Beyond the Magic Eight Ball - Trista Harris and the Real Future of Philanthropy in 2024


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In the very first episode of season 4, Tim and Kerrin sat down with Trista Harris, President of FutureGood, which is a consultancy dedicated to assisting visionaries in shaping a brighter future. Having worked in the social sector since she was 15 years old, she has spent a lot of time working in places that are dedicated to serving the community, something that she credits her mom for involving her in. Over the years she’s grown in her service, having been a program officer for foundations, working in community foundations, leading Minnesota's community of grant makers among many other accomplishments. She now runs her consultant group FutureGood, and digs into the futurism of philanthropy - looking into what signals of the future exist in the present, and how to act on them.

Understanding Futurism in Philanthropy

Part of the nature of futurism is best put by Trista herself:

“I think the big challenge in our sector is that we don't know what success looks like, we haven't really thought about if we a hundred percent met our mission, what would the community look like 20 to 30 years from now? What would be different as a result of our work? And so we helped our grantees do that. And as a result of that work in the next couple of years, they had 10 legislative wins, which was the most in our organization's history. Things like first in its country, homeowners bill of rights to deal with the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We had alternative teacher certification to diversify our state's teaching force, and then we had marriage equality in the state of Minnesota. So it really lit this spark in me that people that do good for a living, these are the tools that should be in their hands. And it isn't just for professional futurists like me, it's for all of us to learn these skills and implement them in the issues and communities that we care about”

Double clicking on the futurism angle, naturally Tim and Kerrin sought to ask Trista what her predictions would be for this upcoming year in philanthropy and what trends to keep an eye on going forward into 2024. Trista looks this year as one of transformation and change. With all the chaos of democracy in jeopardy, school shootings, and COVID - there is a level of stress in society. And on top of that, fundraising has been a challenge for organizations. It’s a lot of change, one that humans are necessarily prepared for, As she states, “when I talk to leaders in the field, what I often hear from them is I feel like I'm so behind. I feel like I'm so stressed out. If I could just get to the bottom of my email inbox, everything would be fine. What they're not realizing is that this is just the pace of change in society at this moment.” She goes on to say that the human brain is not really made for the world we live in today and it’s no wonder we are all stressed out and wish for calmer days of the past. She makes a poignant statement about futurism and the current state of affairs:

“So I think the challenge for us in the field is that futurism is a set of tools that helps you understand - one, to predict what's coming next and prepare for it before it happens so that it isn't the constant transformation and change that you're responding to. But two, also how to shape the future. So the future is not this bad thing coming towards us. Every decision that we make today decides what the future looks like. And so in the sector, I think it's really important for us to build this futurism muscle mostly for our sanity.”

The Framework of Stop, Look, and Go

Trista outlines a framework that her team uses called Stop, Look, and Go. First is to stop loving the problem. And stop asking our grantees to love the problem, and tell us how bad it is compared to all of the other proposals in front of us today.

Next is to look, and that means looking for signals of the future in the present. She states. “The future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed." She’s gone to other areas of the world where problems are getting solved - future problems in our area of the world are getting solved in other areas; how can we learn and drive value from that in the present?

The last step is go, and it’s a big stretch for people in the sector, as Trista puts it. People don’t want to fail, and the irony is by doing nothing, you are failing them slowly anyway. There is a need to set aside time to ponder the future, as Trista puts it:

“I encourage people to set aside 5% of their time for the future, just a couple hours a week. And during that time, have some Google alerts about the future of whatever issue you're interested in, early childhood education, self-driving cars, rural communities, whatever your issue is. And then when those Google alerts come once a week, spend that time reading the articles and then just imagining what does that mean? What does that mean for our grantees? What does that mean for partner nonprofits? What does that mean for me as a human being that lives in this community and lives in this world? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges that exist? Because it allows you that space to think of a different future.”

Trista, Kerrin and Tim continued to talk more about trends, including the future of AI in philanthropy and considerations that need to be made to make sure it is done responsibly and ethically. Then they got into a rapid fire session on sustainability, equity, cybersecurity, and more. Certainly not to be missed - Listen above or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Episodes of Untapped Philanthropy are released monthly and always shared on the Fluxx blog. We encourage you to subscribe to the Fluxx blog to stay up to date on new episode releases and follow us on social media for podcast excerpts and more!

For a comprehensive list of all Untapped Philanthropy episodes, visit the Fluxx blog, or your favorite podcast listening station, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. 

Download the transcript here.

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