Diversify, Adapt, and Innovate

Editor’s Note: Blueprint 2015 focused its predictions and vision for the future on the United States context even though it drew lessons from global examples. The International Civil Society Centre based in Berlin, Germany has a new report that adds further commentary on civil society organizations.

In 2013, the International Civil Society Centre’s report Riding the Wave identified global trends likely to cause disruption in international civil society organisations (CSOs). We saw political disruption as the space for civic action decreases; technological disruption given the effects the digital revolution has on CSOs; and planetary disruption as climate change affects the CSOs’ missions. These disruptions call for changes in the business models of CSOs.

Throughout 2014, we took this work further and looked at changes needed in existing CSO business models in order for organisations to remain viable. The results are presented in this year’s report Diversify, Adapt and Innovate. View the main messages by watching this brief video.

We looked at the business models widely used, such as Child Sponsorship, Project Support and Campaigning. We also identified evolving models that have the potential to become mainstream in the future, among them Online Brokerage and Social Enterprise. These and other new models call for CSOs to be more entrepreneurial, flexible and open to partnerships.

The pace and direction of change affecting CSOs is hard to predict. Some disruptions may obstruct successful and well-established business models within a few years whereas others may evolve over a longer period. For CSOs to stay ahead in this transition, we make six main recommendations:

  • Strengthen market analysis: Systematically scan the market for data, insights and trends. Be strategic in your response. 
  • Focus on added value: Take a look at each stage of your business processes and the costs involved. Question whether each stage offers significant added value.
  • Test new models: Test and evaluate new business models outside your mainstream business processes. Accept and manage risks.
  • Develop networks and consortia: Engage in strategic partnerships connecting organisations with complementary skills and contacts. Promote your mission above other organisational interests.
  • Accelerate speed of innovation: Strengthen your ability to make quick decisions. Embrace change, streamline governance and delegate powers.
  • Make strategic use of unrestricted funds and reserves: Invest in developing innovative ways of funding your work.  Drive down the use of unrestricted funds for overheads and subsidies to existing projects.

CSOs will need to get out of their tight organisational frameworks and turn themselves into open platforms attracting wider support and delivering stronger impact. In short, they will choose influence over control. The CSOs of the future will develop new forms of partnerships with actors inside and outside their sector in order to deliver major contributions to tackling global issues.

Implementing new business models will require a critical assessment of – and major changes in – CSOs’ organisational culture. In 2015, the Centre will therefore work on Building an Organisational Culture of Change aiming to provide recommendations to CSOs on how to develop their organisational cultures in line with the requirements of a fast changing outside world.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or are interested in being part of this!

www.icscentre.org / [email protected]

About the author(s)

Director of Development
International Civil Society Centre