The nonprofit sector in Canada went through a difficult year in 2020, as noted in Part One of this blog. What about 2021? We don’t want to recreate the past, just in a better version. If that’s true, if we want to innovate for a very challenging next decade, what’s our new agenda?
The answer depends in part on what we think about the future. I have no better crystal ball than anyone else. Forecasts are notoriously tricky. Sometimes they are just expressions of what the forecaster would like to happen, not a rigorously considered assessment of what could happen, good or bad. Rather than a forecast, a new agenda might emerge from hard thinking about future drivers and tensions. Drivers are forces that are most likely to shape the choices and needs of organizations. Tensions are the stresses most likely to be experienced as organizations try to cope with the drivers. The agenda is set from the answers to questions that organizations ask themselves as they consider these drivers and tensions.
Here (in my opinion) are the drivers that could shape the choices of the social good sector in 2021. Different organizations will experience the pressure of these drivers differently. But they will be important whether you are a philanthropic funder or a nonprofit working in the social good space:
As social good organizations consider the impact of these drivers on their strategies, they also face some important tensions or contradictions. Some of these are more specific to funders. But they are important to the recipients of philanthropic funding too:
Different organizations are going to ask different questions as they consider these drivers and tensions. So, I will speculate only on a possible agenda for the social good sector as a whole. What questions should we ask to help us shape a sector-wide agenda coming out of the pandemic?
Thinking about these questions is tough. Answering them through action is even tougher, to be honest. This is going to test our creativity and our willingness to let go of certainties. If this is a new agenda for the sector, we have to think about how we push past the immediate emergency. There is great pressure to stay focused on the moment. Funders are being called on to spend more, faster, with fewer restrictions. Organizations are trying to manage with what they have, and not investing in what they might not have. But I hear people talking about the creativity unleashed by stress and upheaval. The roaring 1920s followed the dismal 1910s. Can we repeat? Can we turn creative energy into better community building? I believe so, if we can get past the tough choices. There is one more tough question: how do we build a different relationship with government? How do we engage more effectively in policy development? How do we work with government to design more flexible and more effective regulation? How do we partner to share important data and evidence? How do we get the recognition from government as a sector that will enable us to flourish? I want to reflect on that in my third and last blog about a new agenda for the social good sector.