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Foundation Center 2020: Core Assumptions

September 17, 2011

Strategic-planning Still catching up with e-mail after spending the better part of three days at our annual senior+ staff retreat. In the roughly ten years I've been a member of the group, we've typically used the retreat to engage in high-level strategy discussions and develop short-term action plans (with more time spent on the latter). This year was different. In January, the center unveiled an ambitious strategic plan designed to take the organization through the year 2020 -- a decade certain to be marked by sweeping economic, political, and technological change. Organizations -- not-for-profit, for-profit, and hybrid alike -- will be challenged to adapt, continuously, to a rapidly changing landscape. Those without a clear idea of where they want to go and how to get there will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

The center's 2020 plan lays out six strategic priorities -- connect nonprofits to the resources they need to thrive; empower donors with knowledge tools they need to be more strategic; build the global data platform for philanthropy; communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world; encourage greater foundation transparency; ensure that our technology provides a strong foundation for the center's work -- that are based on a dozen core assumptions. The assumptions are really interesting and, in my opinion, offer lots of food for thought (and not just for those of us who work at the Foundation Center).

Here they are, in no particular order:

Organized philanthropy (foundations) will continue to grow in the U.S. in terms of assets and giving.

U.S. philanthropy will become an increasingly segmented industry with a relatively small (but growing) number of richly endowed, well-staffed, and sophisticated foundations; a growing number with global ambitions; and a very large number of much smaller foundations, some with little or no staff at all, whose giving is primarily local.

Outside the U.S., philanthropy will continue to grow at a rapid pace, particularly in those countries and regions taking on greater importance in the global economy.

As philanthropy and the fortunes that fuel it grow, governments, the media, and online communities will demand to know more about philanthropy and philanthropists.

The tool kit of organized philanthropy increasingly will be a continuum ranging from grants at one end to market rate, mission-related investments at the other, with a broader array of operating programs and direct charitable activities in between.

New forms of social investment will continue to evolve such that foundations will share the landscape with online giving/volunteering platforms, for-profit social enterprises, and new forms that we have yet to see.

Organizations seeking funding will need to employ a wider variety of strategies, including nonprofit restructuring and collaboration, multi-sector partnerships, social enterprise funding, and increased orientation toward bottom-line results and social impact.

Philanthropy increasingly will be data- and knowledge-driven as donors strive for more impact on a larger scale and finding the right information quickly becomes paramount.

Working at scale will require collaboration with other foundations, government, the private sector, and nonprofits -- often across the globe.

Philanthropy and social investment will expand in such a way that no one organization can cover all its needs and possibilities.

Radical changes in the information industry will continue to challenge business models and traditional roles of producers and consumers of information.

Technology wil make it possible to do things with data, its delivery, and its visualization that we can't begin to imagine today.

What we'd like to know from you is: Which of these assumptions is the most -- and least --likely to pan out? Which is the most interesting from your perspective, and why? What have we gotten right, what have we gotten wrong, and what we have completely overlooked? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

-- Mitch Nauffts


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