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A Changing Ecosystem

An older hande holds a pile of dirt with a seedling sprouting out of it. A child's hands surround both.

We are experiencing a changing ecosystem for non-profit organizations. As we navigate these changes, having the ability to be adaptive is critically

important. This allows an organization to align both internally and externally with existing trends, while ensuring the greatest impact and a continuation of services.

Beginning with the pandemic, and continuing to date, we see that agility is required for leaders and their teams to be able to look at both the local community and the larger political landscape in order to assess critical needs, evaluate mission alignment, and respond. It’s as if the organization must metabolize its growth and change by seeing how the crises and needs in the world are affecting and living within the bricks and mortar of the specific non-profit.

When we think about adapting to internal change, we must think about how we solicit feedback from those we serve to learn whether the work we are offering on their behalf is helping them to live a better life. Often our grant/donor dollars and government contracts set expectations on how we should go about serving those in need, and yet we rarely go back to those that we serve after a significant amount of time and evaluate whether we have helped them to ameliorate the challenge they faced when they came to us. Or, we are working to address an immediate crisis with a individual or family but not able to make long term, meaningful change in the way that they live?  An example of this is when we help individuals pay a few months’ rent or utility bills, which addresses and urgent issue but in the long run does not help them move out of poverty. A way to create more impact is to ask individuals if our services helped them, and if so, how. If the client feels that they have not helped, we have more work to do to create services that have more impact on their lives. Social service agencies have not leaned in the direction of direct client feedback in the past, probably not knowing how to apply this feedback. In today’s world, which requires more agility, we now know that this feedback is a “must” and will only benefit those that we are serving.

On the external end, our organizations need to pay close attention to environmental trends that will positively or negatively impact our workplaces. Federal, state, and local policies not only effect those that we serve but will also affect our organizations and their operations as well. If a state does not allow health equity or abortion rights for women, then the organization that serve the impacted populations must evaluate on a macro level how it is going to address this policy change in relation to their clients. If the state in which an organization operates is identified as a place of sanctuary for refugee, then the organization must play a role based on its mission – in responding to their needs. These are just a few examples of the changing external landscape and how it changes organizational service and impact.

Last, organizations must be willing to gather data through ongoing stakeholder surveys, not only from clients but with funders, partners, and staff to ensure that they are in sync with the best practice trends in all arenas. An awesome task indeed!

This is the work that the non-profit sector demands today-we are forever growing and changing so that we can thrive and be healthy.

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