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Nonprofit CFOs Should Peer Through the Lens of Futurism

Nonprofit CFOs Should Peer Through the Lens of Futurism

When faced with a pandemic, the world shifted, changing long-held policies, social norms, and philanthropic practices that had been thought of as immovable — in many ways having a positive impact on the sector. How do we take that same spirit of change into the future and help ensure that communities in need aren’t left behind?

Trista Harris, FutureGoodRecently, the President of FutureGood, Trista Harris, shared fascinating insights into what she believes will drive the nonprofit industry forward after COVID-19. She presented a session titled, Emerging Post-Pandemic: Being a Future-Focused Leader Now, at the virtual Nonprofit Finance Leaders Forum 2021. Trista highlighted where current trends are headed and how we can build the future we want to see for our organizations, our communities, and our sector.

Trista is a philanthropic futurist and has authored two books. She is nationally known as a visionary consultant to nonprofits, helping them build a better future for their organizations. Before FutureGood, Trista served in executive roles at Minnesota Council on Foundations and Headwaters Foundation for Justice. She has been certified in strategic foresight by Oxford University, earned her Master of Public Policy degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and her Bachelor of Arts from Howard University. Trista’s work has been covered by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Forbes, CNN, the New York Times, and numerous social sector blogs.

Watch a replay of Trista's session: Emerging Post-Pandemic: Being a Future-Focused Leader Now

The journey to becoming a futurist

During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, nonprofit organizations struggled for the revenue to achieve their missions. During this difficult time, Trista Harris read a book called Flash Forward, about how businesses could use the tools of futurism to be successful during times of major transformation. She realized futurism was a critical tool needed in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. So, she brought the concepts back to her organization and the grantees she served. The next year, their grantees had 10 legislative wins — the most ever in one year during the organization’s history.

Over the next decade, Trista progressed in her learning about futurism and began sharing how to use futurism tools to help foundations and nonprofits build a more equitable future. She started her own organization, FutureGood, and wrote a book of the same name. Today, organizations are facing another challenging time with the COVID-19 pandemic. To help them position for success, Trista is giving nonprofit leaders free copies of her book, Future Good—How to Use Futurism to Save the World. Download your copy today and start learning how to apply the tools of futurism to your organization’s mission.

Emerging from the pandemic into a new normal

It’s no secret people prefer consistency and certainty. That’s in short supply right now. Instead, we’re currently living in a pandemic moment — a space between what used to be and what will come. Waiting can be frustrating when you don’t know what will happen next. But Trista explained that the pandemic will ultimately be an amazing time of transformation for nonprofit organizations. Beautiful things will come to the world out of this painful time.

Living in a “movement moment”

As tumultuous as the pandemic has been, it is only one part of the enormous transformation shaping society right now. We’re also living in a “movement moment.” We are in a time of racial transformation. Foundations and nonprofits that are not using a very explicit racial equity frame in their work may unintentionally exacerbate racial disparities. That’s because nonprofit leaders have to interact with a lot of systems that unfortunately create inequality. It is the role of nonprofit leaders to understand their own organization’s role in these systems and find solutions to correct systemic racism. If you can harness the outside pressure that’s happening in this movement moment, you can actually move society forward in change much faster than in other times.

How to predict — and shape — the future

Trista introduced these three steps to help nonprofit CFOs and other leaders move their organizations forward through futurism:

  1. STOP loving the problems. We spend too much time talking about problems — either external areas we’re trying to address with our mission or internal issues like staffing or technology. Instead, talk more about the ideal future you’re building.
  2. LOOK at the rapid change around you. Good change doesn’t come from reactivity. Rather, it’s important to make time to look for signals about the change that’s coming. Read. Study issues. Collect ideas. Spend about 5% of your time on future thinking about trends and things that are tied to your organization’s work.
  3. GO and learn to fail faster. Failure feels dangerous, but the avoidance of failure makes us too cautious and limits impact. It’s only through innovation that nonprofits can bring important change. Trista noted that the nonprofit sector has become too risk-averse, but instead needs to learn to fail faster and then share the mistakes and lessons learned with other organizations.


After introducing the STOP, LOOK, GO futurism framework, Trista went on to share many of the trends she sees today that will shape the future of the nonprofit industry. You’ll want to hear her thoughts about equity, remote work, connectedness, healthcare, and new impact tools for social sector organizations. Watch the replay of Trista’s full presentation — plus five other virtual sessions by nonprofit finance and technology experts — at the virtual Nonprofit Finance Leaders Forum.


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