by Bill Durkin of member firm William Durkin Associates

Two profound and well-recognized trends in the first years of this century may have unintentionally contributed to a sense of complacency among non-profit organizations despite documentation that major gift donors and the public at-large were demonstrating expanding expectations.

First, economic globalization, expanded work hours, and changed corporate values created perceptions that corporate executives had reduced incentives for employees to participate as board and campaign leaders.  Sights have subsequently been lowered as boards were allowed to become vehicles to fulfill requirements instead of driving forces anticipating opportunities to strengthen their constituencies.

Second, projections of heightened turnover rates among professional leaders of non-profit organizations have been commonly discussed as the Baby Boom generation that coincided with increases in non-profit entities and their budgets began to age-out.  In some prominent circles, beliefs that the losses of such experienced and professionally prepared leaders could be so harmful to the sector that succession planning and transition phases have too often been neglected.

Cementing these attitudes has been a rush among some organized philanthropies to fund basic needs in response to the Great Recession.  Thus, traditional funding sources promoting innovation and risk-taking were being depleted to provide temporary bandages.

Our firm is experiencing quite a different reality as major gift appeals are advanced.  Corporate executives recognize that their next generation of employees, now just entering the workforce, want to know plans for contributing to a sustainable future in the community in which they will reside.  Foundation donors are more fervent about their focus on the extent of community impact from their giving.

What is less clear is the response of non-profit volunteers and professional leadership.  In an environment of uncertainty and tentativeness, the role of professional counsel is expanding in importance as an experienced resource capable of seeing a bigger picture.

Over the longer term, could it be the trends in giving will be influenced more by the vision and aspirations of non-profit leaders – both volunteer and professional – than by conventional standards of economic demographics, tax law changes, and stock market performance?

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