics; companies feverishly moved to eliminate single-use plastic from their supply chain. In 2019 society pointed fingers at the aviation industry and their contributions to climate change, and in 2020 (barring COVID-19) it appears to be natural and man-made disasters.
Each year had something in common. The common thread is that the societal and environmental issues affiliated with each are still remain. Unfortunately, each of those issues were heightened to varying degrees by both traditional and social media bias.
All I’ll say is this, social good professionals have a ton of work to do. But beware of the shiny objects that may distract.
The introduction of social media has been followed by a constant news cycle that demands an immediacy that’s never been seen before. With technology and information at our fingertips, society expects am immediate response for everything. This remains true related to actions addressing social and environmental issues. The challenge is to remain attentive to societal expectations (addressing an issue) while also continuing that course when it’s no longer in the public eye. Additionally, we’ll need to remain unflappable when current events are raised at the alarming rate seen in this era.
One example to illustrate what I mean includes the bushfires in Australia. While they’re now “contained”, Australia burned for nearly 240 days. But here in the United States, the media spotlight of the bushfires lasted for maybe two months. That’s 60 days.
Did we not care about the bushfires for the other 180 days (before photos of dead kangaroos emerged on social media)? It appears that only then did it become attention worthy for Americans. Here's the point I'm making. There's no doubt the bushfires in Australia warranted attention for the full 240 days. I’d even say that this still warrants coverage given the recovery efforts will last for years to come. What's sad though is that we (the social good space outside of Australia) have largely placed this in the rear view mirror.
As we move forward addressing other challenges, the trick will be tackling the issue while at the same time reducing the influence from the increase in knee-jerk call-for-actions from society.
Those in the social good space will need to proactively address the issues, educate the public on challenges (and successes) and at the same time create continuity plans that’ll promote long-term progress.
Our sector cannot afford to be the cat chasing the laser. But we must first position ourselves for success.
Greater scrutiny and conflation of organizations with polarizing services.
Politicization of organizations based on their services and practices have become an issue of late.
For example, many are familiar with the Salvation Army. They’re a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides services to those in need internationally. They run charity shops, operate shelters for the homeless and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid to developing countries. They’re also a Protestant Christian church. Because of some of their practices they've received criticism by LGBTQ activists.
Now, I’ll be the first to share that I’m guilty of throwing money into the Salvation Army bucket outside my local Safeway during the holidays. None of what I'm about to write is a sharp rebuke, nor is it an endorsement of their work. Rather, it's to make it point.
The question we’re now facing in the social good space is this; does the undeniably positive service a non-profit provides get nullified by their practices we may not agree with? We’re in an era where we must apply that question to every organization. Then answer that same question through the lens of public opinion. Think about that for a second, and in the meantime let’s stay focused on the Salvation Army as an example.
Because the Salvation Army is a church, Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows them to inquire into people's religious beliefs in its hiring practices. The Salvation Army maintains the position that it does not "discriminate against hiring gays and lesbians for the majority of its roughly 55,000 jobs”. That said, they’ve supported legislation which would allow them to deny employment and federally funded services to LGBTQ individuals. As mentioned, they straddle a unique position as a non-profit (serving the homeless and those in need in times of disaster) while also participating in church and religious activities.
There's no question they're between a rock and a hard place.
But, it was just recently Chick-fil-A ceased funding the Salvation Army. Instead, they're choosing to deepen their giving to non-profits working exclusively in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger. It should be noted Chick-fil-A has faced criticism for their previous support (of Salvation Army). Nearly a year ago the San Antonio city council voted to ban the food chain from its international airport, citing Chick-fil-A’s “history of LGBTQ issues”.
But this isn't just an issue for the Salvation Army. Another example of an organization facing constant backlash is Planned Parenthood. They’re often criticized for providing abortion services. But they’re also a 501(c)(3) non-profit providing general healthcare, services for HIV, pregnancy testing, STD testing, treatment and vaccination, and services for women and much more.
They too receive corporate funding.
I bring all of this up to say we’re now in an era where companies that fund polarizing organizations will risk facing scrutiny. So we must be ready for that. In the instance corporations support (the Salvation Army, Planned Parenthood or other sharply criticized organizations) they may find themselves in the crosshairs of politically charged attacks. There will need to be greater due diligence when creating future partnerships as a result.
Now, this isn’t the “end all”, rather the trends I believe that’ll creep into every part of the social good space. Agree?
What five trends have you seen or been impacted by?