Monday, July 05, 2010

In These Uncertain Times, New Pew Study's Findings May Help Inform Any American Nonprofit's Next Step

Every nonprofit must take stock, each year.  Usually an organization's leadership sits down, at least once a year, and formally discusses: how have programs and services done this year; how has the organization, itself, operated this year; what needs improving (for both programs and services, and the organization's operations and administration); how has our operations budget worked this year; where can we cut costs; and how can we increase fundraising. 

An organization's leadership then often turns to the future and asks what, given what we know right now, does this nonprofit need to do in the coming year or two to improve services and programs and better conduct the work of the organization's mission such that we achieve even more programs' and services' successes, and benchmarks while conducting all work even more efficiently?  Usually this leads a nonprofit's leadership to begin or further organizational strategic planning.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I often suggest that when an organization goes to plan anything, they take stock.  It's good to research the organization's relevant region's (or regions':): economy, fundraising climate, a nonprofit's beneficiaries' current but as yet unmet needs, etc. every year, to be armed with current and pertinent information as a nonprofit's leaders sit down to plan whatever they're planning for the coming year(s).  So, I encourage you to and your nonprofit's leadership to read, before planning for next year, Life in 2050: Amazing Science, Familiar Threats because this very kind of survey (while it was national) is pertinent because, statistically, it indicates the attitudes of each nonprofit's American: clients, donors, volunteers, board members, staff, consultants, and community partners.  Also, it's only 26 pages long.  While no study is conclusive or 100% accurate for any one person, it is a good way to get a sense of where people are, today, when thinking about the world and its future.

To quote this study's PDF page 3, which is the document's page 2, "...a new survey of attitudes and expectations about the future, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Smithsonian magazine in conjunction with the magazine’s 40th anniversary (see "40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years"). The survey, conducted by land line and cell phones April 21-26 [sic.during 2010] among 1,546 adults, was informed by a 1999 survey on the future that explored many of the same topics (see “Optimism Reigns, Technology Plays Key Role,” October 24, 1999)."

The study found that most people polled believed cancer will be cured by 2050; computers will be speaking with people as people do; most think we will no longer be getting power from coal, oil, or gas; people indicated that race relations will continue to improve; most people believe we will have a female President in that time; and most also believe that we will have a Hispanic President, too.  This is inspiring since, frankly, hearing anything optimistic is really powerful, right now, with news like ours' these days, right?

The information in this study that can help your organization's leadership includes the following:

"Thinking ahead 40 years, 68% say race relations in the United States will better, which is unchanged from the 1999 survey. And in the wake of the election of the nation’s first African American president, large majorities say that the election of a woman (89%) and Hispanic (69%) will definitely or probably occur. [PDF page 3, document page 2]

"Notably, far more Americans think that health care will be more affordable in the future than did so in May 1999. Currently, 50% say health care will be more affordable in 2050, while 46% say it will be less affordable. In 1999, just 36% said health care would be more affordable compared with 60% who said it would be less affordable. [PDF page 3, document page 2]

"While a clear majority (58%) expects the gap between rich and poor in the United States to grow by
2050, fewer people say this than did so in 1999 (69%).  About a third (34%) now says the rich-poor gap will get smaller, up from 27% 11 years ago.  [PDF page 4, document page 3]

"However, Americans are less optimistic about long-term prospects for public education than they were 11 years ago. About half (49%) say the public education system will improve by 2050, down from 66% who expressed that view in 1999. [PDF page 4, document page 3]

"The public expresses mixed views about America’s role in the world in 2050. On the one hand,
people are divided over whether China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s main superpower – 46% say this will definitely or probably happen, while 49% say it will not.  However, most Americans (53%) say that the United States will be less important in the world 40 years from now than it is today; 40% say it will be more important." [PDF page 4, document page 3]

This information is a summation and the details of the study follow, in the actual document.  I encourage nonprofits to use this and other well conducted studies to both gauge their constituents' mindset, and their beneficiaries' mindset; while getting a glimpse, too, where at least today Americans perceive needs will exist, tomorrow. 


If this study is read and its findings weighed along with other regional or local studies for your organization's particular geographic service region it can help any nonprofit's leadership get an informed snapshot of how those who both benefit from and also those who support that agency are thinking about tomorrow, today.

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