There are many things unfolding in our world that will have an impact on our work this year, this decade and beyond. I’m not big on making predictions, but I do like to keep my eyes and ears open and track new developments carefully. That’s why I’m watching three trends this year that I think are especially relevant for my work and for the field of philanthropy.
Trend #1 – Fragmentation of information. If you’ve not watched or read this fascinating conversation between NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo and Knight Foundation VP for communications Andrew Sherry posted by The Communications Network in Philanthropy, I urge you to do so. In it, Manjoo talks about the growth of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as primary sources of news and connections, particularly for mobile users. As part of this trend, automated algorithms, rather than human beings, control the kinds of information we receive based on our demonstrated preferences and interests. I believe the way this automation provides access to information also can have significant implications for philanthropy in terms of the way we connect to and build trusting relationships with not only our grantees, but with the communities they serve. Because algorithms are designed to customize information, it’s possible that your program officers are reading news and information that is entirely different than what people are reading in the communities you serve – essentially creating (or exacerbating) two different realities. This will change not only the way foundations connect with our constituents but the way in which our constituents view us.
Trend #2 -The continuing boom in healthcare conversion foundations. As more nonprofit hospitals and health plans are sold to corporate interests – especially in states that have not participated in Medicaid expansion – more health conversion foundations enter the field of philanthropy. Unfortunately, many of these will start poorly, with board members who are new to the field and the learning curve that accompanies it. As a result, they will miss opportunities to create impact right out of the gate. But this also points to a larger deficit within our field. There are few resources targeted specifically to new health conversion funders. Some regional associations, like the Southeastern Council of Foundations and the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers have stepped in to fill that space locally, but we need a way to amplify efforts like these to create support and capacity building on a national scale.
Trend #3 – Foundations leading policy from the middle. This may be just a glimmer at the moment, but at a time when policy discussions have become more and divisive, I have been fortunate to work with several foundations in 2015 that are leading constructive debates from the middle ground – and doing so in ways that are helping both conservatives and progressives find common solutions. For example, Blue Shield of California Foundation has helped shape statewide discussion around the Affordable Care Act and its implications for years, and the Walton Family Foundation and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation recently led a group of statewide stakeholders in the development of a new, nonpartisan vision for public education in Arkansas. Efforts like these make perfect sense, because the vast majority of foundations are separated from the political fray and recognized as trusted community conveners. In fact, given the ever-growing gulf between political parties, leading from the middle may be one of the most important contributions of foundations over the next few years.
These are just three areas that have sparked my interest for the new year. What about you? Let me know the trends that interest you most and I’ll send you a free copy of my forthcoming book. And who knows, you may just see your idea explored in this newsletter!
Here’s to a happy and productive New Year for all!
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is a philanthropy expert and author of the forthcoming book, Confident Giving. Learn more about her consulting and advising services for grantmakers, visit her website or read a case study.
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