Philanthropy vs. Disruption: Talent & Digital Strategy Key to Survival

A diagram of houses, roads, and trees on a green hexagonal background.

Community Foundations are complex entities with many moving parts, whether small and rural with few staff, Donor Advised Fund nonprofits tosupport, or the large urban counterpart.  

Looking closer at the mandate, structure, policies and procedures, the real functional parts appear: part financial institution, community organizer, fundraiser, program deliverer and grant maker.


While participating in recent philanthropic events, (Philanthropic Foundations Canada, Technology Affinity Group), Grantbook listened to Community Foundation stakeholders share stories of complexity, disruption and needed change.  

There are daily transactional complexities like preparing Donor Advised Fund Statements.  There is new competition as the Community Foundation is forced to compete with CSR programs and social investment products to provide the “doing good” investment vehicle.  Finally, the growing technological disruption is impacting our economy and large groups of workers.

Dr. Emmett Cason (Silicon Valley Community Foundation) highlighted the key leadership challenges facing Community Foundations during his thought provoking speech at the Vital City Shift Event (hosted by Calgary Foundation):

Leadership must recognize and have acute awareness that technology disruption will require a philanthropic guidelines shift (as self-driving trucks may eliminate the need for long-haul truck drivers); Leadership must embrace the mindset of acting local and global simultaneously to account for our increasing human connectivity, be it technological or epidemic (as seen by the outbreak of Ebola in Africa with its potential to spread to our local communities).

Talent & Technology at Community Foundations

The examples of disruption caused Grantbook to pause and conduct an assessment of the Community Foundation landscape. In December 2016, we analyzed publicly available data on 30+ Community Foundations (33% Canadian, 63% US). With $19 billion under management, a median asset size of $520 million and 1,113 staff members organized within seven departments (see table below), Community Foundation’s are complex machines.

However, we’ve heard firsthand that there is a gap, in people, process and IT investment that meets the future wants and needs of Community Foundation staff.

Considering all the events they host, grantees they convene, funds they raise, research they produce, grants they provide, fundholders to cater to, and collaborators they have to work with, Community Foundation’s get a lot done despite minimal discretionary resources to invest in expensive technologies or unproven methodologies. However, we’ve heard firsthand that there is a gap, in people, process and IT investment that meets the future wants and needs of Community Foundation staff. Can this gap continue?

This gap is most evident when looking at existing Community Foundation organizational structures and talent (skills) represented.  The chart below depicts the 7 typical functional areas of a Community Foundation.

A diagram of different functional areas in a community foundation.
Seven typical functional areas of a Community Foundation.

This simple chart tells us how heavy the workload and investment is for the functions, Finance and Granting & Investments, and how sparse the attention is on community insights through creative, data and technology talent.

A Cross-Sector Analysis

GrantBook’s innovation strategy is based on the power of observation from within and outside the sector, leading us to understand how other industries and companies have responded in talent & technology management to similar disruptions, competition, and transactional complexities.  Thus, Grantbook developed the following method of inquiry:

  1. Industries - What other industries are undergoing substantial and rapid change?
  2. Companies - What are the companies that are leading the disruption?
  3. Teaming - How are they building their teams & attracting top talent?
  4. Skills - What is one example of a job description that is reflective of their innovation?

Our inquiry revealed that Community Foundations have the opportunity to apply some of the lessons learned to remain relevant and stay ahead of disruption.  Other sectors are leading the change required to meet the disruption head-on in order to deliver on their strategic mandates.  Some examples are given below for the travel, health, education and other sectors.

Career pages and job postings reveal some clear trends for talent including new terms like “insights”, “prototyping”, “agile”, “experience”, “data”, “user”. In the chart below, disruptive companies and their recent job postings are highlighted (December 2016)

A sample table of different popular up-and-coming job descriptions for modern digital talent.
Disruptive companies and digital talent.

The research shows that companies are hiring and designing their organizational structures, to build for life in the fast lane, a lane full of disruptions.

Fighting for Talent

There is a whole new set of sought-after jobs such as User-experience DesignersData ScientistsScrum Masters, and API specialists that are being gobbled up. For instance, there are nearly 130 positions for Scrum Masters/Agile Consultants on LinkedIn alone:

‍Scrum and Agile methodology makes its importance known on LinkedIn job boards.

The Future of the Community Foundation

What does this all mean for the Community Foundation movement? 

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Should boards invest – with the same urgency as banks – in FinTech innovation? (See Scotiabank's Digital Factory
  • How can Senior management reimagine their talent and digital strategy to support a digitally enabled, creative team? 
  • What opportunities are there for existing frontline staff to upskill to thrive in 2017 and beyond?

Why? Growing assets through fundraising might help. Automating systems may deliver efficiencies. Investment strategies that outperform the market could do the trick. But highly engaged – and digitally empowered – teams will win the day.  

But highly engaged – and digitally empowered – teams will win the day.  
‍The ethos of the Scotiabank Digital Factory reflects how all organizations must adapt to overcome the ongoing technological disruption.

‍Job listings on the Scotiabank Digital Factory website showcase the top digital talent in demand across sectors today.

Anil Patel

Co-Founder, Futurist & Design Thinker

Sector Trends, Future of Work, Design

With more than two decades' experience in philanthropy and technology, I have written, reviewed, reported, and/or optimized the process for thousands of grant proposals. This has provided me with a unique perspective on how to re-imagine the flow of philanthropic information, so that people can devote more time to the most purposeful work. Currently, I'm exploring the Future of Work: specifically, how automation, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) will disrupt most corners of the economy and many pockets of society.

Michelle Moore

Board Member

Strategy, Transformation, Process Optimization

Transformation work is my passion. I have helped former Soviet enterprises transition to a market economy, consulted companies on innovation performance, optimized business processes and implemented new technologies. Today, authentic transformation for lasting positive impact is faster and more accessible to all individuals, organizations and systems. Tapping into the collective wisdom of our teams, through high quality attention & intention, presencing, and embodiment is the new source for insight and innovation.