Independent Sector Launches Listening Tour

February 20, 2015       Mark Hrywna and Patrick Sullivan      

Independent Sector isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s taking its show on the road.

The Washington, D.C.-based Independent Sector (IS) is embarking on a nationwide tour, starting in March, to discuss with sector leaders in 15 cities a number of trends that will become prominent in the future.

Diana Aviv, president and CEO, discussed these trends, based upon research conducted by IS, and announced the schedule of the Threads tour today during a live telecast moderated by NPT Publishing Group Vice President and Editorial Director Paul Clolery.

The first of the Threads will be March 24 at the Ford Foundation in New York City, with future sessions planned:

  • May 4, Detroit
  • May 7, Chicago
  • May 8, Los Angeles
  • June 3, Boston
  • June 8, Silicon Valley
  • June 23, MCON Virtual

Dates will be announced in the future for Charlotte, Miami, Oakland, Phoenix, Seattle, Washington, D.C. These community conversations over the next six months will bring together local and regional partners and a variety of people interesting in solving problems and working in the social good space, Aviv said.

“Some of these trends are relevant to organizations in the United States, and some are global. Some have to do with the sector itself and some with society at large,” said Aviv. While the research on these trends was being conducted, “if it turned out that the future didn’t hold a place for an organization like Independent Sector, we were willing to go away,” she said. “It was one of the most courageous decisions our board made, that they were willing to go wherever this process takes us.”

Early on in the process, Aviv said she was surprised by the community’s emphatic response for IS to continue its public policy work.

A monitor group cited more than 40 trends and an advisory group boiled them down to the nine most significant. Six are assumptions about the future and three are uncertainties about it.

The six assumptions are:

  • There is a large gulf between the rich and the poor, and that gulf is going to widen, throughout the world. “Ecology and economy are skewing in ways that will have a profound effect on society,” said Aviv.
  • The population composition of the United States will look very different from how it looks today, and the sector needs to keep up. The workforce will be led in large part by the Millennial generation, and the majority of people in the U.S. will be people of color.
  • Technology transforms how people learn and gather information. Individuals “swarm” together through technology, push an issue and then dissipate when the issue has been resolved or passion wanes. Aviv said this behavior could create real opportunity for organizations.
  • More businesses will become engaged in social issues. Corporations are drifting to focus on people and the planet as part of their bottom lines. If corporations’ customers and employees don’t see responsible business practices from these businesses, they will leave and impact the corporations’ ability to profit.
  • The sector will look very different. In addition to public charities and private foundations, more and more corporations and governments are seeking to do good socially in ways in which they’ve never dabbled before. This trend will continue.
  • Technology is changing the way people consume information. They self-select for their interests, and organizations do the same. This self-selection must be defeated and organizations must collaborate across fields more often.

The uncertainties, said Aviv, are trends that are currently emerging but that IS cannot predict how they will evolve. They include:

  • Public policy is happening more frequently at the state level than the federal. “Whether it stays that way, increases, or the public gets disgusted by getting policies done one by one until we get to 50, we didn’t feel that we could predict that,” said Aviv.
  • The brewing battle between entitlement and discretionary programs. With more Baby Boomers retiring and programs that serve the elderly being strained even more, it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will limit entitlements, limit discretionary programs or come up with enough resources for all.
  • Wealthy people and organizations have an outsized voice. “That means ordinary people and small organizations are not at the table. Whether it remains that way or changes we couldn’t predict,” said Aviv.

This effort is different from the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector convened by IS a decade ago. At that time, congressional leaders were concerned about a number of news stories that were giving the sector a black eye and lawmakers threatened to increase regulations. “People were terrified,” Aviv said, that if lawmakers racheted up regulation and oversight, that they would literally stop organizations from being able to do their work. There was a keen interest in having lawmakers back off, she said.

This time around, the convening is not in response to senators threatening the charitable sector but about trends that are big and vast and changing rapidly. “We believe the risk is just as big,” Aviv said.