NFPs must plan for the future – today

Posted on 14 May 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Future planning crystal ball

Not-for-profits and charities should plan for multiple versions of what Australia might look like in the years ahead if they are to survive and thrive, according to new research.

Leadership consultant Rod Matthews and NFP marketing expert Martin Paul have analysed what they believe the future might hold for NFPs and the conditions that will affect their future fundraising efforts

Rod Matthews.

They said their key insight is that “pre-emptive scenario mapping” is vital for NFPs who want to navigate challenging times, successfully seek out generosity in Australia and be future-ready in a rapidly changing world.

“Based on our experience, the mistake that many NFPs make when building a strategic plan is to assume that broader Australian society will remain unchanged,” said Mr Matthews.

“Recent experiences have taught us that this is not the case. Covid, inflation, cost of living … society’s level and type of generosity is constantly shifting.”

The comments came as the Productivity Commission delivered its final report into philanthropy to the federal government.

Canberra commissioned the report to explore ways to double philanthropic giving by 2030.

Mr Paul said research carried out by his company More Strategic suggested that Australians see society moving in a more individualistic and less trusting direction.

Macroeconomic and societal trends could also put pressure on Australians’ willingness to reach into their pockets for a good cause.

This in turn could have major implications for the way NFPs find, engage and stay connected with their supporter and donor base – and the way they set budgets for the year ahead.

“Organisations that engage their team in a conversation about possible futures are organisations that have greater engagement, are more adaptable and play a bigger role in shaping their industry,” said Mr Matthews.

Mr Paul said there was no way for NFPs to know for certain if donations would stay the same, diminish or grow in the future.

“NFPs that want to stay agile and responsive need to make an effort to keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to gauging the shifts in societal interests, beliefs and needs that can have an impact on their livelihoods.”

Mr Paul’s research included an online survey of more than 1,000 people across Australia weighted toward NFP donors.

The survey questions, which were designed to gauge participants’ level of trust and community orientation, found that 60% of participants believed a better quality of life came from looking after the community’s interests ahead of one’s own.

The survey also revealed that 58% of participants believed most people could be trusted.

“Both factors are obviously important indicators for NFPs to understand when it comes to setting strategy,” said Mr Matthews.

“In an ever-evolving world it’s important for NFPs to be future-ready, and scenario mapping gives you some strategies for the most likely outcomes.”

The research initiative resulted in the Four Futures of Generosity Report.

Key research findings

  • NFPs rely on the collective generosity of society. How, why and where people choose to donate their discretionary income is affected by society’s beliefs, values and needs at any point in time.
  • Many NFPs are good at planning and analysing inwardly but don’t adequately consider the external environment in which they operate.
  • Engaging in scenario mapping allows organisations to better plan and prepare to meet the challenges of unfolding trends and societal shifts.
  • Preparing for a range of possible conditions allows NFPs to stay agile, responsive and relevant, to overcome challenges and to take advantage of opportunities in the ever-evolving realm of societal generosity.

Mr Matthews and Mr Paul recently joined other industry professionals at a two-day Futures Retreat in Sydney.

The gathering workshopped likely “future worlds” for Australian NFPs, supported by analysis of dozens of ‘’megatrends’’ in Australian society, such as our aging population and the rapid development of generative artificial intelligence (AI).

It doesn’t work to repeat the same words in the accordion breakout and the main text.

Four Worlds infographic
“One of the best ways for NFPs to be future-ready is to be strategically prepared for a range of potential scenarios.”
NFP marketing expert Martin Paul.

“Organisations that are unaware, unprepared and unable to quickly adapt risk becoming brittle and breaking when confronted with changes in the environment in which they operate,” Mr Matthews said.

“Tapping into what’s happening in the world and having a business model that can quickly adapt is vital for organisations who want to stay relevant and financially solvent.”

Matthews report infographic 2
NFPs need to be more agile and change the way they plan for the future if they are to thrive in an ever-changing world.


According to Mr Paul, a good starting point is to be aware of the many unfolding megatrends that are undercurrents in our society, including:

  • Australia’s aging population
  • the growing move towards sustainability
  • the transfer of wealth between generations
  • advances in technology and generative AI.
Martin Paul.

“All these megatrends combine in one way or another over time to influence our attitudes, desire and capacity to give to charities and not-for-profits in the future, how generous we are, which organisations people choose to be generous to, and the perceived role of each and every NFP,” said Mr Paul.

“One of the best ways for NFPs to be future-ready is to be strategically prepared for a range of potential scenarios.”

Mr Matthews said scenario mapping shifted the focus from planning for a specific future to preparing for multiple futures.

“Where a specific future assumes a stable and predictable world, the real world is unstable and unpredictable,” he said.

“Deep diving into all the potential scenarios encourages us to explore possibilities, read the signals and be ready to take advantage of the changing conditions.”

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