Independent Sector Report Highlights Charitable Sector Challenges

Notwithstanding areas of strength, including strong leadership, innovative thinking, and deep engagement with target audiences, the nonprofit and philanthropic community is facing growing pressure from society-level trends as well as challenges from within the sector, a report from Independent Sector finds.

The report, Threads: Insights From the Charitable Sector (44 pages, PDF), highlights findings from fifteen community conversations convened by the organizations in thirteen cities regarding challenges that are holding back the sector and obstacles it will need to surmount in the years to come. According to the report, society-level challenges affecting the sector include pervasive inequality, dysfunctional government, a weakened social compact, societal fragmentation, economic uncertainty, and information and technology overload. At the sectoral level, participants cited wide-ranging challenges involving vision and strategy; funding models; collaboration; workforce recruitment and retention; stakeholder and cross-sectoral engagement; communication and branding; and operations, capacity, and governance.

To address these challenges, participants came up with a number of solutions, including developing new norms to adapt to a changing environment; creating open dialogue among and between nonprofits and community stakeholders, grantmakers and grantseekers, and different sectors; developing coalitions and co-designing solutions to collaboratively address complex problems; and more sharing of data, insights, and lessons learned. The participants also noted the need to pool resources and build systems that support the sector, invest in public policy advocacy efforts, and raise awareness of the sector's value. Among the roles specifically recommended for IS were facilitation of collaboration through new tools and platforms; building a talent management system that includes leadership and professional development offerings and strategies for recruiting diverse candidates; and identifying new business and operating models.

"The Threads conversations have empowered the sector to understand our shared challenges and experiences," said Erica Greeley, IS vice president for networks and principal author of the report. "Thanks to the insight of leaders from across the country, we have a clear window into the obstacles to success and field-tested ideas about how to address them."