The world around us is changing fast and change itself is changing.
We need to start adapting now to embrace this near future if we are to keep pace, remain relevant and thrive. But that’s only if our vision and mission will still be relevant then.
History shows we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. In the 1960s, the tipping point from fantasy to reality was 15 years as technologists perfected application. Since then that turnaround has grown ever shorter. But the real impact of technology is the expectations and behaviours that surround it. We are now "Uber’s children": if we see something is possible in one category, we don't understand why we can't get it somewhere else. "If Uber can tell me in real time how far my cab is, why can’t my charity tell me where my money has gone? And if Amazon can deliver to me by tomorrow, what about them delivering humanitarian aid by drone?"
So what will be the impact on our sector?
Disruption and adaptation will be the norm. Those who don’t adapt won’t survive, so there’ll be fewer organisations, and what does survive will look very different.
I doubt it’ll be called charity for starters. It won’t be a locked box sucking money in and pumping out good, with an operating system based on believing it knows what’s best for supporters and beneficiaries. Instead, we’ll be facilitators enabling people who want to create change to connect through networks.
Some causes will be redefined, so we should expect our purpose to change and be willing to embrace new solutions and ways of working. For example, some medical conditions might be eradicated, or nearly so, and more people won’t be defined by their disability as technology removes more barriers.
There’ll be a new form of supporter engagement. Fundraisers won’t just focus on philanthropy as the galvanising foundation and guilt as the trigger of support. Collaboration will be the new competitive advantage. For corporates it will drive business value and enable them to be better citizens. For individuals it will enable them to achieve social purpose on their own terms and in ways that are relevant to them.
Fundraisers won’t focus only on transactions and techniques. Instead, strategies will centre around engagement based on partnership in the mission, not just funding of the mission. This will require greater integration between functions.
The sector will be reinvigorated and adaptive leadership will prevail, because "no change" will be the biggest risk.
Many organisations are already facing the choice of changing their fundamentals or suffering accelerated decline. We’ll witness consolidation of large charities as traditional income streams stall and fall, and it becomes harder to support large complex infrastructure. This will lead to more focus and differentiation. Mergers and takeovers will become more common, and collaboration will become a strategic imperative. And in this flux I hope we’ll see disruption by smaller, more agile charities and social enterprises that drives step-change innovation.
So now’s the time for leadership to start the change, to move from talking about doing things differently to actually doing it.
Marcus Missen is director of communications and fundraising at WaterAid