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What Does the Future Hold for Charities?

— November 2, 2020

2020 has been a year of relief funds coming to the rescue and vulture-like behavior from private sectors in equal measure.

Charities hold a very particular space in our societal structure.

The mere presence of a charity suggests a major failing in leadership, policy and societal values. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t exist. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and across the land, there are businesses providing essential services to vulnerable people from all walks of life. 

At the moment, everyone is thinking about the future. If the coronavirus pandemic has had one long-term impact, it’s making people reflect on their livelihoods and financial security. Despite their aims and structures, charities are workplaces and will face even greater funding challenges than restaurants, bars and entertainment complexes as we try to recover. 

In this article, we’ll explore where charities are following a tumultuous year and theorize what the future holds for them. 

The current state of play

Even if you don’t know a thing about charities, you understand they’ve been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. 

As people’s funds dried up and household budgets got a little tighter, charitable donations went the same way. People are still enthusiastic about helping their neighbors as community support groups showed, but it’s difficult to justify giving so much to charities when your income is low. 

Studies in the UK have shown that a majority of charities surveyed have both received an increase for demand and a huge decrease in funding — with a sizable segment reporting they will be forced to close their door without additional finances. The same is possible within the US. 

Without government funding to make up for the lack of income from the public, many charities will find themselves out of business within the year, leaving a number of people in a vulnerable position and causing significant job losses throughout the United States third-largest job sector. 

Continuing to adapt to technology

For charities to survive the answer seems simple — they need more funding. 

But until that comes, charities and the people who run them must find ways to adapt to a new world and make the biggest impact they can with limited resources. 

The advancement of technology in recent years has helped charities in two ways. It has encouraged new solutions to existing problems and offered them a way to spread their message goals. From water purification to creating short films about the impact of homelessness, technology is forcing a change in non-profit action. 

Charities may have to follow the lead of campaign groups such as housing union Acorn (often taking the place of traditional charities), which have successfully used social media platforms to rally community groups for their causes and spread their influence. Meanwhile, there are a number of nonprofits built entirely around the idea of changing the world through the use of new tech providing impoverished people with it. 

However, charities need to be conscious of letting their sector be overrun by tech start-ups that are more beholden to venture capital investors than the people they’re trying to help. As technology improves there will be private companies looking to build brand recognition through charitable aims, which are often not suited for the job in the same way a non-profit is, often lacking expertise and organizational skills. 

A demographic tipping point

The next few years present a tipping point for charities where they will be forced to adapt, whether they want to or even can. 

The USA has an aging population, and it’s only going to get older. With this comes a change in how we must view and approach society. Non-profits will have to re-evaluate their efforts to focus on these new demographics, providing assistance to older people and understanding the modern makeup of many communities. 

In 2020 there are areas and inequalities we may never have thought of that need addressing. Issues that are finally receiving the attention they deserve such as trans rights suggest that in five to ten years time the charity sector will be focused on previously “fringe” issues that may well rightfully become mainstream concerns. 

These issues will likely be spearheaded by half-charity half-business organizations focused on helping a particular group, such as Vet Comp & Pen for veterans acquiring financial support for medical needs or the Dawning Family Services which directs its efforts towards assisting vulnerable pregnant women and their families. 

More than likely though, charities will spend the immediate future helping people affected by the pandemic. Unemployment and poverty have reached unprecedented levels in the USA, and it would not be surprising to see a number of non-profits restructure to address these concerns over more long-term projects. 

Dry revenue and support streams

We’ve already touched upon how the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant financial impact on charities, but what else does it suggest for the immediate future of these organizations?

It’s not just financial donations that are drying up, but generosity in terms of time. Whether it’s out of fear of the virus or a lack of personal resources to put into the cause, people are generally giving themselves up to charities less in the way they used to. If this problem persists and people are more drawn to the investor-funded firms we mentioned earlier it could spell the end for many familiar non-profit names. 

Charities are sustained just as much on people’s desire to volunteer, and if society remains fractured people could become cynical about the processes. As the world continues to reel from the pandemic, the first non-profits to lose support and vanish won’t be based around homelessness and curing diseases — they’ll be arts and community-focused, such as the Fines Arts Museum of San Francisco.

2020 has been a year of relief funds coming to the rescue and vulture-like behavior from private sectors in equal measure. To secure the future of charities, funding and volunteering habits need to be restored, or else we could be looking at a 2021 and beyond without essential support for everything from physical well-being to cultural endeavors. By 2030, the work the non-profit sector does could well be managed by something completely different. 

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