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Organizational Change Management: Strategies for Creating Buy-In

While change may be “the only constant,” we all know change can be challenging—especially when it affects the many different roles and personalities within an organization. How do you create buy-in with all team members and stakeholders?

In our webinar, Getting Back to Philanthropy: Identifying, Prioritizing, and Embracing Change to Move Forward, Foundant’s regional director for community foundations, Brad Ward, talked with leaders from The Foundation for Enhancing Communities (TFEC) and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving (HFPG) about their recent journeys through organizational change.

Both organizations shared stories about changes needed to deliver a new set of outcomes and better align with their goals to meet the evolving needs of their communities. Key takeaways about their change management strategies and the “why” behind their changes may help inform your own journey.

“Embracing change may feel scary, but it’s actually one of the great things we can really lean into for ourselves and for our organizations in the communities we serve.”
-Brad Ward, Foundant Regional Director, Community Foundations

The Foundation for Enhancing Communities

Goal: Break Down Silos to Better Serve Their Communities

Thanks to the internet and smartphones, we’ve come to expect information and answers immediately. Your donors are no different. When they call you with a question, they expect an immediate response. But, depending on the size of your organization, they are often transferred from one department to another in search of the person with the “right” expertise to help—not the experience you want to provide someone with whom you are trying to build trust.

Moving From Siloed to Enterprise Thinking

This scenario motivated TFEC to seek a significant cultural change. Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kirk Demyan describes the goal of moving from siloed to “enterprise thinking”—recognizing that the organization could have greater impact if all team members could collaborate, share resources, and support one another. TFEC sought to shift from a “that’s not my area” mentality to providing every team member access to real-time information that would enable them to answer any question.

Getting Buy-in for New Systems

TFEC understood that enterprise thinking would require an enterprise solution. TFEC began to research new community foundation software that could help break down silos and meet the needs of teams across the organization. Kirk and his team also understood that successful change would require getting buy-in across the organization. Adoption was critical. So TFEC invited their entire staff to participate in the vendor selection process. All staff members were encouraged to attend demos and share their feedback and recommendations.

Creating a Cross-Departmental Implementation Team

Once TFEC had selected a vendor, they created a cross-departmental software implementation team with representatives from all areas of the organization. The team was so successful in launching the new software that it continues to meet every two weeks to support continuous and widespread use of the new system. The team collects feedback from all departments about system needs and manages ongoing projects.

Moving from Self to Service

Kirk joined TFEC 22 years ago as an expert in the organization’s previous software system. After many years, the organization determined that the system worked well for accounting but was no longer meeting the needs of other departments.

While Kirk admitted to initially being reluctant to change, he saw the opportunity to be a strategic partner in the organization. Kirk willingly gave up some control during the shift from silos towards a cross-functional and self-sufficient organization. Kevin Cashman, a global thought leader, describes moving from self to service as the first of five shifts required for “enterprise leadership.”

Like all of you who work in the philanthropic sector, Kirk wants to help people—whether that be the communities his foundation serves or co-workers seeking assistance with the previous software system. However, when the new system made it possible for any team member to pull financial data and reports, Kirk had to redefine what it meant to help within his organization. Instead of creating the reports himself in a matter of minutes, he now takes the extra time to show his co-workers how to generate the reports themselves, knowing this benefits the organization in the long run.

“Embracing change really teaches you a lot about yourself, it teaches you about your organization, and it can inform your own identity and purpose within the ecosystem,” shares Brad.

TFEC’s Key Takeaways

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. Kirk and his team were careful to avoid adopting all the bells and whistles of the new software solution immediately. Iterative implementation prevented team members from being overwhelmed and helped promote adoption.
  2. Celebrate even the smallest wins to maintain momentum, positive energy, and high morale. For example, when the Accounting department reduced the time it takes to reconcile at the end of the month from three weeks to one, the team took time to acknowledge their achievement. 

Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

Goal: Improved Grantmaking Processes

When telling their story of change, HFPG Senior Community Impact Officer Amy Studwell used the analogy of moving from a rotary phone to a smartphone. HFPG was seeking transformative change. Their goals included:

  • Align/track HFPG’s grantmaking with its strategic focus areas
  • Formalize streamlined grantmaking processes utilized during COVID
  • Move processes further along the spectrum of trust-based philanthropy
  • Ensure HFPG’s grantmaking process is inclusive for all grantees—from small all-volunteer grassroots organizations to larger, well-established nonprofits
  • Reduce the administrative burden

The organization’s aspirations required significant changes to its systems and processes.

Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach

Like TFEC, HFPG created a multidisciplinary team to tackle its ambitious goals, including representatives from grantmaking, communications, learning and evaluation, finance, and grants administration. Also, like TFEC, HFPG’s team has remained active much longer than initially anticipated, both because of the scope of the project and the value of the multidisciplinary approach.

The team quickly learned that their project was more complex than simply redesigning their applications and quickly getting them out to grantees. Instead, they were changing practices and challenging some of their risk tolerances.

When describing the multidisciplinary team, HFPG’s senior learning and evaluation officer, Kelly Casey, stresses, “Collaboration was truly the center of this project.”

The centralized team also created working groups that enabled more staff members to participate in evaluating, adjusting, and implementing many new processes. Both the multidisciplinary team and working groups met regularly and had frequent check-ins with leadership so they could move forward with decision-making.

Embracing Feedback

To achieve their goals, HFPG unpacked every part of the grantmaking process—from the inquiry to the application to the review and approval process to reporting. “Every stage of the process was on the table for discussion,” Kelly emphasized, and feedback was critical.

“We asked ourselves why we were collecting information, how we were collecting information, and what language we were using—and asked for feedback on all those pieces,” explains Kelly.

HFPG’s working groups created feedback loops to assess what was working and what needed to be adjusted. They sought both internal and external input through email, one-on-one conversations, focus group discussions, a survey, and application testing. The working groups used the collected feedback to influence their action plans and decisions.

Ultimately, “Feedback altered how the project was brought forward,” shared Kelly.

HFPG’s Key Takeaways

  1. The team approach is critical. 
  2. Enter the process  being open to embracing change that might be broader than what you think you’re embarking on

While organizational change can feel scary or overwhelming, the “pain” of not changing can be worse. However, this “pain” can be minimized with thoughtful change management strategies that invite participation and feedback and enable all stakeholders to understand the “why” and the “how fast.”

“Embracing change can be a beautiful thing and an effective approach to the work we do to improve our community,” shared Brad.

Want to learn more about embracing change? Hear additional insights from Brad Ward in a follow-up conversation on Foundant’s Connected Philanthropy podcast.

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

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