What will charities look like in 2045?

Cordery, Smith and Berger publish an intriguing examination of future scenarios for the charity sector in latest issue of Public Money and Management journal. To arrive at these scenarios the authors identify some key drivers of change apparent within the sector at present, and play out the possible interactions between these drivers. The analysis draws on familiar themes of population change, technological innovation and austerity as they pose challenges for the activities of charities in terms of the services that are required of them, the source of their funding and their relations with volunteers and clients. The drivers that specifically affect the charity sector are, the authors argue, fourfold: demographic shifts towards an ageing population beset by inequalities producing both an increase in potential volunteers to be managed and an increase in those who need voluntary assistance; technological changes that allow for crowd-sourcing and a global stage for campaigning but disrupt established networks; a constrained funding climate that may require charities to forge close alliances with government or corporate funders and in turn impact on charities’ missions and brands; and changing forms of volunteer engagement, with the rise in corporate volunteering and also virtual, or micro-volunteering enabled by digital technologies, each of which pose challenges for volunteer management. Mapping the four drivers together across two dimensions (from marketized to compassionate, and from local to global) leads to four thought-provoking extreme charity sector scenarios for 2045 in the “government-funded elite”, “corporate co-operation”, “home-grown” and “crowd-sourced” models. Within these models some potentially troubling risks emerge for the sector’s ability to recognise and respond to social need, depending on the path taken. Current charities will do well to use these scenarios to reflect on their long term future trajectory even as they strive to respond to immediate challenges on the horizon.

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