Back to Newsroom

Non-Profit 2020 – Are you in the Past, Present or Future?

In 2015, SAGIN released its research paper Museum 2020 (Link to Museum 2020 Report) which analyzed over 80 non-profits on a global scale in the Museum, Zoo, Aquarium and Performing Arts space.  The research highlighted key best practices that organizations were taking to ensure their relevance in the world and preventing their extinction.  2017 is nearing its end and we are two years away from the “future”.  This article re-examines the trends identified in our original report and looks at three new trends.  This will allow you to make your own judgement whether you have advanced or slipped further behind the times.


Be relevant. Progressive organizations like Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (“MCA”) brought the artistry of David Bowie to life tapping into the feelings and expressions of today’s society.  The show was a blockbuster draw and created a link of relevance in the lives of multiple generations from baby boomers to millennials.   In an interview earlier this year with Michael Darling, Chief Curator, he described how the MCA applies an approach that is over reaching and seeks input from all levels of staff and outside world for new exhibits.  He went on to say how they consider current events and trends never knowing where the next successful exhibit will come.  This is the essence of being relevant and connecting with the public now.  Michael described this process by which they launched the Takashi Murakami exhibit earlier this summer.  While it may be in the DNA of the MCA, other museums and non-profits are still facing declining attendance and have sought to improve revenues by increasing prices only to find a death spiral effect.  A rapidly growing trend in relevance is a link to social injustice including immigration, personal freedoms, LGBT rights, civil rights, etc.  The personal expressions of humanity are finding its links into art, music, and even science.  Being relevant is trending even hotter today as we approach 2020.  Audiences are voting with their feet and “like” clicks.


Reach out past your four walls. Many organizations have become creative with their events from farmers markets to after dark cocktail parties.  However, many still lack making the investment of expanding in the lives of their patrons.   It is one thing to be relevant but the next step is retaining their attention.  The Smithsonian is still the leader in connecting into the lives of its visitors and future visitors.   Some people who have never been to Washington D.C. are in the database of the Smithsonian connecting to them in multiple ways.  Our follow-up with the organizations we surveyed showed many of them do not have a comprehensive customer/patron strategy to staying connected on multiple levels of media.  Many of them have not created a process by which to maintain their customer data nor leverage it.  Their CRM systems are still behind the times. The data is not reliable and their systems are not integrated.   We found this to be the one area where many organizations have not advanced and are significantly behind the times.


Create the Experience. We have seen leading organizations adopt beacon technology and virtual reality to expand their exhibits without having to add a new wing to the building.   However, in the past two years organizations were focusing on building their capital campaigns but not having a roadmap to the future.  This is critical to transforming their environment to one that can easily adapt to the changing consumer.  Much of the creative developments have occurred in zoos where the visitor is placed in the environment to enrich the experience.   We are also seeing this in more traditional performing arts expanding out into the audience.   Adoption of technology in this space has been slow since organizations are still anchored in the past of exhibits and their physical surroundings.


This area has shown the most significant changes and developments because the decisions are easy with minimal risk.  Two years ago, the trend of outsourcing everything from technology, gifts shops, food service, security, and even fundraising was growing rapidly.  This trend is still continuing as organizations learn to focus on what they are good at.   In addition, unemployment has dropped dramatically and organizations located in major metropolitan areas are finding it harder to attract and retain the talent which is not core to their mission (e.g. information technology, security, food service, etc.).  Therefore, the trend to outsourcing continues to grow.  When we interviewed executives in our earlier study who made similar changes, they stated the greatest benefit as being nimbler to changes in the market as well as having greater access to resources which allows them to focus more strategically on their mission.


Integrate into people’s lives and communities. Connecting with people is difficult when the data about your target market and patrons is not accurate.   When we interviewed past participants in our study, 100 percent stated the impeding factor in reaching their audience and staying connected was a poor collection and maintenance of their data.  The greatest opportunity identified for the future is a well-controlled consumer data collection and maintenance process supported by key performance metrics, followed by a targeted marketing strategy.


Manage risks. Although the risks of the market and environment have increased dramatically (e.g. shootings, bad publicity, hacking breaches, etc.) this has always fallen on the back burner of the CFO and CEO’s plate.  Beyond basic internal controls, many organizations are still not properly addressing operational, reputational, and cyber risks/threats.  Many of the participants we spoke to recognize the risk and the need.  However, they stated lack of time and resources to address the issues.   Many expressed that other than a fire drill, they do not have training or response plans to a variety of risks and events which might occur.  Regarding data protection, several organizations referenced back-up services and off-site storage, but 87 percent did not have a business continuity plan to maintain operations in the event of a disaster.


Build lasting relationships. Staying connected with patrons and customers was a key focus of many organizations.  Marketing and development departments stated that in the past two years this has been a key driver to build revenues.   However, there was a mixed bag of results over the past two years.  The most successful organizations combined many of the best practices we’ve mentioned along with market segmentation and tailored communications to keep their audiences connected.  Those organizations which have experienced declining retention rates admittedly stated they blasted their contact database with emails and never truly connected with them.  With the rapid growth of millennial consumers, if organizations don’t build a targeted and segmented marketing strategy supported by strong data and analytics they will continually experience diminishing returns.

This brings us to the new trends which have developed on the path to 2020.   When we circled back to our original survey respondents, there are three contemporary trends which are very apparent:

  1. Consolidating Systems – 78 percent of the organizations we interviewed and surveyed revealed they operated too many systems which were not integrated. Organizations stated they had separate ticketing, POS, General Ledger, CRM, Payroll, timekeeping, expense reporting, and human resource management systems (“HRIS”) to name just a few. This environment has led to the difficulty in managing customer, financial and operational data. It has also contributed to the lack of effectiveness in development and sales.   Organizations are starting to feel the impact of distributed decision making when it comes to technology applications.  One leading and progressive CEO said, “It’s not a system strategy. It’s a data strategy”.   That same CEO is embarking on a consolidation of their general ledger, POS, CRM, HRIS, payroll and ticketing system into one cloud based NetSuite Platform.  He later continued, “All of my data will now be on one platform in the cloud. For all the maintenance, licensing, and hardware costs of the other applications, the project will pay for itself in less than a year.”


  1. Revolutionary & Disruptive – Consumers and market behaviors are changing faster than most companies can keep up with. One emerging trend we are starting to see is organizations breaking down traditional organizational charts. What once was traditional and functional (e.g. accounting, development, marketing, exhibits, maintenance, artistic, etc.) is now evolving into supporting shared services while the rest of the organization is becoming more market segment and consumer aligned.  Traditional functions which are responsible for attracting, delivering and retaining patrons are now being separated and aligned with the market segments they serve.  This is a very revolutionary and disruptive practice to the organization but it has the potential to deliver high impact results as consumers continually seek a tailored service/experience.


  1. Guarding & Protecting Data – It is not a surprise that cybercrime is on the rise. Organizations which manage significant personal and transactional data are at the highest risk. Although a major bank and institution may be the ultimate target for hacking, they also have the financial resources to invest in protection.  On the contrary, a large cultural institution with a large donor database along with an equally large school with student data is a much easier target.   These organizations do not have the financial resources to throw at a problem and therefore need to be smarter on how they address the risk.

As we approach 2020, time will go on and trends will continue to change.  It’s important to recognize markets and the environment change. You should ask yourself if your organization is adapting and keeping up or falling behind.

For more information regarding this study you can contact us at  or +1.312.281.0290  

SAGIN, LLC is a performance driven professional services firm.  We focus on four key service areas to impact change in your organization:  Management Consulting, Organizational Development & Recruitment, Managed Services, and Risk Management.  We believe in listening before we act and collaborate with you on developing solutions which are right for your business.  We Are Different!

Stay connected with us. Join our mailing list.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.