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  • Writer's pictureRadina Stereva

Key Trends and Innovations in the Civil Sector for 2024: What Changes Can We Expect?

How non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operate and engage with society has changed dramatically in recent years. Digitalization and innovation are two major themes that have emerged and become important. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed rapid progress in this area. One example is the growing usage of shared project management systems and remote working due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Furthermore, software solutions for online meetings and e-voting have become vital tools for meetings, information exchange, and decision-making in organizational settings. Even NGO board meetings, including voting and decision-making, can now be held online.


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Another trend is the growing importance of civil society and citizen participation. In recent years, there has been a push to include individuals more actively in implementing projects and activities. Online platforms and social media play an essential part in this effort, allowing individuals to share their views and proposals for changes in an accessible, direct, and timely manner. At the same time, organizations increasingly rely on volunteers to help with social impact programs.


 

The complexity of the issues makes NGOs directly involved in the problems they work on. For example, an increasing number of organizations working on poverty or women's rights are realizing the link with the issue of climate change and are now covering both topics in their work. The intersectionality between women and the poor, without them being the main causes of the climate crisis, leads donors to make combined grants and look at the problems and their solutions through an intersectional approach. An example is the Bulgarian Women's Fund, which, along with supporting equality and women's rights, also provides grants focused on climate justice. With increased attention to environmental issues and social inequalities, CSOs try integrating sustainable practices to address complex and interconnected problems.


Finally, social media and communication channels play an increasingly important role in the work of NGOs. Social media is actively used to draw attention to issues, build knowledge on a topic, discuss CSOs' solutions and ways of working, and mobilize support from the public. Increased social media campaigning is combined with creating active online communities through forums, chats, and virtual events, which contributes to broader citizen participation and engagement in the work of activists.


These examples illustrate how recent years have changed how NGOs work and interact with society, adapting to new environmental conditions.


2024 Trends To Expect

Exploring the Applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Development




NGOs are actively implementing technological innovations, such as generative artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence has always been a part of the work of NGOs, in one form or another, such as chatbots for easier and faster assistance, automatic translators, etc.. Still, in recent months, it has become like a personalized assistant for various activities. As Instrumentl's blog points out, artificial intelligence tools are rising. Two examples from the article:


  • Grant Proposals written using Artificial Intelligence: Regardless of our principled position, artificial intelligence tools for grant writing are being developed and actively promoted. This speeds up the process of generating grant proposals. This technology allows us to create proposals more quickly, which can be easily tracked and edited to meet the requirements of funding bodies. While AI saves time, the responsibility still remains with us to create an authentic and well-founded project idea.


  • Integrating artificial intelligence into operations: NGOs are adopting innovative technologies such as chatbots and AI analytics to optimize tasks, improve communication, and provide actionable data. By using such tools, organizations can increase the efficiency of their processes and provide better support to their team and the execution of different projects simultaneously.


 
At the Impact Drive Foundation, we follow trends in AI?

As part of our initiative to develop digital cause communicators, we included the topic in some DigiComs modular courses.

In the module "Communication Management" with lecturer Fani Bachvarova, we advocated a series of tools for creating text and vision using AI. Other tools besides the famous OpenAI were mentioned, which can help us generate texts, structures, ideas, and images. AutoDraw is an application developed by Google that uses artificial intelligence to quickly recognize sketches drawn and turn them into more attractive and professional-looking photos. Another helpful tool is Captions.ai, which uses artificial intelligence to generate automatic captions for video content. This tool is handy for producing exciting video content and social media.

 

Using Social Media Strategically:


Like everything around us, how we receive and perceive information changes. The reasons are many: a busy lifestyle, lack of time, the desire to multitask, the difficulty of sustaining attention, and the bombardment of information from everywhere.


Social media trends for each platform change rapidly daily, and the principle of "one content for all" no longer works. To engage their diverse audiences on social media, NGOs must invest time in developing proper content planning and channels. Knowing your audiences, it seems, has never been more critical. One of the important tasks facing cause communicators today is to customize the same content for different social networks according to the demographics of the respective group to engage them more effectively. This trend is also present in DigiComs, where we have set up two modules focused on social networks.



Organizations must continually explore new strategies to garner support. Generation Z is actively entering the workforce and has brought significant changes in sales and donation approaches. To adapt, organizations today must experiment with influencer collaborations, podcasting, joint events with other NGOs, and more... Instrumentl shares an example of this as well: In a recent campaign, the National Kidney Foundation collaborated with leading Instagram creatives to raise awareness of kidney disease risk among 33% of U.S. adults. The campaign includes educational content about kidney problems and encourages followers to participate in a "kidney quiz." The campaign featured 45 artists and reached over a million Instagram users, generating 675 comments, 20,000 post engagements, and 15,000+ likes.


A Bulgarian analog with a similar cause is the Run2gether marathon, an important forum for promoting inclusion and diversity through running and other sporting activities. JAMBA provides the funds and resources to run the mini-marathon and associated charity initiatives to support community needs and offer more vocational opportunities for people of different abilities. This includes funding the adapted career hub in the Lozenets neighborhood and supporting people with different skills.


We at Impact Drive used this approach in our What Women Want campaign by partnering with the People of Sofia platform to survey the needs of women who care for others.


Using experts in a particular field


A growing number of people are moving into consultant roles, even with their previous employers, according to Forbes research. Using freelance experts in the nonprofit sector is changing how such organizations seek and apply expertise. Rather than maintaining permanent staff for the various functions they need, larger organizations increasingly turn to consultants with specialized expertise for temporary or project needs, allowing for flexibility and agility in teams. This hiring model allows organizations to optimize their costs as they do not need to maintain permanent staff for each type of specialized activity. Consultants can contribute to collaboration and knowledge sharing by providing fresh ideas and perspectives for a specific project with a different marketing campaign or bringing specific expertise needed at certain times or projects.


This tactic is not new in Bulgaria's NGO sector and is used by various foundations and associations. An example of our work is our collaboration with Ravni BG, which chose to hire a digital communicator to manage its social media within its project instead of a permanent one.


A further trend is the search for synergies between providing specific expertise and corporate social responsibility or employee motivation in large companies. So-called pro bono support aims to engage professionals in the business sector who provide expert support to causes and civil society organizations. It is a win-win model where NGOs get high-quality expertise for free and a new perspective, and business sector experts experience job satisfaction with a sense of purpose and the opportunity to contribute to a cause, as well as the psychological benefits of changing routines and the feeling of doing good.


These trends underscore the need for flexibility and adaptability in today's work environment and focus on a hiring model that supports nonprofits' goals and missions while optimizing their budgets.


The article was prepared by Radina Shchereva, Digital Communicator at Impact Drive


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