How will nonprofits survive the changing work landscape? How can they future-proof their organizations? PLC posed these questions at Thursday’s ‘Future of Work in Nonprofits’ session facilitated by Deloitte’s Greenhouse team. The answer that emerged: “By leading.” 

November 28th’s half-day morning session started with a Draw and Tell exercise. Groups of participants comprised of some of Peel Region’s top nonprofit leaders, graphically depicted broader societal themes such as the gig economy, technology, AI, healthcare delivery, and their effects on mental health and social isolation. Some groups focused on organizational challenges such as staff turnover and, uncertain funding models, and the training that will soon be continuously required to stay on top of technological changes. 

Some mentioned precarious employment and housing shortages becoming a bigger problem in the future. Nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping people facing social barriers will see their clientele face ever more complex hurdles in the future, despite some innovations and technologies that serve vulnerable populations better now than before.

By 10 am in the conference room, the future was looking fairly bleak, with a sense among attendees that it will be difficult to keep up with the coming changes. But not facing challenges head-on is not an option for Vanita Varma, CEO of Peel Leadership Centre (PLC), and so the workshops about the Future of Work are a priority for the organization.

“Nonprofits experience challenges that are unique and complex and to clearly understand and strategize for the future,” Varma says. “It was important to come together as a group to hear each others’ thoughts on what the new world of work may/may not look like for them and for all the other people engaged in this sector.” 

Future-thinking requires stepping into a different realm, away from the daily operations of running an organization, to exchange ideas with other leaders in a different head space. The exercises led by the facilitators centered around innovation and thinking differently. The team engaged attendees in challenging existing orthodoxies and beliefs, asking questions you would expect in a tech hub innovation session. Examples from for-profit companies such as Southwest Airlines and Airbnb demonstrated that by asking a different question, one can serve clients in new and impactful ways.

Challenging what we think we know

When asked why she chose the Deloitte Greenhouse team, Varma said “The conversation on ‘Future of Work in Nonprofits‘ needs to be focused on challenging ‘what we already know,’ ‘what is it that we don’t know’ and ‘what is it we don’t know that we don’t know.’ We needed a disruptor who could challenge our long-held assumptions and orthodoxies that we have been holding onto for many years and help us see a new world by flipping those orthodoxies and imagining a new world of possibilities and opportunities. There couldn’t be a better partner than Deloitte Greenhouse to help us with this innovative learning lab and we are very thankful for this partnership.”

Groups formed once again for the next exercise to put into words those beliefs and orthodoxies – and there were a lot of nodding heads in the room as the sticky notes were read aloud:

“Projects should live forever.”

“Organizations should live forever.”

“We live in scarcity.”

“Evidence comes first.”

Some deeply held beliefs are never voiced, but they are believed nonetheless. Putting them into words seems stark and even a little cathartic – “a form of venting in itself.” according to the facilitators. But once the activity switched to flipping those orthodoxies, the room buzzed with possibility, and the true value of gathering leaders together revealed itself.

Finally, the day concluded with participants sharing their perspectives on how PLC can play a vital role in providing support to nonprofits in their future planning and growth. The answers were quickly ranked according to a scoring system based on “the wisdom of the crowd”, and the top ranking suggestions were read aloud, something Vanita was keen to hear as she plans the next phase for PLC’s role in nurturing and supporting nonprofits. We asked her what’s next for the organization, now that PLC has identified the Future of Work as a key focus in helping Peel’s nonprofits.

“What’s next is a call out for potential partners and collaborators who are willing to join us in this new and exciting journey of future of work in the nonprofit sector and looking forward to some exciting planning work ahead.”

By the PLC Team

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