Leading social researcher says NFPs can create the future

Posted on 06 Feb 2024

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

DALL E 2023 11 17 13 28 32 A medieval traveller depicted as a woman wearing a short riding hood and sitting on a horse with saddlebags arrives at a crossing on a forest path
NFPs able to harness predictions about social trends such as AI and demographic changes will be better able to forge their own futures. Picture: Dalle-E

New social research suggests that community leaders are well placed to take advantage of the national trends shaping our lives.

McCrindle – a social research, demographics and data analytics agency – has nominated eight trends of 2024 following an in-depth survey of more than 1000 people drawn from every Australian demographic.

Mark McCrindle
Social researcher Mark McCrindle

The trends are:

  • real environment
  • community redefined
  • small business nation
  • the growth reckoning
  • AI acceleration
  • “superiofficey”
  • the grandparent economy
  • alpha impact

McCrindle research principal Mark McCrindle, in launching this year’s report, said, “these are eight trends that are not just transforming this year, but this era.”

He said leaders’ ability to rely on these trends as springboards for action was contingent on how far ahead they looked.

He divided the ways the report’s information about trends could be applied into three categories based on timeframes:

  • Probable: It is probable that these trends will have a significant effect within a one- to three-year timeframe. The trends could be used to underpin strategy in this time.
  • Possible: It is possible that these trends will have a significant effect within a four- to six-year timeframe. The trends could be used to underpin preparedness in this time.
  • Perceptible: Seven years from now, and beyond, these trends may be perceptible, but leaders should seek new information about trends.

Mr McCrindle said his company’s report showed trends were increasing in pace and complexity, with all trends exhibiting “multifactorial” influences. This meant it was now harder than ever to gain a longer-term view of where things were going.

He said good leaders would:

  • understand the trends to understand the context they were operating in
  • understand that each trend would bring “waves of change” and respond accordingly
  • seek to transform and shape the times with this knowledge.

Speaking to Community Directors Intelligence after the launch, Mr McCrindle said not-for-profits were better placed than most to affect the future.

“NFP organisations are most well placed to change these trends and to shape the future because they have deeply embedded roots, they've got rich connections and therefore leverage,” he said.

While NFPs were small in comparison to corporates and large enterprises, their connections were “deeper in quality and that's ultimately where change [happens and] how movements emerge”.

He said “viral” movements often began with a small number of people connected by weather, geography, issues or causes. As a result, local and cause-based organisations were more able to “inspire engagement, shape a movement and therefore change the future”.

“It does begin by understanding the context, and the trends, and the issues, and then responding to that. But I think the opportunity [for NFPs] is to engage those with whom they have trust and connection to be changemakers, to seek out the opportunity to shift the trends or to maximise the trend and so impact the future.”

Gen differences
There are signficant generational differences between the kinds of interests and actions people are prepared to take to address environmental degradation. Image: McCrindle

Real environment

“Real environment” refers to the idea that citizens have a growing interest in getting involved in and supporting environmental issues, but with a bias towards tangible things. For example, the McCrindle study showed that Australians showed high levels of interest in recycling (80%) and expressed concerns about water quality (76%) and air pollution (72%), but they were less worried about the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (60%).

Australians of all ages are keen to take environmental action, but practical actions are more likely to be led by the older demographic, while the passionate younger cohorts are more likely to lead protests.

For community leaders interested in action on climate change, this has implications for the way they communicate their activities. Mr McCrindle said that organisations should consider avoiding a “singular focus” on carbon footprints or climate change, and seek ways of helping people to take practical pro-environmental steps.

Community redefined

McCrindle social researcher Grant Dusting– speaking at the launch event – said the theme “community redefined” captured the trend of people living more online, with the formation of more “micro-communities” both in person and digitally as people sought continued connection.

On the flipside, the loneliness epidemic showed no signs of abating, with 59% of respondents admitting to regularly feeling lonely.

NFP leaders watching the launch commented that sporting and social clubs were well placed to provide avenues to better connect communities.

Small business nation

The reference to “small business nation” summed up the declining levels of trust in big corporates, the persistent bias to buying from small businesses (84% of respondents) and the rising numbers of younger people with entrepreneurial ambitions.

Mr McCrindle said NFPs should consider seeking sponsorship and support from local and smaller businesses to take advantage of that “halo effect”.

McCrindle researchers said for smaller operations, popular support was countered by globalisation and the growing burden of regulation and compliance, something many NFPs will be highly familiar with.

The growth reckoning

According to McCrindle, “the growth reckoning” is a reference to a “collective re-evaluation of societal values and economic priorities, addressing the benefits and challenges of population growth”.

The study noted Australia’s population had risen by 624,000 in 2023 and surpassed 27 million this month. Much of that growth came from migration, with Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia taking a bigger portion of newcomers than other parts of the country.

Yet despite the benefits of higher demand, growth, diversity, skills and innovation that come with population growth; the researchers found the extra numbers were also putting pressure on housing, infrastructure and social cohesion. Support (or not) for greater migration was highly predicated on age, with Boomers much less likely to think high migration was a good thing than their younger counterparts.


NFPs are among many employers grappling with working from home, office-based employment and the hybrid model.

The McCrindle term “superiofficey” suggests there’s a growing perception that working in the office is superior and brings greater productivity, despite respondents showing a very strong preference for hybrid working (62%).

McCrindle director Ashley Fell said there was some truth to the “sneaking suspicion” by some respondents that in-office workers who practised “presentivity” won advantages such as stronger relations with leaders and colleagues, more opportunities for professional development, and a greater opportunity to collaborate. The study found two-thirds of workers in the office experienced the benefits of “presentivity”, which helped them to solve problems and make decisions.

She said McCrindle had noticed a rise in the prevalence of Zoom FOMO (fear of missing out), in which video conference participants feared missing out on the inevitable real-life side meetings.

AI acceleration

The McCrindle nomination of “AI acceleration” as a big trend in 2024 will not come as a surprise to NFP leaders, but the pace of that change might come as a shock.

According to Ms Fell, other research suggests that half of all work will eventually be automated, even as more Australians are using AI daily even without realising it. She said streaming recommendations, digital navigation and voice-activated assistants were becoming ubiquitous.

That said, there is a significant group of Australians (defined mainly by age) who are resisting change, with 37% never having used a voice assistant such as Siri or Alexa, and 51% never having used AI at work. She predicted those figures could shift in the near future.

The grandparent economy

McCrindle describes the economy in which the ageing Baby Boomer generation is having an outsized effect as “the grandparent economy”.

Ms Fell said this generation and the older “Builders” (aged over 75) together represented about 28% of the population, yet they owned nearly two-thirds of its wealth, much of that in property.

But this is set to change in the coming generation, with an estimated $6.2 trillion to be transferred through wills and estates in the next 20 years. In many cases, grandparents are expected to direct those funds directly to grandchildren, but before their deaths they are expected to keep helping their children with care, bills and buying homes.

For NFPs this wealth transfer will continue to be a big issue as organisations seek to win the favour of major supporters in their wills.

McCrindle research reveals details of the emerging "Generation Alpha". Image: McCrindle

Alpha impact

At the other end of the age spectrum are the alphas, the oldest of which are just turning 14. McCrindle suggests this cohort is stepping up from being “household influencers to technological trendsetters”.

The research company expects this new group will be the most influential in several generations for several reasons, including the fact that they will be the largest generation ever, the most globally connected, the most formally educated, the most wealthy, and technologically supplied.

As Ms Fell put it, “they’re already here”.

Download a summary slideshow of McCrindle's 2024 trends of the year

This article first appeared in our monthly leadership newsletter, Community Directors Intelligence, in a not-for-profit trends edition predicting the big issues facing community directors and senior managers in 2024.

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