From the fabric of our three earlier discussions, we asked where
Conversation 2012 should go if we were to continue to add
value. We concluded that we are now more poised to emerge from the
mandorla of 2011 and seek to embrace the discipline of scenario
thinking to help us imagine distinct images of possibility and
further valuable perspective on the work of social change and
philanthropy. That is the framework of this year's gathering.
Sixteen social sector and philanthropy leaders from the U.S. and
Canada gathered in late March on Hilton Head Island for four days
of scenario thinking about the sector and philanthropy in the year
2030. Our main focus question was: "What will the social sector
ecology in North America be like in 2030 and will philanthropy be
innovative and sufficiently responsive to propel real and lasting
change for all?"
Well in advance, the group had identified the two forces deemed
most import and most uncertain. These became our driving forces for
scenario thinking. They were:
Driver 1: Approaches to pressing
public social issues, mandates (education, health, retirement,
employment, immigration, hunger, borders, justice)
Driver 2: Society's orientation to
philanthropy (institutions or informal networks and incentives or
The intersection of those drivers created four possible
scenarios, which framed our thinking about the emerging story of
Scenario A: ELEVATED
In this scenario, we envision a strong, robust future with deep,
systemic, long-term responses to pressing social issues.
Expansive opportunities for innovative philanthropy leverage strong
incentives for networking and collaboration.
Near universal access to technology enhances awareness,
promulgates engagement, and "levels the playing field." What's been
kept out of sight no longer remains invisible. More people have
access to more knowledge; consequently, change occurs more quickly.
A widely-enhanced consciousness and broad psychological kinship act
as catalysts for change. Levels of institutional trust are high.
Government is an equal partner with the public and private sectors,
resulting in significant and lasting responses to a wide range of
social issues. Boomers pass the torch to millennials, who have been
groomed for leadership. Family continues to be redefined, reflected
in extended "families of choice." At a macro level, great emerging
promise creates a groundswell of hope. Growing numbers of
stakeholders are at the table and engaged in collective problem
solving around social issues; collective impact is widely
Philanthropy is alive and well-though not in the traditional
form of the rich giving to the poor. Shared accountability is
increasingly the norm. People offer and are valued for contributing
what they can, where they can, and how they can in the form of
time, money, expertise, etc. Money is less concentrated, and
"currency" takes different forms (with bartering an increasingly
common medium of exchange). A shift in power relationships results
in more true and equal partnerships-which yield far more effective
and lasting results. Band-Aid solutions and responses, though still
applied, are a far less common expression of philanthropic
Some danger signs remain. Disaffected groups include hackers,
gangs, cartels, and other exclusive communities. Those who are
deeply resistant to change and/or who are the most disenfranchised
reap fewer benefits from the collective advances.
Scenario B: LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
This scenario is an environment of
limited, disjointed, shallow, gap-filling, Band-Aid approaches to
social issues amid expansive opportunities for innovative
philanthropy with strong incentives for collaboration and
The landscape features a largely unperceived and widely
undesired distancing between the "beacons" (organizations and
individuals that attract the philanthropic spotlight) and the
rest-resembling North America of today. Most in the spotlight
believe that someone will "figure it out"-and consequently continue
to reinforce the view that they (the "spotlights") will lead
everyone else out of the wilderness.
One signal of the underlying problem is right-sounding messages
and seemingly inclusive action by the spotlights-including convened
gatherings of grassroots people and organizations that appear to
bridge divides. The minority see the unequal yoking-leading to
tension between real and perceived partnerships. Well-intentioned
words and actions ultimately encourage a hidden but growing
dependency across many sectors and geographies.
Due in large part to the increasing social service needs of
aging boom generation, economic malaise persists until 2017. It is
followed by an overall rebound-but a shrinking of the middle class.
People band together to create their own economies as bartering
becomes increasingly prevalent among the new middle class. Those in
the spotlight are challenged to focus energy and resources in more
obvious places as increasing numbers of the economically
disadvantaged demand a response. Hard choices of where to focus
resources result in heavily-supported, compliant populations and
communities with completely neglected sectors and geographies
(those that are often the most difficult to reach and work with).
Changes in tax provisions for charitable contributions compound the
problem-sometimes pitting government against charitable
organizations in competition over who has greater impact for the
As in all the scenarios, technology plays a huge role. Here
there is great appeal for every "bright, shiny object." The
majority seeks to maintain the status quo and control outcomes.
Some value the path of least resistance, seeking the paternal
leader to make tough decisions. The allure of widely-adopted "best
practices" continues (only deflecting real responsibility). The
decades leading to 2030 cause many people to grow comfortably numb.
Hence, they delude themselves into thinking they're doing the most
relevant and important work because they're pursuing "best
practices"-a view which is intrinsically past rather than future
Grassroots giving increases, fueled in part by accessible mobile
technology and generational lifestyle choices. Peer-driven, largely
unstructured impulses for targeted fundraising become common.
Government support rewards the beacons at the expense of also-rans.
"Spotlight" organizations continue to evoke constituent loyalty.
Small donors and shadow organizations generate interest but little
loyalty-embracing the attitude that, "It's the result that matters,
not the entry point."
Scenario C: LONG SLOG
This scenario is characterized by
limited, disjointed, shallow, gap-filling, Band-Aid approaches to
social issues, while tight limits, siloed, and traditional
approaches to philanthropy continue to dominate.
A singular economic tsunami or a series of smaller economic
disturbances (war, Avian flu, Citizens United Pt. 2) keep the U.S.
and much of North America in a weakened state until the mid-2020s.
For many, a widely-shared malaise and anxiety (perhaps encompassing
an entire generation born into an era of uncertainty and high
anxiety) extends the need for human services to unprecedented
levels. However, governments reduce funding for human services;
organizations dependent on such funding become more fragile. Some
previously high-profile and large social sector institutions fail
to adapt and disappear. This is the long slog, with many hunkering
down for survival and/or fearing total collapse. Rampant loss of
trust and a short-term view foster a frightened myopia, resulting
in an environment conducive to unethical but charismatic leaders
and Tea Party-like movements.
The dominant value of competitive consumerism thrives at the
expense of environmental protection. Despite pervasive promotion of
all things green and environmentally friendly, the majority values
the environment only to the extent that it poses no personal
conflicts, thereby compounding increasingly problematic issues and
There is a continued acceleration and broad dispersion of
communication technology at comparatively affordable prices.
Ironically, however, value continues to be placed on personal,
real-time connection with people. Personal privacy is significantly
compromised, due to the fact that all our online data footprints
are stored and potentially searchable by others. Higher education
experiences major reinvention, with technology democratizing
instruction at a time when economic compression calls for
alternatives to traditional public and private colleges.
Mega-regions and larger cities grow. People with access to
affordable health care live longer. Otherwise, many have shorter
life expectancies. Boomers continue to play leadership roles, but
in part-time, advisory, less authoritative ways. Gen Xers and
millennials remain self-absorbed and me-focused, leaving elder
boomers to face the reality that they must be self- and
In general, society drifts further from mainline churches and
organized religion, yet individuals increasingly search for the
spiritual dimension of life. A few radical religious groups
increase the social threat. Public trust in mainstream media
disappears, replaced by infinite "channels/outlets" that align with
personal points of view. Civil discourse to solve problems is
replaced by polarization and mean-spirited behavior. People are
more willing to challenge organizations/institutions, adding to the
pressure on individuals and organizations to be perpetually
Philanthropy largely reacts to economic limits and
disturbance-forcing the collapse of each sector to "the few" most
efficient organizations. The resulting clash reduces trust in
charitable organizations. A tax revolt threatens and limits
charitable tax-exempt status. Business decisions that result in the
creation/combination of non-profit mega-organizations
unintentionally erode the case for big organization philanthropy.
While overall donation amounts remain stable, the local, personally
known, smaller NGOs benefit from redistributed giving. Grass roots
giving increases, largely responding to a pervasive sense of
urgency and Band-Aid approaches. Individual fundraising
professionals constantly battle donor fatigue.
Scenario D: TRIBES AND
In this scenario, we envision a
strong, robust future with deep, systemic, long-term responses to
pressing social issues-yet with tight limits, siloed, and
traditional approaches to philanthropy continuing to dominate.
By 2030, a growing movement of non-traditional, individual,
community-based efforts offers efficient and effective responses to
challenges. The previous two decades have been turbulent. European
debt and Asian markets and competition contribute to continued
economic volatility. While major wars are averted, several natural
catastrophes stunt economic growth. Emerging industrial countries
resist environmental regulation, opting to improve quality of life
at the expense of the environment. U.S. politics remain paralyzed
by polarization, except in immigration and health care policy,
where pragmatic approaches prevail (including mass amnesty for
illegal aliens). Aging baby boomers have largely retired, driving
increased demand for health care and other services. More women
enter the workplace.
U.S. education reform is driven by local and state government,
and aided by business (which depends upon an educated workforce).
Education is increasingly segmented, with multiple alternatives to
public education-including home schooling, on-line education,
charter schools, and combinations thereof. Large corporations
establish their own systems (beginning with preschool) to develop a
more skilled workforce. Students who remain in public education
systems face increasing challenges and have fewer
resources-increasing the gap between haves and have-nots.
The response to turbulence is a new kind of local
initiative-"tribalism" in the best sense-not narrow,
self-interested defensiveness, but a positive mobilization of local
talents informed by international sources of knowledge, with
technology as the fulcrum. This tribalism becomes the source of the
most creative, long-term solutions, a way to drive responses to
social challenges. It is embodied by local, sustainable food
economies; local policies and technologies reducing demand on
nonrenewable energy sources; and multiple creative avenues for
access to education, finance and best practices serving local
Pressing social and economic needs are met by emerging local and
personal strategies-which are advanced by technology and new models
of social benefit organizations. Optimism and hope in philanthropy
stem from an increasing number of very wealthy people signing onto
Warren Buffett's pledge. Multi-billionaires are increasingly coming
together to solve huge challenges using such informal, "off the
grid" means as giving circles, personal (rather than institutional)
philanthropy, and/or advised funds at community foundations and
financial services companies. Individual philanthropists, not
institutions, drive change. Nonprofit organizations are conduits,
rather than knowledge sources and drivers of what to do and
Even people with modest resources feel empowered, because
technology gives them access to networks of like-minded people who
pool their resources to create impact. The millennial generation
follows in the footsteps of baby boomers, embracing an approach to
philanthropy marked by advocacy and activism. While some use
traditional structures to advance personal philanthropic aims,
there is a prevailing distrust of institutions, including
government, corporations, and large nonprofits that remain siloed
and slow to change.
Joining Gary and Ken Hubbell for this year's
1. Jeff Anderson - Oregon Community Foundation (Portland,
2. Marv Baldwin - Foods Resource Bank (Chicago, IL)
3. Jay Barber - M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust (Vancouver,
4. Kay Edwards - Vesper Service Network (Milwaukee, WI)
5. Jim Hodge - Mayo Foundation (Rochester, MN)
6. Musimbi Kanyoro - Global Fund for Women (San Francisco,
7. Elaine Martyn - Global Fund for Women (San Francisco,
8. Patricia Modrzejewski - Providence Health & Service
Foundation (Burbank, CA)
9. Shari Scales - Providence Cancer Center (Portland,
10. Tom Soma - Ronald McDonald House Charities (Portland,
11. Don Taylor - Chandler Group (Minneapolis, MN)
12. Pearl Veenema - Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation
13. Glenn Williams - Principia (St. Louis, MO)
14. Joseph Zanetta - Providence Little Company of Mary
Foundation (Torrance, CA)
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