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Looking Ahead | The Social-Impact Sector in 2050

Amy Bergen

climate protest sign

What does the future hold for nonprofits? Though specifics are hard to predict, social-impact organizations will likely play important roles in the coming decades; Rockefeller Center president Judith Rodin believes nonprofits will be seen as “an essential component of a functioning society.” The sphere will adapt to people’s needs as worldwide population trends, climate change, improved technology, and other factors alter how we live and work. Organizations are definitely going to face new challenges, but they’ll have new ways to get things done. Here are some trends you might see 30 years from now.

A collaborative global outlook

World population is on track to hit almost 10 million by 2050. On a planet where global warming is quickly depleting natural resources, nonprofits may be leading the charge to keep everyone fed, sheltered, healthy, and hydrated.

This undertaking will be a worldwide effort, with more organizations working alongside international partners. The Internet already makes it easy to communicate with donors or colleagues on the other side of the world; by 2050 this overseas dialogue will be even more normal. And working together will be the name of the game as nonprofits may increasingly pursue consolidation—even mergers with for-profit organizations—to remain sustainable.Global nonprofits will likely adapt their outreach strategies for speakers of multiple languages. The online landscape is already multilingual, with Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic becoming more popular, and organizations may add translators or prioritize hiring staffers fluent in languages other than English.

Racial and ethnic diversity will continue to be crucial topics in the nonprofit world, and as Islam is expected to be the fastest-growing major religion in the coming decades, many organizations outside of predominantly Muslim countries will learn more about the Muslim faith. Muslim holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Ramadan may get permanent spots on more United States holiday fundraising calendars, for instance.

An older population

People are living longer than they used to, and today’s millennials will be tomorrow’s worldwide majority in their golden years. The United Nations Population Fund estimates almost 22% of the 2050 world population will be 60 or older.

New and established organizations will be called on to meet the unique needs of elderly populations, from housing to health care to transportation. And discussions of workplace ageism may evolve as older workers speak up for their rights.

As automation replaces human labor, older people with time on their hands (along with people of all ages) could become a huge volunteering force. Virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities will be plentiful, and technology might make it easier than ever for people to find tasks tailored to their strengths.

A fully virtual office

The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work a necessity for many of us—leading to what some experts say is a permanent shift away from the traditional office space. Remote and location-independent work will be the norm in 2050, including flexible spaces like "mobile offices" and coworking spots. You might develop relationships with colleagues, mentors, board members, and an entire team without ever having an in-person meeting.

As physical workspaces change, the way workers interact may change as well. More people will work on a freelance or self-employed basis, rather than as a salaried employee for a single nonprofit. And remote collaboration could become an equalizer: offices will move away from hierarchies with supervisors and subordinates, and towards a more collective, team-based approach to leadership.

A tech-driven workplace with ongoing learning

Artificial intelligence will be advanced enough to eliminate jobs in both for-profit and nonprofit industries. To stay competitive, workers may seek ongoing training throughout their careers. Rather than choosing one field of expertise and sticking to it, they’ll learn new skill sets regularly through self-directed and project-based methods—and prepare to wear many "hats" on the job.

Web design, content creation, and software development, for instance, may not be relegated to specific teams. Instead, these and other tech-based skills will be essential competencies for a variety of jobs, the way Microsoft Office and email literacy are now. Skill-based credentials might become as important as college degrees in the job hunt.

Meanwhile, technology will help nonprofits have an even greater impact. Better access to data will make research easier, allowing organizations to identify problems and solutions and to measure the effects of their work. Social media might look different as new platforms emerge, but it will be a significant driver of marketing and fundraising as nonprofits create compelling stories in a digital format. Donor pitch decks could be as sophisticated as commercial video shoots.

Some of these trends, like the rise of remote work, have already begun, and there will undoubtedly be other changes we can’t anticipate right now. 

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Many organizations are already looking ahead to build career competencies and technical skills that will fight for racial justice, human rights, and climate justice. Head to Idealist's job postings to check them out yourself.

Amy Bergen

Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.

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