Nonprofits contribute around 5% to US GDP, and account for about 10% of jobs. Like some of their lesser known for-profit cousins (public benefit corporations, for-profit social entrepreneurship firms), nonprofits are formed to provide social, political, environmental, or spiritual benefits in addition to any economic benefits they may deliver, and many are funded substantially or primarily from philanthropic contributions. As with for-profit startups, small non-profits may be launched in larger numbers on the way out of economic recessions. Whether this is true or not, such firms are obviously dependent on the size and strength of economies.
Like education and health care, nonprofits are presently also growing faster than the overall economy in eight of our wealthiest countries, and now contribute over 5% to GDP in six nations. For more, see Global Civil Society and Volunteering (2013). If global science and technology, economic wealth, connectedness, resiliency, transparency, and social justice efforts continue to accelerate in coming years, as I would predict, in the next two decades nonprofits may grow to double their current economic and political influence (10% of GDP, 20% of employment) in the US and other leading democracies. Star Trek’s prediction that “we won’t need money in the future” still feels far too utopian, but a world where substantially more of us can pursue interests that don’t involve directly generating a profit seems right on the money.
Whether all our coming wealth will lead to more or less income inequality in coming decades is a question of economic justice, to be addressed politically in each country by the interactions of governments, lobbies, voters, and activist nonprofits. For nonprofits working on income equity, see the centrist National Bureau of Economic Research (US) and Equality Trust (UK), or many left-wing nonprofits. For nonprofits working to ensure that economic growth and entrepreneurial freedom continue to grow, see the centrist Council on Competiveness, the Kauffman Foundation, or many right-wing nonprofits. No matter your social issue or political bent, you can almost always find a nonprofit addressing it, or start one if none exists.
As with for-profits, you’ll have a very different work experience depending on whether you join a large (500+ employees), mid-size (100-500 employees), or small (under 100 employees) nonprofit organization. Large foresight consulting nonprofits include Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) like MITRE (founded 1958, 7900 employees), and top sci-tech and policy think tanks like SRI International (1946, 2500 employees) and RAND (1948, 1700 employees). Mid-sized foresight leader nonprofits include think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Security (1962, 220 employees), the Rocky Mountain Institute (1982, 100 employees) and media companies like TED (1984, 100 employees). Smaller foresight nonprofits include consultancies like Institute for the Future, the Institute for Alternative Futures, foresight development organizations and professional associations like The Millennium Project, the World Future Society, most of the associations professionalizing and networking practitioners of the Twenty Foresight Specialties, and other nonprofits listed in Appendix 2 and at GlobalForesight.org.
If you can’t find a nonprofit working on your passion, consider finding one that would be a good fit and proposing your issue as a new initiative, or joining one and proposing your initiative once you’ve gained credibility as a great employee. If you really want to be an entrepreneur, consider starting your own. The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model, David La Piana (2012), can help with the latter path. With our newly global social networks and crowdfunding platforms, it has never been easier to find both fans and funds. But before you launch, look for a great partner (or several), test out potential customer response to a specific business model, and make a good initial plan. Organize your plan around a particular product or service that you strongly believe philanthropists or customers will fund, and be sure to test that assumption with frank feedback from potential funders and customers.