Dramatic Demographic Changes Impact Nonprofits

Dramatic Demographic Changes Impact Nonprofits

By Cynder Sinclair, D.M.

[Previously published in Noozhawk.com]

How relevant will your nonprofit be in five years? What are you doing today to meet the dramatic changes looming just ahead? Continuing business as usual just because you are doing good work may actually lead your nonprofit to a surprise dead-end—unless you make changes today to prepare for a robust future. Mining the gold hidden in the mounting demographic data may reveal the secret to your ultimate success. No doubt your nonprofit has a mission statement to guide its work. Regularly examining the relevance of your mission statement, as compared to present and future reality, will help your organization stay on track to fulfill its vision. Assessing the make-up of those who carry out your mission–your staff and board—as well as your evaluation systems will also yield valuable information.

Cultural Shift Demands Change

Taking the time to research demographic changes and understanding the impact these changes will have on your organization can be critical to maintaining your significance in the coming years. Manuel Pastor, PhD, explained in his keynote address at the recent Partnership for Excellence Conference that between 2000 and 2010, the growth rate of Latinos was 43 percent as opposed to the 1 percent growth rate for non-Hispanic whites. He pointed out the growth of children of immigrants is driving those numbers, not immigration as many believe.

Young people of color “are very aspirational for themselves and the kind of world they’re going to live in,” he said. “We need to speak to their aspirations not to their anger, and we need to recognize that this is the population that will be moving us forward.” Every nonprofit board of directors should be asking how this cultural shift will impact the organization in the long-term—and what it should be doing today to respond to the changes.

Generation Gap Calls Us to Groom Future Leaders

Not only is the number of non-Hispanic whites dropping in Santa Barbara County and the number of Latinos growing, a generation gap is also quickly developing. Pastor noted the median age for whites is 42 years old, while the median age for Latinos is 27 years old. “That generational disconnect between older and young is driving inequality,” he said, adding that the population might be less prepared to contribute to a healthy economy moving forward if we don’t recognize and respond to these changes.

Michael Cruz, president of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance in L.A. oversees NextGen Leaders program, an initiative geared toward developing the skills and talents of a diverse group of future nonprofit leaders. “It is important that we have a workforce available that can reach out to its intended population,” Cruz says. “In doing this we also empower people who want to help their own community become better at being able to lead that community. When we build inclusion into our workforce and we listen to that diverse base, we begin to see that we can make better decisions, roll out programs with better impact and better serve our population.” Look at the composition of your board and staff and tell me what your organization is doing to respond to the developing generation gap. Are you intentionally grooming your future leaders?

Smart Growth is about Connection . . . to All Segments of Community

Pastor explained that to flourish in the future, nonprofits must be ready to look deeper and wider, asking probing questions. When the people we are trying to serve look at our board and staff do they see themselves? If we are to engage the next generation and the Latino culture, everyone must see a seat at the table for themselves. “People concerned with equity are attracted to the framework of smart growth,” said Pastor. “Smart growth potentially promises to make revitalization possible in all neighborhoods by creating access to safe parks, safe spaces, good schools—things that should be a matter of universal access anyway.”

Smart growth isn’t a set of technical principles; fundamentally, it’s about connection. When you bring people together face-to-face through civic engagement, that’s what really generates smart growth. Allowing ourselves to be separated by race, class, ethnicity, or politics hurts everyone and stifles economic and community growth. Is your nonprofit positioned to engage in smart growth for the future?

Ron Gallo on Demographics

During a recent interview with Nonprofit Kinect Ron Gallo, President and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation, gave these insights into the impact of demographics on nonprofits: “I am surprised sometimes that many people don’t seem to understand the degree to which our demographics are changing on the South Coast. Nor do they understand the ramifications of this trend for all of us. For example, our entire County is 38% Latino and nearly 80% in Santa Maria, while Santa Barbara is approaching 40%. This trajectory is expected to continue to escalate. We will be a Latino majority County in our lifetime. Demographics aren’t political; they are just a reflection of the way it is. We need to pay attention to the aging demographics and the cultural demographics. As goes the Latino community, so goes our collective future. So it is not so much a question of what we can do for Latinos, but rather what we can do to promote the common good for us all. If people don’t feel connected or don’t have skills to engage in the community we will all lose. Nonprofits, from arts to safety nets, need to learn more about the demographic trends because their future is bound up in their response to these demographics. For example, future audiences for the opera will be drawn from changing demographics. So cultivating this audience now makes good sense.

Checklist for Nonprofits

It’s clear the rapidly changing demographics affect every aspect of our community, especially the nonprofit sector. Are we ready? Are we doing our homework? What can nonprofits do to ensure relevance in the coming years? Here are three benchmarks to help.

  • Statistics—Make yourself knowledgeable about demographic statistics. Put together a task group to study market data and demographic projections to determine how they will affect your mission. This process will require futuristic “what if” thought processes. You may have to look hard to find people who are accustomed to measuring market data but they are out there and you only need one or two of these folks on your committee. Be your strategic plan reflects the findings.
  • Leadership—Take a look at the composition of your board and staff. Do you have a good representation of generations? It can be harder to find effective board and staff members in the younger group; so put together a training program to build your own leaders. Look for people who care about your mission and want to contribute to your vision. Then train them to be good board or staff members. Do you have ample representation from the various Latino cultures? Our community is full of Latino men and women who would love to make a difference through your organization. There are plenty of young people eager to contribute to your mission.  Go find them. When planning for diversity, consider more than just physical characteristics or last name or generation. As you plan your inclusive strategy think about your future leaders in terms of how they lead, what they like to do in the world, how they like to have fun, what they value and how they demonstrate it. Ask what will make your future leaders, clients, and supporters want to come to your fundraiser. I guarantee the answers will shake up any business-as-usual approach. Exploring these questions will yield a stronger, cutting edge organization. Each culture sees and responds to the world differently and we don’t even realize how exclusive our focus is because we are seeing through our own lens.
  • Systems—Assess your methods of evaluation. Do you primarily measure transactional data using a quantitative approach (e.g. counting the number of clients served each year)? Consider adding collection of transformational data using a qualitative approach. This will give you the “so what” of your work. For example, if you served 10,000 people last year what changes did your service make in their lives? Develop a simple questionnaire to verbally administer to a sampling of clients and compile the findings. This will give you valuable insight into ways of improving your service as well as your outreach to wider populations.

Thanks to the Foundation Roundtable

Many thanks to the Foundation Roundtable and the Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable for bringing the 21st annual Partnership for Excellence Conference to Santa Barbara. Manual Pastor and all the distinguished panel members and presenters gave us valuable information for ensuring a bright, relevant future for our nonprofits. Most importantly, they left us with an unending list of questions the answers to which will lead our nonprofit and philanthropic sector to even greater effectiveness in coming years.






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