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Six trends have implications for nonprofit recreation and leisure services providers

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Recreation and Leisure, Second Edition by Human Kinetics.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

Based on research commissioned and released in 2009 by the James Irvine Foundation, as conducted by La Piana Consulting, several trends serve as both challenges and opportunities for the nonprofit sector ( These trends include demographic shifts, technological advances, networks enabling work to be organized in new ways, rising interest in civic engagement and volunteerism, and blurring of sector boundaries. In addition, issues of trust and accountability remain an ongoing trend that requires the attention of nonprofit leaders and managers.

Each of these trends has direct implications for nonprofit recreation and leisure services providers. For example, as communities change and grow, many will find that the majority of their citizens are from ethnic minorities. Sweeping demographic changes also mean that nonprofit providers must make adjustments to stay relevant if they want to make a broad-based impact. This trend also speaks to the need for managing staff across generations in the workplace if organizations are to be successful. Honoring their historic traditions as they change structures, processes, and programs to welcome new and diverse populations to their organizations presents both challenges and opportunities. This tension between exclusion and inclusion cuts across many demographics including race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, and physical abilities. Using history as a predictor of the future, the nonprofit sector in North America will be composed of organizations that change, some that remain static, and some that are created anew.

The use of social media, online giving approaches, and other technological advances presents nonprofits with new ways to reach stakeholders, tell their stories, and engage citizens in their efforts. The opportunity for collaboration in response to marketplace challenges addresses the need for networks that enable work to be organized in new ways. Only the rare nonprofit can afford to operate its programs without regard for other providers of similar services, be they government, nonprofit, or business providers. Issues of pricing, marketing, and consumer choice suggest that the successful nonprofit of the future must use businesslike principles without abandoning the core public service mission that earns its tax-exempt privilege. A call for greater civic engagement and volunteerism among citizens to engage actively in the process of citizenship is prevalent across many communities. It is through nonprofits that people will frequently find their place to engage by focusing their time, money, and know-how on causes that they care about.

Blurring of the lines that demarcate the sectors is a trend that directly affects the recreation field. For example, during the economic downturn of the latter years of the century’s first decade (2005-2010), nonprofits were called on like never before to assume responsibilities previously provided by government. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, the Parks and Recreation Department issued proposal requests to area nonprofits interested in operating and maintaining more than a dozen city facilities that had been closed because of budget reductions. Increasingly, networks of organizations across sectors (government, business, and nonprofit) are called on to work together to provide a common good.

At least one final trend worth amplifying concerns the issue of trust and accountability. If nonprofits depend on the charitable giving of time and money to assure the success of their missions, then such organizations must be led and managed effectively. Although other sectors also face accountability issues, the special trust held by nonprofits as stewards of philanthropy makes this issue especially important.

Learn more about Introduction to Recreation and Leisure With Web Resource, Second Edition.

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