quotes The way ahead: Time to overhaul the nonprofit sector

14 December 2020
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Updated 14 December 2020

The way ahead: Time to overhaul the nonprofit sector

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has substantially altered many aspects of our life. Our society is in dire need of support on both a local and global scale as we navigate the grueling pandemic.
People are turning to the government and nonprofits for support in a situation that offers very few answers. But is this also an opportunity for change? Is there a chance to restructure the nonprofit sector and create an unstoppable, change-bringing machine? We believe so.
A prime example is education. COVID-19 has affected the learning of more than 110 million students due to school shutdowns. Schools have had to revolutionize the learning process with a digital education landscape.
While some nations, such as Saudi Arabia, have already developed digital learning, many others have had to start from scratch to turn traditional school settings into digital ones. What has made online learning successful?
The World Economic Forum (WEF) places much of its success on eight traits, including innovation, self-paced learning and student-driven and collaborative learning. So, the question is, can we adapt the nonprofit sector to also thrive during this desperate time with the same values implemented by our education system?
First, what are the obvious problems with the non-profit sector? According to the National Center on Charitable Statistics, approximately 30 percent of all nonprofits fail within their first 10 years.

It should be the goal of the nonprofit organization to lead from within.

Muna AbuSulayman

Forbes, the media company, explains that more than half of all nonprofits fail early on due to poor leadership and shortsighted strategy. While nonprofits may be designed with good intentions, they often fall victim to donor mismanagement, misunderstood priorities and board input rather than innovative, support-driven leadership. Amid so much change this could be the right time to reshape our nonprofit systems.
We may want to focus our nonprofits on technology for innovation. This pattern has worked for schools and education. We do not need to reinvent the wheel with this logic; we can simply create safe digital communities and platforms for shared ideas and voices to be heard.
Education has done this through the use of online platforms, conference software and other dashboards that have previously been used by teachers in the classroom. By implementing a similar process geared toward innovation and communication, the nonprofit sector may have more widespread access to donors and resources, yielding more opportunity for change and success.
Another obvious problem that technology may solve is to provide leadership opportunities to the supporters. Instead of taking guidance from oblivious large-figure donors, technology will allow more voices to be heard within the nonprofit community. This will empower nonprofits to specifically listen to and aid those they serve because they are hearing unbiased voices rather than boardroom agendas.
This open-forum leadership, a subtle form of democracy, may invite more mid-level donors to be involved. Ideally, it should be the goal of the nonprofit organization to lead from within, rather than pivot based on their donors’ favors.
Moving forward, it is more important than ever that our society focuses on restructuring our nonprofits to support long-term change and not just to pander to the short-term pandemic, as this will only lead to more failures.
To survive and succeed, we must adapt, the same way that education has, to create a stronger landscape for the future. Now is the prime opportunity to take a look at our founding prophecies and adjust them based on innovation through technology and leadership from within.
Our efforts should be focused on communication and platforms for underrepresented voices, thus attracting more mid-level donors who witness the problems with our world for themselves.
If we can generate a more forward-thinking and streetwise team of donors, perhaps we will be able to better target our problems with feasible solutions.

  • Muna AbuSulayman is an international development expert with a diverse cross-sector work experience of more than 20 years, and one of the most recognizable media personalities in the Arab world.