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Navigating Change: Part I – Identifying the Problem and Implementing a Plan

Every organization faces change, and every organization has the potential to grow through that change. In this especially turbulent time with the COVID-19 impacting the world in ways beyond our control, nonprofits—specifically the leaders of nonprofits, should be exploring the following principles related to change management in order to navigate through and adapt to our “new” normal.

There are two primary sources of change: 1.) internal, and 2.) external. Internal change can stem from things like poor communication, low morale, and other operational deficiencies. External sources of change include economic, social, technological, political, and especially relevant at the time of the publication of this blog post, health crises.

Identify the Problem: The way in which an organization responds and adapts to change begins with its leadership. Nonprofit leaders must be mindful of the organization’s purpose and be able to identify both operational and governance challenges. In many circumstances, whether the source of change is internal or external, the challenges will be readily apparent. However, to get to the root of the issue that is holding your organization back from effectively achieving its purpose, getting to the root of the challenge is critical. Keep asking questions, and dive deeply into the ways the challenge is impacting your nonprofit.

Develop a Plan: Once you have identified the challenges, the next step is to develop a plan to address the problems and effectively lead your organization through the necessary change. The plan itself should be tailored to the specific challenge, and, more importantly, to the specific needs of your organization. Click here for more information about developing a plan.

Implement the Plan: After you have developed a plan, implementation can seem intimidating because we tend to be averse to change. The list below includes a variety of implementation tips that will help you to make the most of your plan, tackle the problem, and build an even stronger organization long-term:

  1. Acknowledge that “the old way” may no longer be “the best way” to meet the organization’s needs and serve the intended community.

  2. Get as many people on board as you can. Everyone needs to understand the reason for change and the end goal.

  3. Assess the culture of your organization and determine how you can use it to your advantage to combat the natural tendency to resist change.

  4. Strive to cultivate an environment during the time of change that is accepting of questions, appreciative of success, and altruistic at its core.

  5. Recognize that failure may arise more frequently in the process of navigating through change, and provide encouragement to your board members, executive director, staff, and volunteers so everyone can be resilient for the good of the organization.

  6. Communicate with your donors, especially when the problem your organization is working through is from an external source. Reassure them of your continued dedication to the success of the organization.

Change is not easy for anyone. By identifying the source and root of the problem, developing a plan, and considering the implementation tactics above, you will be able to approach the problem with more confidence and help to ease your organization into a new normal.

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