Making Your Nonprofit More Agile Through Change Management

Author: Meghan Dankovich on 8 February 2013 | 0 Comments

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Meghan DankovichHow well does your organization anticipate, respond to and, when necessary, instigate change? That's where being an effective change manager comes in. Change can take many forms in event fundraising. You might be dealing with external factors, like a declining economy or increasing competition in your space. Or you might be mulling over internal initiatives, like tweaking your operational processes or switching an event's focus from awareness to fundraising.

The Association of Change Management Professionals defines change management as "the application of knowledge, skills, abilities, methodologies, processes, tools and techniques to transition an individual or group from a current state to a desired future state, such that the desired outcomes and/or business objectives are achieved."

Managing change can be hard, as Brien Palmer explains in Practical Tools for Overcoming Human Resistance to Change:

"It's often said that people don't resist 'change' so much as they resist 'being changed.' So the job of change management is clear: In a nutshell, you have to explain why the affected people should want to change, and thereby cultivate readiness instead of resistance."

How can you realize "change management" Zen? Here's some guidance.

It All Starts at the Top

Not surprisingly, instituting change requires strong leadership. You need someone (or several someones) to sell the change to the team in a convincing way. What kind of change is being considered? Why is it necessary? How might your organization make it happen?

Beyond solid leadership, you must have a strong spirit of teamwork. People must trust each other enough to openly discuss the change and debate its merits. And they must be committed to working together — and holding each other accountable — to achieve the desired results.

Four Stages of Change Management

Countless frameworks exist for managing change. Here's a summary of one that I like, from Mike and Pippa Bourne, co-authors of Successful Change Management in a Week

1) Initial concept. Define very clearly what you want the change to be. What's the goal? What are the benefits and costs? What are the likelihood of success and the possible consequences of not changing?

Be sure to determine how you will measure the change and to communicate those metrics to everyone involved. That latter point eventually will allow you to gauge whether the change has been successful.

2) Unfreezing. Describe how you'll get from Point A to Point B. Who will be involved in the change — staff? Volunteers? Both? What needs to be done and by when? What obstacles are likely to arise, and how can they be overcome?

This stage requires leadership in terms of strategic planning as well as training those who will help execute the change. Smart stakeholdering efforts can smooth over potential objections and help transform inhibitors into advocates.

3) Moving: Make the change. What are the indicators that change is happening? Are the barriers, including dissenters, being addressed? Are people receiving sufficient support, coaching and training?

As you start carrying out the plan, you must have a way to communicate progress to the team. Use positive reinforcement, such as celebrating quick "wins." And when encountering barriers, take the time to dig deep and find the root cause rather than reacting to what's on the surface. 

4) Refreezing: Okay, you've gotten to Point B. Now, stop and think: Has the change produced the results you wanted? Are you employing recognition and reward to support the change? Are people sliding back into old habits, or are the new ways becoming ingrained?

Data analysis will help you measure your impact, and a follow-up communication plan will ensure your team is aware of the results (good or bad). Surveys, interviews and focus groups will provide useful feedback and highlight what you could do better.

Whatever framework you choose for change management, remember that change often happens slowly. Be patient. Acknowledge incremental successes. And always be on the lookout for ways to lead your organization through change more gracefully!

"Meghan's Strategy Lab" blog posts are featured monthly. Senior director, fundraising strategy Meghan Dankovich serves as the lead for many of Event 360's consulting engagements, striving to help nonprofits exceed their event fundraising goals. Her expertise includes strategic planning, implementation of qualitative fundraising work and developing successful quantitative approaches for collecting and analyzing event-related data.


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