Nonprofits Contradictions And Real World Disruptors

Superman Extreme

I don’t claim to know a lot.

But I am pretty confident of these two things:

  • Change is the constant today and continues to accelerate.
  • Our nonprofit associations are dynamic, complex systems embedded within an even more dynamic, complex übersystem: human society.

Six Changing Association Contexts

Technology has radically altered human society, in at least six ways. (Wiley, 2006). And they are often contradictory to our nonprofit association traditions and beliefs. Here are the real world disruptors that we need to be aware of and acknowledge.

Society continues to exert increasing competitive pressure on our traditional nonprofit institutions. Evolve or expire is the roar from the crowd.

No single response to these societal changes can successfully address every nonprofit’s situation. However, every organization must recognize, understand and adapt to these changes to remain meaningful and to contribute to the positive advancement of their members.

1. Analog To Digital

The primary format of information capture and dissemination has changed from analog to digital. Printed information (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) is quickly giving way to electronic formats. Audio recordings have moved from CDs and tapes to MP3s. Detailed text-based reports are moving to short online videos.

Association challenge: Deciding which programs, services and information should move from analog to digital. And deciding how to transition to learning that is transformational and not informational.

2. Tethered To Mobile

Most nonprofit programs tie a customer to a specific place and time. It’s appointment learning. On the contrary, mobile devices allow us to communicate with colleagues, family and friends without being tethered to a wall by a telephone cord, a network cable or a power outlet. Often individuals can join a presentation via livestreaming or social networks without being tethered physically to the conference venue.

Association challenge: Transitioning offerings and services from tethered specific place and time experiences to mobile accessibility when appropriate. Creating hybrid experiences for all.

3. Isolated To Connected

One of the best descriptions of today’s society is the drive toward universal, real-time, interconnectedness. Hyperlinks connect content. APIs and web services allow basic computer connections. Social networks, texting and mobile devices allow real time connections. People are more connected to people, content and communities than in the past.

Association challenge: Changing traditional face to face experiences and elearning programs from passive one-way transfer of information to more connected dialogues and polylogues. Creating more connexity, encouraging randomness and accelerating serendipity.

4. Generic To Personal

Technology enables “mass customization” of goods and services in almost every aspect of life. From computers to mobile phone rings to interactive websites to personal recommendations to customized clothing options, personalization is our expectation and demand.

Association challenge: Designing programs and services that are customizable and not one-size-fits-all.

5. Consumers To Creators

The tools used to produce artifacts (books, movies, music) were once expensive and exclusive. Today those barriers have nearly disappeared. Anyone can become an author, producer or reporter. We now record, write and publish not just consume. We contribute and participate.

Association challenge: Changing the model of programs designed for passive consumption to those allowing active participation.

6. Closed To Open

The Internet has made the economy of distributing electronic information easy, common, inexpensive and often free. We feel entitled to free information. Open software provides free and legal replacements for expensive systems. Information like encyclopedias and literature are free and available to those with an Internet connection.

Association challenge: Openness must become a core part of the organizational culture which is directly opposed to the business model associations use.

An appropriate association’s response to changes in our complex übersystem of human society includes increased connectedness, mobility, personalization, participation and openness.

How can an association’s increased openness lead to the advancement of an industry or profession? Of these six contextual changes, which do you think is the most critical change that must occur?

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  1. Jeff– Once again, awesome insights!

    I’m always astonished at how long it’s taken (still is taking) many organizations to adopt the principles you talk about here when they’re survival depends on it. Perhaps it’s a matter of money, time, other resources to restructure but it’s absolutely crucial.

    Today’s attendees expect digital, mobile, connected, personal, creative, open communication and interaction within their learning environments and communities at large.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I like your comment, “…it’s absolutely crucial.” We’ve got to find a way to blend traditional and 21st Century conference experiences for our attendees’ sake.

      1. Absolutely, Jeff. I doubt physical conferences will ever go away but they will need to change. If associations fail to adapt with attendee expectations, they will fall behind very quickly. Attendees are going to spend their money to attend events that cater to them.

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