Provocative thoughts at Alliance for Nonprofit Management 2013

Having just spent three days in Newark, NJ at the 2013 Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference with some incredible peers, I thought I’d spend a few blogs sharing some thoughts from the various sessions.

Here are a few highlights from the plenary sessions:

Keynote Robert Egger shared his predictions about the big trends in the country our sector must pay attention to, including:

  • Aging of Society –This will have an impact on who we serve and how we serve them, including physical design.
  • End of surplus – the surplus that built our sector after WWII simply isn’t with us today – at least for the masses.
  • Growth of Generation Y – Estimated at 80 million, this is our most diverse generation, a generation that has grown up with service and expectations of doing good and doing well.
  • Rekindling of Volunteerism – 10,000 boomers are turning 67 every day. Many want to rekindle the sense of purpose they felt in the 60s and 70s. We are unprepared to engage their talent and energy – we must move beyond volunteerism that consists only of make work jobs.

Peter York of TCC Group asked the question: Why aren’t we learning from evaluation? He focused on the traps that prevent our sector from learning. Two highlights:

  • The sector is suffering from “delusions of outcome grandeur” – my absolute favorite phrase of the session.  Caused by “proxy buyer syndrome” we are pushed by our funders to measure outcomes that are simply impossible to credit or to measure for the limited scope of the program that our organizations are running.
  • We aren’t paying attention to  Positive Deviance, or how people achieve our desired results without our targeted interventions.

York says that nonprofits that ask the really tough questions in their evaluations, who listen to their recipients and treat evaluation more like research and development can scale success at 3x the rate of those who don’t.

During the Provocateur Panel, audience members and panelists were asked to identify what they felt were the truly huge disruptions that our sector is facing. These were named:

  • The massive shift in the world of work and the continuing concentration of wealth in the US – 432 billionaires in the US
  • Aging of the boomers
  • And other huge demographic shifts – a more open Generation Y and the browning of America
  • Technological changes – currently and that we haven’t foreseen yet
  • Pink collar workforce and the end of work
  • Pay for performance funding models as a response to decreased government services – (Count me a skeptic. Even if this might work, we need more thought about what it means for our clients when our sector’s master funder shifts from the government to big finance)
  • How to create space and funding for more innovators in the sector – a hotly disputed point about innovation
  • Lack of a social compact in a world of growing need
  • Fast cycles of experimentation in business world – how can we keep up
  • Need for a non-profit genome project, to understand our structure
  • Climate change
  • Are we too much Debbie Downers, ignoring the amazing things happening in our sector today?

What do you think? What disruptions are you thinking about?


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