As the World Turns: NPQ’s 10 Trends and 10 Predictions


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After having spent the last year tracing the trends in and around nonprofits through stories that appeared in the news, we have chosen to spotlight 10 trends for 2013 and make 10 predictions for 2014, but these are not exhaustive and we could easily have gone on. This has been an action-packed year.

Help us further explore the important trends of 2013 and to anticipate what we will face in the coming year. Please chime in with your own thoughts and observations.

Societal Trends

1. The country’s economy is unsustainably unbalanced.

At the end of 2012, many were wondering, “What happened to Occupy?” Time’s person of the year for 2011 was “The Protestor,” in part because Occupy protests had spread so globally and so quickly. Some wondered about its lack of focus (or multiple foci) and about its lack of interest in traditional politics—about the chaos of it all. But at the end of 2013, we have seen some of the threads pulled through, threads of movements that existed prior to Occupy but were championed by it. In particular, we have seen low-wage workers in many industries rise up, as shown here and here and here, working hard at not just making their points, but making points that the American people could hear.

As we end the year, the message that seems finally to have gotten through is that millions of hard-working people across the country are unable to make ends meet without depending upon public benefits, even while the corporations they work for are making outrageous profits. Thus, we, the taxpayers, are paying into corporate coffers through paying benefits to their undercompensated employees.

This offends American sensibilities more than the information that our wealth gap is at its widest ever and that corporations have managed to claim most of the financial benefits of the recovery. Still, we are so locked into dysfunction that we end the year (apparently) by cutting millions off unemployment.

NPQ published any number of newswires this year about the fact that the wealth gap is widening at an unprecedented rate. In fact, since the recession “ended” the top one percent of wealth holders have captured 95 percent of the fruits of the recovery.

So, on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, Main Street and Wall Street are found to inhabit separate universes. The rules are different, and if we progress along the current route, the prognoses are increasingly divergent.

2. We have allowed the government to invade our privacy in unfathomable ways and freedom fighters who seek to liberate information are the new era’s “beloved outlaws.”

We are spied on within an inch of our lives, yet secrecy in government is the order of the day. Does this not sound dangerous for civil society? Yet the leaders in the civil sector are almost entirely silent on the matter.

The reason why we know for sure how much information the government has helped themselves to is because some individuals like Edward Snowden have put themselves at risk by liberating the documents that expose programs like the NSA’s metadata project, which has collected information on everybody’s communications with everybody else without any cause. One judge has called that surveillance project “almost Orwellian” and an attack on our constitutional rights, but another sees nothing to worry about, just about guaranteeing that the question will move up to the Supreme Court.

Our president is also relatively silent on this, managing to croak out the comparatively weak-sounding opinion relative to spying on EVERYBODY that “just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean we should.” He has generally stayed above the public surveillance fray, beyond the periodic expression of outrage at the Mannings, Snowdens and Assanges of the world, even as his administration has turned out to be one underwritten with an aggressive ethic of secrecy and invasive behavior.

On a side note, eBay’s founder-turned-philanthropist decided this year to team up with reporter Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story, to start a new news site. Pierre Omidyar made a $250 million investment. Besides being a noted journalist, Greenwald is a privacy activist who believes that governments are unable on their own to resist the siren call of “surveillance-derived knowledge.”

3. The government grinds to a halt over and over again, as most of us experience trickle-down dysfunction.

2013 has been the year of the U.S. Congress embarrassing itself even more than usual, especially regarding financial matters. The Republicans have become the party of “no,” arguing against nearly everything that government might do other than pumping up the military. It’s not as though the Democrats have been stunning advocates for alternatives, as they acceded to the sequester and have shown little gumption for its reversal. But nothing counts more than the Republicans’ inexplicably leading the nation into a partial government shutdown in a vainglorious attempt to undo Obamacare. In an effort to make government somewhat functional, both parties came to agree to a schematic two-year budget deal crafted largely by Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray, which staved off another immediate government shutdown but did almost nothing to reverse the tide of sequestration and even less toward rebalancing government away from militarism and toward rebuilding the social safety net. 

4. A more progressive agenda emerges for cities and local economies.

In a number of localities, political tides have been changing. The most marked change in 2013 was probably Bill de Blasio’s election as mayor of New York City, with the American left celebrating de Blasio’s victory as a harbinger of a progressive tide looming in cities and states. It isn’t clear that similar progressive turns happened in other elections, such as Boston’s and Pittsburgh’s, but there are dynamics of nonprofits and foundations taking on municipal issues such as economic development, public education, and, in Detroit’s case, even public pensions, suggesting that municipal issues are rising on nonprofit radar screens. It doesn’t mean that all is positive for nonprofits on the local government level; witness the many instances of cities trying to exact property taxes from tax-exempt property owners in cities from Pittsburgh to Providence and reducing grants from municipal revenues and Community Development Block Grants to nonprofits. Nonetheless, with the stalemate in Congress, nonprofits are shifting their advocacy lenses to municipal (and state) venues.

Field Trends

5. Obamacare launches—kind of—as nonprofits reorganize for their various roles.

It is hardly a newsflash that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been something less than smooth. For “Obamacare,” the critical moments were threefold: the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for persons up to 138 percent of the poverty level, the launching of the state and federal health insurance exchanges, and the implementation of the online site for persons purchasing health insurance on the federal exchange. Half the states passed on the Medicaid expansion, more than half passed on state health insurance exchanges, and gave new definition to the concept “technical glitch.”

For nonprofits, however, there were emerging roles in the implementation of the ACA suggesting that much of ultimate success of national healthcare insurance will be dependent on nonprofit hospitals rediscovering their “nonprofitness,” nonprofit health advocates serving as “navigators” for consumers to purchase insurance on the exchanges, and nonprofit health clinics serving as the front lines of making healthcare accessible.

6. Journalism is in upheaval as some major entities change hands and new experiments emerge.

The decade-long emigration of journalism from the for-profit to the nonprofit sector has continued apace in the past year. Mergers like this one in Colorado and this in St Louis and collaborations between media groups cross sector are more and more the order of the day.

7. 2013 contained what appeared to be new momentum on some issues, including those related to gay civil rights and legalization of marijuana.

Looking at the polls for public opinion on some issues can show us the degree to which some movements have been able to substantively move that needle—and that needle is important, because it is one thing to change a law, but entirely another to change the public’s mindset about its willingness to support it.

In the case of marriage equality and the civil rights of LGBT persons, work done at many different levels and in many different communities took hold this year, as this article attests. As of December, 18 states have made same-sex marriage legal, with eight of the legalization dates in 2013, more than any other year. In the case of marijuana, the shift in public opinion accompanied legalization at the state level. The federal government declared in August of this year that it would no longer actively pursue marijuana offenses in the states that have legalized consumption and possession of marijuana. Twenty states have now legalized marijuana to some degree.

There is still a long way to go, of course, especially on civil rights for LGBT people. The majority of states still do not allow same-sex marriage, and look at the laws and policies passed and pending in places like Russia and Uganda. But we have come a long way in the past year.

Organizational Trends

8. The business models of some nonprofits failed in significant ways.

The recession was cruel to some types of organizations, and vulnerability was not the exclusive domain of small groups. Sometimes the issue was more about how the balance sheet was structured during a period of forced reorganization.

For instance, 2013 saw some major, well-established, well-endowed arts institutions continue to struggle with their business models or even come to the end of those struggles. During the recession, a number of large institutions saw their endowments wither as investments went south. Simultaneously, audiences fell away and donations slowed, and so a second call on endowments was made by larger-than-usual operating deficits. In some cases, these things coincided with or closely followed heavy commitments made in more optimistic times to facilities of new productions or exhibits. By the time the recession had “ended,” these groups had years of recovery ahead of them in an environment in which audience expectations were changing.

In the case of symphonies and orchestras, restructuring initiatives ran right into activist musicians, who now have ways to build relationships with and perform for their audiences independent of institutions. Relationships with their stakeholders, with performance spaces, and with other artistic endeavors were called into question.

Arts organizations were not the only organizations to need an overhaul, but as a class, they are certainly a bellwether.

9. Discussions of social enterprise begin to alight on the ground in the U.S. after years of fluttering around.

Discussions of social enterprise in the United States are finally beginning to become more grounded and relevant to our economy. Where previous discussions of social enterprise in the United States were often conflated uncomfortably with social innovation and social entrepreneurism, the term is now emerging as a notion that may or may not include innovation or entrepreneurism and is less exclusive to new endeavors and more focused on enterprises in all sectors that promote equity, justice, and sustainability.

Throughout this past year, however, NPQ has found that there is great worth in importing some of the thinking about social enterprise from abroad, as seen here and here and here, because it appears to be further along in some respects.

Chi Onwurah, the UK shadow minister with responsibility for social enterprise, describes the concept as follows for the Guardian:

“Social enterprise is, at its heart, a collective enterprise for the benefit of a community. It can be the best of both worlds—economic and social force fusing the dynamism of market forces with the social responsibility of public service. It should be about redressing the balance of power between vested interests and citizens, delivering true localism, community resilience and assets, employee rights and security while enabling the participatory reform of both the public and private sectors.”

She says that “social enterprises can play their part in making society fairer, improving responsibility in the private sector and empowering community driven economic regeneration.”

10. Transparency and dialogue become even more obviously essential core capacities of a twenty-first century organization.

Nonprofits that are tone deaf to their constituents and critics are putting themselves at risk in new and increasingly showy ways. Where previously constituents would not necessarily hear one another’s thoughts and complaints, the ability to share information and recognize commonalities, as well as the ability to organize expansively and quickly around common issues online suggests that listening and communicating are ever more critical capacities to nonprofits. But thinking about this new dynamic in terms of damage control does it little justice. The engagement that organizations can engender among their constituents can be useful in untold numbers of ways. Unfortunately, many organizations have not yet embraced engagement as capital that can be deployed.


Prediction #1: The struggle for higher wages for low-wage workers will bear fruit, but the struggle for increased economic justice may stall temporarily after that for a reconsideration of vision and strategy for next steps.

The Walmart and fast-food workers’ protests are the genie that the conservative right wing will not be able to stuff back into the bottle. Like the numerous cities and states that have enacted their own higher-than-federal minimum wage standards, that movement will continue and eventually reach the Capitol. Although President Obama pledged to raise the minimum wage, a policy prescription that he failed to push vigorously, the state and local “living wage” campaigns will bleed into national politics. Congress will come to realize that a minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009 is abysmal and deserving of a boost, no matter what panicked message emerges from America’s retailers. Meanwhile, it is a tossup whether, if the minimum wage fight is won, the movement’s momentum will be lost or gather steam for additional significant reforms to the economy.

Prediction #2:The privacy/surveillance issue will be era- and future-defining, and the coming year will see many court decisions, administrative missteps, and increasing public outcry.

Thanks to Snowden, the Obama administration is backing down on its no-compromise defense of the National Security Agency’s metadata collection. President Obama’s own advisory committee has issued recommendations that contradict the president’s and the NSA’s initial positions. Obama will maneuver to turn the tide to claim that he was there on the NSA changes all along, but the “man without a country” will have to appreciate another literary metaphor, that Obama’s turn on the NSA will demonstrate that there is no idea as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Will that come with the government’s backing down on prosecuting Snowden and accepting him and his role as a whistleblower? Though well deserved, it isn’t likely that Obama will bend that far.

Prediction #3: In the lead-up to the 2014 elections, the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform will continue to be partisan beachheads, with both parties hunkered down in their bunkers.

Ain’t bipartisan comity wonderful? On the budget, it will survive simply because the Republicans engineered a two-year deal and the Democrats were unwilling to push the envelope for a full reversal of the sequester and a richly deserved whack at the Pentagon’s budget.

Prediction #4: The de Blasio election in New York City is a harbinger of a progressive activism showing itself in municipal elections in general. This will challenge the nonprofit sector to step up and partner with local for long term local gains and to pilot new approaches to social issues like education, housing, the arts and much, much more.

The elections scheduled for Newark, Trenton, Providence, San Jose, Santa Fe, Oakland, Honolulu, New Orleans, Lexington, and Louisville will yield additional progressive campaigns and a few progressive winners, demonstrating that while Congress may be stuck with no ability to innovate, progressives—with nonprofit partners—will be pushing the envelope in city halls. Now, any change in Rob Ford’s status as mayor of Toronto would be a progressive move, no matter who gets to replace the crack-smoking behemoth.

Prediction #5: Nonprofit journalism sites of all sizes and types will continue to emerge and experiment with form, thus becoming a more distinctive part of the social sector. This will be one field in which cross-sector partnership will be common.

The landscape of the new news will continue to surprise us through 2014 as it develops. Additionally, where metrics are now relatively simplistic and therefore deceptive, journalists and their funders will begin to get more and more clarity about measurements for relative impact. The experimentation in networking and collaboration among news sites, and in developing revenue and engagement models for online-based activity, will bear watching by all nonprofits.

Prediction #6: The ACA will roll out in all of its complexity, with many successes and some failures. It is this sector’s job to keep a critical eye on implementation even as we defend the act overall from naysayers.

How can one divide one’s fervent hopes from predictions when it comes to national health insurance? As the most important domestic public policy innovation since the advent of the War on Poverty, the Affordable Care Act should succeed in order to provide health insurance coverage to millions of people, despite the fervent efforts of House and Senate Republicans to derail the program and then declare it a train wreck. We believe that the Affordable Care Act will succeed, that enough people will be able to enroll, and that by early in the new year, the momentum will be to solve the problems rather than repeal the program. But at that point, congressional hearings will do what the White House has been unwilling to do to this point, which is finger the clucks in the administration whose poor planning and technical incompetence abetted the Republican strategy to undermine the ACA.

Prediction #7: Our U.S.-based discussions of what social enterprise is and should be will become less airy-fairy and disembodied from the real work of nonprofits. That this will force a look at the contributions to society—negative and positive—of the corporate as well as the social sectors.

Prediction #8: Nonprofit business models will continue to change radically as technology makes possible new program models and as the concept of networked action becomes more of a natural go-to strategy.

Prediction #9: Nonprofits along with government will continue to explore the nexus between their institutional governance and the guidance and energy of stakeholders, constituents, and beneficiaries of their work.

Prediction #10: Much of the current U.S. education reform movement will be called out by communities as having feet of clay.