This week I’m headed to Newark, NJ to give a keynote address at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s annual gathering. I’m honored for numerous reasons, the least of which is that it’s also the 25th anniversary of the Terry McAdams Book Award, which my book, “Begging for Change”, won in 2005.
If you’ve read it, it’s pretty clear that “Begging” is a pissed-off book. It was written prior to a trip to India I made to study the Indian National Congress, where I experienced political enlightenment and realized I had spent a few hundred pages blaming the players, not the game…in short, castigating nonprofits for flaws that are more a byproduct of our economic role and design than by leadership flaws (although they abound) .
But it was also a book loaded with theories about the future, many of which turned out to be pretty accurate.
One fact that “Begging” pointed out was that, at midnight on New Year’s of 2005, the first of 75 million Baby Boomers would turn 60. I wrote that Meals on Wheels already had a waiting list, and that when we crossed this Rubicon, it would mandate a shift in thinking at all levels of our society. Well, just as 1984 and 2001 once seemed a million years away, so does 2030, when the first Boomer will turn 85…and that’s the reason I moved from DC to LA to open the L.A. Kitchen. I’m here to march out to meet that future.
Most nonprofit leaders don’t see the future at all. Most are just trying to make payroll or meet big need. Cool…I totally get that. Others, well they see the future coming, but wait for it to come to them. I say fuck that shit…if you wait, you only end up having to carry more weight, so I’m acting now. And while many of my new tactics are specific to food and empowerment, here are a few trends that are at the core of my work, and that could possibly influence yours.
No matter who your group serves now, you’ll be serving seniors soon. There is literally no organization that will not be affected by, or that will not have direct contact with, or responsibility for, aging citizens. Seemingly solid lines that demarcated service sectors were always drawn in the sand, and those sands will soon shift—seismically. See the shift coming and adapt NOW. Physical design in particular must (rapidly) shift to embrace “universal design”, so that all ages can have access to opportunity and services.
Baby Boomers had the advantage of a post-WWII economy that generated massive profits. That profit built the modern nonprofit sector, via donations made by Boomers because of faith traditions or to take advantage of tax deductions. However, Boomers will enter older age with less money in the bank, or in stocks, than their parents…and they will also have MUCH more personal debt. This will mean less money available for charitable gifts. On top of that, their children are less likely to give like their parents. They just won’t have the extra cash their parents did, and besides, they dig Social Enterprises and B-Corps, and want daily commerce or the way they make their money to be their philanthropy. The “well” most nonprofits rely upon is drying up. Will your organization be ready?
Everyday, over 10,000 Boomers turn 67…and that won’t stop until 2030. Not all, but many, will look in the mirror and wonder how they got hoodwinked into thinking that buying more junk would make them happy. In search of greater meaning, millions of them will turn to nonprofits and say, in effect, “use me”…let me volunteer and make a difference. They won’t be satisfied with make-work…they will want to make something happen. Is your group ready to engage, uplift, enlighten and empower them?
We can’t go back to the 60’s again (although most protests still mimic that era), but there are others ways to fight for change. Older people are the most reliable voters, and the Boomers can either vote in their own limited self-interest, or be guided to use their votes in support of, or in pursuit of, more enlightened policies. Nonprofits who act now to channel that predictable energy can help usher in an era of political engagement where old and young find common ground and work together to explore an economy and a lifestyle less dependent on self-gratification and consumption. Does that sound far-fetched? It does to me too…but what choice do we have? To let the hard rain fall? Not me!! I’m marching to a new nonprofit drummer. And since I just inadvertently quoted Bob Dylan, I’ll go ahead and close with a favorite line from “Changing of the Guards” that I used in “Begging for Change” when similarly discussing the need to shift or sink.
“Either brace yourself for elimination, or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards”