The Blueprint Forecast for Philanthropy and the Social Economy 2017

Philanthropy consultant, scholar, and thought-leader Lucy Bernholz‘s annual industry forecast, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017, was published last week on GrantCraft. The Blueprint provides an overview of the current landscape, points to major trends, and directs your attention to horizons where you can expect some important breakthroughs in the coming year. As a past external reviewer of the Blueprint (in 2013), I’m particularly appreciative of all the work and thought Lucy puts into the forecast and recommend it as a must-read for leaders working in the nonprofit and social sector.

The first pull-out quote in the Blueprint captures perhaps its most important theme:

We must fight to protect civil society and democracy; they do not defend themselves.

Bernholz recognizes civil society as serving democracy by holding government, and corporate powers, accountable. This makes it critical for citizens to actively protect civil society, which is marked by the voluntary use of private resources for public benefit, regardless of whether through a nonprofit or other form

Among the topics covered by the Blueprint:

The intermingling of political and charitable activities of actors operating in both spaces, including, notably, both Presidential candidates in 2016 – As Bernholz notes: “Democratic political systems are shaped by a norm of transparency, whereas charitable regulations make room for anonymity and privacy.” But these systems have begun to overlap, creating inherent tensions and weakening oversight. Charities and social welfare organizations are being used for political purposes and political actors are using such organizations to hide their political activities (and funding). Bernholz accordingly asserts:

If both values—transparency and privacy— matter, then we need separate systems. If both sectors matter—political and civil society—then we need separate structures. In both cases, we need new rules and a new attention to oversight

The need to focus on the rules and rights embedded in the digital infrastructure of civil society – Society fails to recognize and appropriate address the dependence of civil society on its digital infrastructure. Bernholz states: “If we want civil society—the voluntary use of private resources for public benefit—to thrive, we need to protect the principles that enable it to exist in digital space.” This can be complicated where the majority of our digital systems are created and owned by for-profits and regulated and surveilled by government. Regardless, nonprofits, including foundations, should factor digital governance as part of their core responsibilities. As part of her forecast, Bernholz asserts:

Tax, estate, and corporate law as well as disclosure requirements have shaped philanthropy for decades. Telecommunications policy, privacy norms, cybersecurity requirements, consumer protection regulations, and intellectual property negotiations will shape it going forward.

Practical tips for nonprofits – Leaders need to “understand how digital works, what the relevant policy domains are, and how to manage digital risk.” To help, the Blueprint provides 3 worksheets focused on the use and governance of digital data in a reader’s organization:

  1. Digital data inventory
  2. Institutional data capacity
  3. Digital data and strategic planning

As for the forecasts made by the Blueprint, here are just three of Bernholz’s predictions:

  • Citizen oversight of government agencies will be a big area for technological innovation— for example, methods to monitor and report on police (e.g., TextMy90) and nonprofit “alert” systems built around streams of government data.
  • Actions sanctioned by the federal government against journalists, nonprofit organizations, and nonviolent activists inside the U.S. will profoundly test our rights to peacable assembly, a free press, and free expression.
  • State attorneys general will investigate at least one crowdfunding platform for charitable fraud.

Finally, read the Blueprint to learn the new buzzwords and Bernholz’s sage advice for the future:

The very nature of civil society is changed by our dependence on digital data. We cannot continue to act as if adapting our analog practices to digital resources will work.