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Trends in Non-Profit Organizational Design

written by: Matt Schmidt•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 4/1/2011

Trends in non-profit organizational design, are to a certain extent dependent on changes in society. These changes have had an impact on how non-profits function and meet the needs of their stakeholders.

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    The non-profit sector has seen many changes and trends over the years. Traditionally non-profits functioned as independent organizations working under a specific mandate and service need. As society changes faster than ever, new models of operation are coming into force.

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    Non-Profits Expand


    From 1998 to 2008 the number of non profits rose from 1.1 million to 1.5 million. The number of private foundations increased from 70,000 to 115,000. In 2005 the non-profits in the United Sates employed 9.7 million people - about twelve percent of the work force. Great expansion occurred with local voluntary associations serving identified needs in their communities. The increase in these organizations also brought increases in staff and the need for further revenue. Competition for donors developed, as there were more agencies applying for funding.

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    In the early 1980’s the Federal Government changed their method of funding to states and local areas. Funding streams were switched from revenue sharing to block grant funding. The number of block grants has also increased in the last 30 years. The funding was targeted for specific populations, but less money was available.

    Non-profit organizations hired more professionals in administration and fund raising. Pressure increased from board members and funders for non profits to bring in increased revenue. Competition for financial support grew. Organizations became more insular as they became more defined by their staff size and budget, rather than their mission. Paid employees replaced volunteerism and markers of success leaned toward how much the agency raised, rather than the success of their services. Older, established organizations were slow to adapt to changes in society and adjust their programs accordingly.

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    Generation Shift

    Changes have been occurring. The baby boomer generation, that for years held positions in non profits, are retiring. In their place are a younger generation with new ways of doing business. The constricted, procedural methods of non-profits have been replaced with more flexibility and adaptability.

    One characteristic is the increased use of social media and technology. One example is the Montana Meth project. Started in 2005, this program used a research based graphic media campaign through ads and video, to show the results of meth use. The result was a noticeable reduction in the use of the drug. Fund raising used to consist of a database of donors that were contacted periodically for donations, now with social media the awareness of needs are instantaneous to an informed public.

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    New Way Of Thinking

    Younger generations have a different approach with society. They are more racially diverse than previous generations. They grew up with continuous change, and adapt well to changes in society. A sense of volunteerism is inherent, growing up with programs like these in schools. Government sponsored programs calling for people to help and better their community are conventional to them. The ideals that started with programs like the Peace Corps were instilled in them with offshoots like Americorps. Many believe in a sense of social responsibility and see themselves as agents for change. They see what works and what doesn't, and look to revise programs. Networking and communication are more open, and sharing of ideas among agencies has increased.

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    One trend in non-profit organizational design that is set to continue for the future, is that non-profits must be adaptable to change. They must be flexible and prepared modify programs as needed and recognize opportunities for success. However, a measure of structure is needed to maintain sustainability. Innovation and creative measures will be needed, as society's problems continue with decreasing resources to deal with them. New ways of thinking will be critical, but oversight of programs will continue to be needed, to determine results.

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    National Center For Charitable Statistics

    Independent Sector www.independentsector/programs/research

    Montana Meth Project

    Volunteering In America

    National Council of Nin Profits

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    Photo Credits