More than 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus declared, “Change is the only constant in life.” Those of us working in the nonprofit sector know this is true. Significant change in a nonprofit organization—leadership transitions, mergers, shifting strategic plans, staffing shortages, worldwide pandemics, and other disruptions—can have a profound impact on an organization’s ability to raise funds, retain staff, and maximize its impact.
Sometimes the change is out of our control: loss of funding or a new boss leading the team. Sometimes the change is by choice: taking a new job or implementing a new technology solution. Either way, change can be difficult to navigate. However, with an understanding of change management and a toolkit of strategies, you can become more adept at embracing change.
While we often lament change or try to avoid it, decades worth of research indicates that you can be an active player and help manage change. By being intentional, you can make the change process go more smoothly including:
- Quicker adoption by individuals
- Less emotional drama
- Creation of a stronger and more cohesive team
As seen in the J-Curve, there are fewer negative consequences and the process goes more quickly when change is proactively addressed.
(© David Viney 2003-2020. Licensed for re-use with attribution under CC BY 4.0.)
Whether it’s unexpected or intentional, there are three basic components to successfully managing change:
Prepare: Start with Openness
Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, said, “Yesterday, I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” It’s true: change begins with each of us. Individually, we must prepare for and be open to change if we are to accept it and help others manage the transition.
We frequently focus solely on the systems, infrastructure, or activities that need to change, without acknowledging that people are also being asked to change. From the beginning, acknowledge that organizational alterations can stir up emotions—especially feelings of uncertainty or instability. Create space for individuals to voice their questions and concerns. Offer the opportunity to engage stakeholders at every step along the way, such as demonstrating new software or processes, offering pilots for new programs, or asking for feedback. Any means of reaching out and inviting participation in the change process will improve the experience.
Implement: Be a Change Agent
Even if you’re not the one who is formally creating or leading the change, any individual can be a “change champion.” One of the best ways to help manage change is to foster an environment where others can address their own resistance and acknowledge the emotional components of change. Often Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Grief Model” is employed as a “Change Model” because the stages are similar: shock and denial; anger and fear; acceptance; and finally, commitment. Remind folks that this change is likely to stir up some unexpected or unwanted feelings. Paint a vivid picture of the final outcomes to encourage perseverance through the stages. Consider nurturing strategic “change champions” as influencers throughout the organization. With the support of these key individuals, the vision for the project and resources for reflection will remain top of mind for everyone.
Follow Through: Don’t Quit!
Too often, we throw our hands up and say, “The change didn’t work,” when we gave up too easily. Lasting change requires commitment. It must be an individual and organizational priority. Embed change management best practices in the project management process so you’re continuing to reinforce the change and provide relevant tools for the team. Take time to refine the approach as you learn what works well for your organization. For example, if no one on your team will download the trial version of new software to check it out, but many people will attend lunch and learn sessions instead, you might pivot the training component of the roll-out from self-paced to group sessions. Or when the anonymous suggestion box remains empty, try a direct survey or office hours instead. Using feedback during the process to improve the project every step of the way increases its chances for lasting effect.
Gather Your Change Management Toolkit
Arguably, the most important tool in your change management toolkit is your ability to communicate clearly. Transparent and consistent messaging rallies the team around the shared vision for the future. There are a multitude of other change management resources to support your efforts:
- Prosci. A leader in the people side of change, Prosci has free resources on their website, a certification program, and training programs.
- Harvard Business Review. Enjoy a plethora of great articles on various methodologies and case studies about change.
- Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. One of the seminal books about the people aspect of change, this resource by William Bridges provides a strong foundation for any change activities.
Henry Ford famously opined, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Don’t let your nonprofit stay stuck.
Today, you can start to improve your nonprofit’s outcomes by finding ways to prepare, implement, and follow through on changes that strengthen your organization and advance your mission.
This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.