The last few years, the world has experienced a vast number of unprecedented events underscoring the profound uncertainty that defines our times. This backdrop accentuates the critical importance of future studies for philanthropy,  as explained in our Data Innovation Primer on Future Studies. Similarly, in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, “Futurism Is Having a Moment in Post-Pandemic Foundation Strategy,” Eden Stiffman underscores the value of Futurism in philanthropy. Stiffman discusses the use of forecasting tools to help prepare foundations for the future and argues that in the era of unprecedented disasters, grant-makers need to rethink how they plan for the future, especially as they set their strategies and goals for the next three, five or ten years.

As noted in the article, a key challenge identified by Gabriel Kasper, managing director of the Monitor Institute by Deloitte, is that “funders and nonprofits are really good at imagining their preferred futures, but the sector isn’t as good at understanding how global risks and upheavals might affect their work”.

At its core, Stiffman argues that thinking about the future helps philanthropic organizations build resilience and readiness, to anticipate both the desired and undesired outcomes they might face and incorporate both possibilities into their strategies. Using foresight tools, such as signal collection, scenario planning and backcasting, that can help organizations avoid reacting to what is happening, and instead having a solid foundation of possible action plans that will help grantees, grant-makers and the people that these organizations are trying to serve.

Some philanthropic organizations that Stiffmann identifies have incorporated futurism into their activities are:

  • Rockefeller Foundation: Designed a grant-making prize in 2019 that envisioned what food production and consumption could look like in 2050, developing a toolkit to help participants envision the future 

  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Started using “signal swarms” to pay more attention to issues that could affect staffing and grant-making 

  • Omidyar Network: Created an Exploration and Future Sensing unit which helped set grant-making strategies and inform the network’s grant-making programs

Learn more by reading the full article here

Interested in applying specific Futures Studies methods in your work or understanding how the latest technologies can help build more robust images of the future? Read our Data Innovation Primer on Futures Studies to find out here.

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