Trends - The Changing NPO Landscape

Updated: Apr 11, 2019


In my last article I focused on the task of the leader to name the organization’s reality. I suggested that the SWOT analysis be tweaked to SWT, shifting the focus from Opportunities and Threats to Trends. There isn’t an NPO that hasn’t experienced the reality of a changing landscape. Some NPO’s have been caught by surprise, a consequence of not taking the time to reflect proactively on emerging trends and plan an equally proactive and preemptive response. As a result they find themselves behind the proverbial 8 ball trying to catch up to their more proactive counterparts. So what are some of the changes which dot the NPO landscape and impact strategic priorities and operational realities?

Aging Support Base

Many NPO’s find themselves with an aging support base. Whether they be donors, volunteers, or board members, as these people have aged their ability to support the organization the way they once did often changes. Sometimes retirement impacts their financial ability to support the organization. Age and health factors often limit their ability to physically support the organization in a volunteer capacity. Coincidentally, many NPO’s have failed to proactively broaden the support base to reflect a wider demographic which leaves them playing catch-up.

Loyalty, Trust, Accountability

Another significant trend dotting the changing NPO landscape revolves around loyalty, trust, and accountability. Generally an older demographic is more trusting and more loyal to organizations they’ve supported over the years. Their demand for accountability is fairly low relying on general status updates without the need for much in the way of supporting documentation. Sometimes those updates are infrequent and don’t always reflect a level of professionalism that would be reasonable to expect.

As an NPO broadens its support base to include a younger demographic, loyalty and trust are earned, not given. More detailed reporting and status updates along with more professional looking supporting documentation becomes a much more important communication mechanism. Maintaining and building that loyalty and trust is an ongoing requirement for NPO’s that want to grow their support base with a younger demographic.


We live in a far more litigious environment than perhaps any generation that has preceded us. One of the outcomes of the 911 tragedy has been increased government scrutiny and monitoring of NPO’s. NPO’s are being held to more stringent and rigorous standards related to due diligence, financial tracking and reporting, polices and procedures, liability and risk management. NPO’s are now required to do things that in the past would not even have been on the organizational radar screen. As such, it is not longer adequate to have a board comprised of well meaning, passionate supporters of the organization who care more about the cause than they do about good governance. Board members must own the responsibility of governance, do their due diligence related to liability and risk management. Not only do governing bodies and government agencies require it, a younger donor base does as well! A strong, thorough board recruitment process is critical!

Perhaps the tectonic shift that has most impacted the NPO landscape is technological as characterized most profoundly by the advancements in computer and internet technology. This shift impacts everything from communications with donors, volunteers, partner agencies to online donations, websites, video and blog posts, accounting and reporting processes. The importance of having a well-defined IT, digital and social media strategy is paramount for an NPO that is committed to not only maintain but grow its support base and stay current with a trend that is not likely to abate.


Reality Check

CanadaPost recently announced that it is going to phase out door to door delivery and dramatically increase the cost of a postage stamp for mail delivery in Canada. This is due in part to CanadaPost’s failure to read the trends and adapt their business model in advance of the full impact of those trends.

The same is quite likely going to be true of the US Postal Service. I saw a recent interview with an executive leader of an NPO bemoaning the impact of these changes on the costs of doing business for his organization. In some ways changes such as those announced by CanadaPost ought to be seen as a blessing and not a curse by NPO’s. They will help (or force) the NPO to rethink it’s own business model and adapt to the changing landscape.

Where's your NPO at in terms of your ability to identify and respond to your Strengths, Weaknesses, and Trends? Want to engage your executive leadership and board in a free SWT analysis of your NPO?

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