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Johnson Center experts predict 11 trends for philanthropy in 2019

  • A graphic that says "11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2019"

Posted on January 15, 2019

Philanthropic giving in the United States is a massive sector of the economy, topping $400 billion, and countless community and national organizations are benefitting from a surge in public interest.

Experts at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University expect to see the entire ecosystem of philanthropy — nonprofits, foundations, donors and volunteers — rally to support the cause of civil society and cross-sector collaboration in 2019.

However, the challenges the nonprofit sector faces in 2019 are significant, and Johnson Center experts said that addressing those challenges will require data-driven strategies and a willingness to experiment, evaluate and adjust over time.

With these challenges in mind, the thought leaders and experts at the Johnson Center have examined changes in the field and identified 11 trends in philanthropy they expect to see impacting philanthropy in 2019.

The trends cover a range of topics, from significant growth in nonprofit media to a downturn in religiosity, to ongoing uncertainty about the impact of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on the nonprofit sector.

A summary of the 11 trends is found below; the full report can be found here: bit.ly/2019PhilanthropyTrends

Explore all 11 Trends:

1.     The Boundaries are Blurring Between Philanthropy and Business - Michael Moody, Ph.D., Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy

For as long as we have used “sectors” to define society, we’ve been particularly fixated on the boundaries between those sectors. But today, those boundaries – especially the once bright lines between business and philanthropy – are blurring at an accelerating rate. This trend is leading to great innovation, but its potential pitfalls are real, as well.

2.     As Religiosity Changes, Donor Engagement Needs to Adapt — Tamela Spicer, M.A., program manager

Religious organizations have taken in a significant share of America’s philanthropic dollars for generations. But as Americans become less religious, and the traditional vehicles for giving evolve, nonprofits’ understanding of how faith and spirituality impact giving needs to expand.

3.     For Nonprofits, the Tax Landscape is Far From Settled — Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO, Council of Michigan Foundations, and Donna Murray-Brown, president and CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association and Member

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) included a number of provisions that affect the way nonprofits identify and calculate their tax liabilities. Many nonprofits are still working to understand, explain and account for these changes ahead of the 2018 filing deadline. However, the TCJA’s true impact — and even whether the tax code will continue in its current form through 2019 — remains to be seen.

4.     Nonprofit Media is Experiencing a Growth Spurt — So is Philanthropy’s Response – Tory Martin, M.A., director of communications and engagement

Journalism is turning to a nonprofit model in the hopes of offsetting falling ad revenue and shoring up faith in a free press. And in a moment of near-daily attacks on the media, more and more foundations and donors are exploring what it means to support independent journalism and media literacy.

5.     More Tools – and More Calls – to Align Foundation Culture with Mission and Values - Teri Behrens, Ph.D., executive director

Power dynamics in philanthropy are nothing new, but the sector’s increased focus on racial equity, environmental sustainability, and other social justice-related issues are pushing more organizations to take a look in the mirror. Foundation leaders are increasingly paying attention to the foundation as an organization, with a culture that supports or interferes with the ability to achieve their mission.

6.     Nonprofits are Playing a Vital Role in Civic Engagement - Tory Martin, M.A., director of communications and engagement

Anecdotally, America seems to be experiencing a great surge in civic engagement. Countless nonprofits are benefitting from increased awareness, donations and public passion — but what really seems to be changing for nonprofits is their own awareness of the role they play in sustaining a healthy democracy.

7.     Concrete Strategies are Emerging for Implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Principles - Juan Olivarez, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar in Residence for diversity, equity, and inclusion

As professional organizations and agents of cultural change, nonprofits have been concerned with advancing social justice for decades. But as a sector, we have often struggled to find the right levers and tactics for living out our DEI values. Fortunately, the sector’s increased focus in this space is producing more practical strategies for organizations and communities alike.

8.     Powering Communities While Protecting Individuals - Erica Czaja, Ph.D., director of the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute

Communities working toward equitable change are increasingly turning to data to help them understand and solve their biggest challenges. Detailed data, broken down by characteristics like race and gender, are critical to uncovering stark inequities that might otherwise be hidden by total population averages. But this trend is simultaneously prompting serious questions about the entities that handle data and the security measures they take to protect individuals’ information.

9.     The Wealth Gap is Becoming a Giving Gap - Michael Moody, Ph.D., Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy

Giving in the U.S. has long correlated with the up and down pattern of the nation’s economy. But what about an economy in which the most glaring “trend” is not an overall rise or fall, but a growing gap between those at the top and bottom? As wealth and income become increasingly unequal in this country, it appears that patterns in giving may follow this dramatic bifurcation.

10.     As Donors and As Causes, Women are Taking the Lead in Philanthropy - Kate Pew Wolters, trustee, Grand Valley State University; co-chair, Johnson Center Leadership Council

Women have dominated philanthropy’s professional ranks for decades, and today, the number of women who are taking on roles as institutional leaders and major donors is on the rise. Yet the international spotlight currently falling on women and girls' causes should be understood more as a blossoming of what’s been happening for generations, than as a wholly new trend.

11.     Foundations are No Longer Wedded to the Long Game - Teri Behrens, Ph.D., executive director

Patience has been a defining aspect of institutionalized philanthropy for decades; permanent endowments meant foundations could afford to invest in change over the long term. Since 2010, however, there has been a significant shift toward creating foundations that have a defined endpoint. Donors’ reasons for creating these limited-life foundations vary widely.

For more information on the 11 trends, see the full report or visit johnsoncenter.org.