I am not a crystal ball gazer, but, sometimes, it is fun to prognosticate. It has been a hobby of mine to predict future trends that could change the field of development. My accuracy, however, is wholly contingent on how influencing factors come together. Let’s have some fun with my predictions.
Basic Building Blocks
During the next 50 years, the basic fundraising building blocks such as major gifts, special events, direct mail, web campaigns, annual and capital giving, grassroots altruism, planned gifts such as bequests and endowment fund giving should remain intact. What will probably change is how funds are allocated into their respective buckets.
The Donor Experience
A paradigm shift is already taking place and will continue over the next half century. The baby-boom generation will fade away and “aging” millennials will change the current thinking about how and why to give to charities. Most baby boomers once were happy with writing a check, getting a plaque or special premium in return, and giving the charity carte blanche on how to use its funds. That will change dramatically as donors assert a brawnier role in how their money is spent.
As the cost of new and innovative technologies decrease, their use will increase concomitantly.
The International Space Station will see tourists visiting on a regular basis. According to CNBC, as of 2020 NASA was charging a mere $52-55 million for a stayover. As these visits become more cost-efficient, expect that enterprising charities will arrange for philanthropists to regularly stay there in exchange for substantial contributions. In time, Ion rocket engines using light or warp speed will quickly reach the Moon, Mars and other planets and similar arrangements will be made for the itinerant voyager. Someday expect trendy receptions in these exotic locations. Hello, Hal.
Holograms will play a more prominent role in the future. Holograms surround us now, but most people don’t even know it. Among items with holograms today include driver’s licenses, identification cards, credit cards, Blu-ray players, software packaging and much more. However, expect that, in the future, 3D hologram images of leadership and a motley crew of philanthropic projects will be transmitted “virtually” to innumerable locations where, even in the comfort of their own home, donors will learn about important initiatives directly in front of them. They will then interact with the lay leader’s and/or professional’s tangible image. Beam me up, Scotty.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a report on using artificial intelligence (AI) for fundraising. We learned that there are already many AI uses taking place. We also know that most donors want to communicate directly with a “human” and not an automated voice. However, there isn’t always a human on hand to talk to a supporter. The closest, therefore, will be something akin to Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Siri. Prescient “virtual” chatbots online and human-like androids will be increasingly available to serve as conversational interfaces between persons and the organization. “I, Robot,” move over.
Special opportunities for donors to express their esteem for a loved one or to commemorate a celebration or milestone occasion will evolve to a new level. The novel technology will allow donors to give family and friends anywhere in the world, even on another planet, a way to see and touch the dedication. Enter the virtual donor recognition system (VDRS). Tangible holographic images will be projected anywhere. The holographic image will have a “touchable, physical texture” quality to it, a technology that doesn’t yet exist today. Thank you, C-3PO.
Caveat Emptor—Charities Beware
A word of caution about my speculations. The state of the economy commonly affects philanthropic contributions. If the economy falters, as it did during the COVID-19 pandemic, all bets are off. My outlook for the U.S. economy is pessimistic for a major reason. Politicians have placed the burden of unbearable debt upon the shoulders of this nation—annual deficits in the trillions; we are drowning in debt—and it may lead to a crushing financial crash heretofore unseen. And we may not have to wait 50 years to experience this financial calamity.
Our national debt is climbing faster than a SpaceX rocket heading into orbit. In my view, a “pox on both houses,” because both major political parties have buried this nation in a quagmire of unlimited borrowing and ceaseless spending, but tax revenues and other forms of income are not matching the outgo. And because they have created a pathology of welfare dependency the future is ominous. It’s not a question of “whether” but “when” the tipping point is reached. Charitable institutions—be forewarned. How’s that Venezuelan toilet paper working out?
Change Our Way of Thinking
People are generally complacent about change, or don’t like it. Like us, institutions are creatures of habit and used to carrying out fundraising a certain way. The resourceful nonprofit, however, will shake the 8-ball for answers and, like a chameleon changing colors, alter the way it does business.
A famous football coach used to proclaim: “The future is now.” Can the Holodeck from Star Trek be far behind? Greetings, Data.
Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]