GHC Conversation 2012 Scenarios

Scenario B: LIGHTS AND SHADOWS

In this scenario, we worked to envision an environment of limited, disjointed, shallow, gap-filling, Band-Aid approaches to social issues amidst expansive opportunities for innovative philanthropy leveraging strong incentives for collaboration and networks. The following graphic (produced by Ken Hubbell) and narrative description begin to tell a story of our images of possibility in this scenario.

This scenario is highlighted by the mostly unperceived and universally undesired distancing between those in the spotlight—the beacons–(those organizations and individuals capable of attracting the spotlight in philanthropic activities) and the rest. In North America we currently reside in this scenario. This scenario is marked by the belief by a majority that someone in the spotlight will figure it out. Those in the spotlight will mostly believe it too and will continue to make efforts, albeit unwittingly, to reinforce their own belief in themselves and the majority’s view that those “spotlights” will lead us out of the wilderness.

One of the signals of the underlying problem will be right sounding message and seemingly inclusive action by the spotlights, including the convening of gatherings of grassroots people and organizations which will appear to bridge divides. The minority will see the unequal yoking leading to tension between real and perceived partnerships. These well intentioned words and actions will ultimately encourage a hidden but growing dependency across many sectors and geographies.

Due in large part to the increasing social service needs of the boomer generation, the economic malaise persists until 2017 followed by a rebound overall but with a shrinking middle class. People will band together to create their own economies as barter becomes a significant matter of course for a new middle class. Those in the spotlight will be required to focus energy and resources in more obvious places as the number of materially poor increases and their visibility demand a response. Hard choices of where to put resources will result in heavily supported compliant populations and communities with completely neglected sectors and geographies, often those that are most difficult to reach or work with. Compounding this will be changes in tax provisions for charitable contributions pitting government against charitable organizations in some circles regarding who has greater impact for the dollar.

As in all the scenarios, the steady availability of technology plays a huge role. In this scenario there is great appeal for every “bright, shiny object.” The majority of people will seek to maintain the status quo and the control of outcomes. Some value the path of least resistance, seeking and valuing the paternal leader to make the tough decisions. The allure of widely adopted “best practices” continues (which is only a deflection of real responsibility). For many, much of these scenario decades finds people feeling comfortably numb—deluding themselves into thinking that we’re doing the most relevant and important work because we’re in pursuit of “best practices,” which is an intrinsically historical—rather than future leaning—view.

This will be an era of greater grassroots giving, in part fueled by accessible mobile technology and generational lifestyle choices. Peer-driven, largely unstructured impulses for very targeted fundraising will become common. Government support would reward the beacons at the expense of the also-rans. “Spotlight” organizations will continue to seek to evoke constituent loyalty; whereas small donors (and shadow organizations) will generate interest, but little organizational loyalty. “It’s the result that matters, not the entry point.”

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