Lead Change in Your Nonprofit
The only constant is change. That’s a cliché for a reason. It’s true. We have access to more information, more quickly than at any other time in history. And that’s just one seismic change that’s occurred over my relatively brief 20-year career. Donors have different expectations. Staff have different expectations. Technology makes us accessible 24 hours per day. Change is ongoing in all parts of our lives and all around us.
In the nonprofit sector, change isn’t just constant, it’s necessary. While the world has improved dramatically over the course of our lifetimes and nonprofits have played a vital role, so many of the changes nonprofits seek to make through their missions remain stubbornly the same. Our models of program implementation and fundraising are rightly in flux. We look to leverage technology to scale and to provide measurable impact in ways unimagined in the recent past. Our donors give larger gifts and expect to be better informed. We’re less reliant on volunteers, and donors act less transactional. Staff expect to collaborate on vision and strategy and not be led in an authoritative command and controlled manner.
Change is happening, and you can lead it—or it can lead you. To lead change within your organization, there are some key activities to focus on.
One of the key tenants in wilderness survival is to maintain a positive mental attitude. While organizational change is not as dramatic as being lost in the woods after a plane crash, the stakes are still high, and this same tenant applies. It will be okay, and you’ll get through it. Stay positive not just for your own survival, but as an example and message to your colleagues. Be the calm captain in the rough seas.
Provide Mechanisms for Participation and Feedback
People expect to be part of the solution and play a role in organizational changes. Providing opportunities for ongoing two-way feedback will ensure change is expected and that everyone feels heard. Structured 360˚ reviews and quarterly feedback sessions are important. However, they must be “real” and not just something you do to check a box. Set a tone that feedback is truly seen as a gift. With a feedback loop permanently embedded within your culture, periods of change will be metabolized more easily. Increase the pace of one-on-one and group feedback sessions as you enter change. You can’t always share all the details as organizational changes evolve but you can be as transparent as possible. The organization should know change is coming and why... over-communicate.
Stay Focused on Your North Star
Tie changes within your organization to your mission. Change for the sake of change never sits well. Change so we can increase the likelihood we’ll create more or better change in the world. Who can argue with that? In other words, you’re not changing your procurement procedures to save money. You’re changing your procurement procedures to direct more funds to achieve your mission.
Determine early in the change process how you’ll measure success. Define these key performance indicators, establish a frequency of reporting and measuring and share these results with all stakeholders in a clear and meaningful way.
Define the important outcomes and stay committed to those. Everything else is negotiable. Be open to input and changing direction as you go.
Craig Shelley (@craigshelley) is a managing director at Orr Group, which provides nonprofits with strategy, fundraising, leadership and management solutions and has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Craig brings an entrepreneurial approach to fundraising, nonprofit management and strategy. Prior to joining Orr Group, Craig served in a variety of positions with the Boy Scouts of America, most recently as the national director of development and corporate alliances. He serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ New York City Chapter and the editorial advisory board for Nonprofit PRO, and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE).