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Navigate Change Management: Set Your Nonprofit Up For Success

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“Change is inevitable, growth is an option.” – John C. Maxwell

It’s no secret that as a global society we’ve had a few changes thrown at us in the last few years. Even aside from a global pandemic, an ever changing landscape of technology and politics have caused all of us to have to navigate change.

Let’s get one thing straight – change is the only constant we can count on. Throughout countless different phases and stages of life as a human being, we know that things will always be changing. Relationships evolve, professional development occurs, where we live, what we do, who we see, what we enjoy, how we act… it all changes. Some of us are more comfortable with change that others. And even if you are comfortable with change, it can still be overwhelming; especially when multiple changes happen at once.

That said, while change may be hard, it does not have to be bad. In many cases, changes help you get closer to the life and organization you want for yourself. As Socrates says, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

So, how can we strategically navigate change? It is one thing to adopt certain principles for how you will navigate change personally, but things get even more complicated and interesting when you are navigating change management as a unit, group, family, or organization.

Navigating Organizational Change: Strategies and Implications

Organizational change is what we will focus on today. How can you help make sure changes are communicated up front and expectations are set for the group so that people feel like they know what is coming and can prepare for it? I’m glad you asked! Let’s dive in.

All About Change

Changes may be made for several reasons. Changes are either proactive or reactive.

Proactive changes are made because an organization wants to do so. Perhaps you see the writing on the wall for a certain way things may play out and determine you should make a change before things get the a more difficult point. Or, perhaps you are aware of a new/different process or product that you believe will move your organization forward, even if the way things are isn’t horrible. This is a proactive change.

If you company is experiencing a constant or newly presented problem, a change will need to be made. If your organization has a pain point that needs addressing, the change is reactive.

Let’s identify the most common changes organizations experience.

  • Strategic Change – this involves changes to the policies and processes.
  • People Change- this involves succession, leadership transitions, promotions, new hires, etc.
  • Structural change – this include teams, departments, and job structure.
  • Technological change – new software and systems.
  • Unplanned change – responding to the unexpected.
  • Remedial Change – when a problem is identified and a solution is implemented.

Change Management 101

Despite whether your change is proactive, reactive, or any of the above six categories, the change management process is relatively the same. It is important to get your team on the same page, create a strategy for execution, and monitor/measure the progress, outcomes, and result of the change.

According to the ADJAR Model, there are three phases to change.

Phase 1: Prepare your Approach

In this phase, you will define what success, impact, and approach to the change looks like.

Phase 2: Manage Change

In this phase, you will plan, act, track, and adapt.

Phase 3: Sustain Outcomes

In this phase, you will review performance, metrics, and outcomes.

Let’s break this down further into simple and applicable steps:

  • Determine The Why Behind The What

Consider the problem or opportunity at hand. Why is this change necessary and why should it happen now? Understanding why a change should occur is the first step in success because it will help you identify the intention, goals, and outcomes for the change at hand. If you know a change needs to happen, make sure you consider your different options. What products are out there that could help you reach your goal? What directions could your organization take? What people should be involved?

  • Pick Your Team – Who is involved and who does this change effect?

Which leads me to the next step; pick your team. If you have identified that a change must take place in your organization, chances are you won’t be implementing that change on your own. Choose your “change team” wisely. Identify who should be involved in this process and what role each member of the team will play. Who are the decision makers? Who will this change impact? How are you getting input from the individuals the change will affect? How do you position your team in a way that plays to their strengths throughout this process?

  • Set Intentions – Strategize and Motivate

As an organization, each decision or change made should be aligned with your strategic goals and initiatives.

Hopefully your team has already identified the goals, visions, and outcomes you are striving for as an organization. If you have not done this this yet, do not pass go. Start with having a strategic goal setting session with your team!

Keep these strategic initiatives as a guiding light throughout the change process. Identify your ideal solution and keep that at the center of the process. 

This is the part where, as a team, you determine which project (i.e. a new campaign, a new service, a new brand) or product (i.e. a new CRM software system, a new timeclock system, a new accounting partner, a new venue for an event) you are going to pursue to help you respond to the need for change and reach a desired outcome.

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

By now you have identified why a change needs to happen, assembled a team to implement that change, and determined what steps to take, you need to make sure everyone is on the same page. When examining how to manage and communicate change, it is extremely important to identify the WHY behind the WHAT. Your team will want to know why a certain change is being implemented.

Be strategic in this answer.

How does this change help your team get closer to a common goal? How does this change benefit them?

If the change is being forced upon you by a change in law, policy, or I don’t know, a global pandemic, try and tie the response to that change into the goal at hand. Each decision you make will either take you closer or father away from your original goals.

When you are communicating the why behind the change being implemented, make sure you incentivize your team. What will they gain from going through this process? How will this change make their job or lives easier or more rewarding?

Not everyone will always agree on the need for a certain change. Try to keep the conversation a two-way street. Nobody likes to be forced to do things without a say in the matter. This does not mean you have to scrap the change if someone doesn’t agree, but things will go more smoothly for your organization if others feel as though they are at least heard. Hearing a team member’s concern will help you know how to address and navigate those apprehensions throughout the change process. Validate their voice and do what you can to keep them focused on how this change will impact the organization.

Create A Timeline

What steps need to be taken to accomplish the change you are seeking to implement? Sometimes changes are simple, like moving the coffee station in the office. Sometimes they are huge, like switching CRM systems or restructuring your organizational chart. If you have a huge change with lots of different steps, try and set dates for when each step should be completed. This will help to keep your team on track, and keep them from getting overwhelmed. Remember, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.


Aside from communicating the goals, timeline, and vision for the change at hand, it is also extremely important to make sure your team has the skills to implement the change. Don’t set your team up for failure by not giving them the resources they need to be successful.

Is part of the change process going to be training your staff or team members on something new? How will you make sure the team has the necessary skills to thrive during the change? What resources will be provided? What questions does your team have that need to be answered? Trying to identify these things up front will help you from needing to back pedal in the middle of implementing a change. Being proactive is always easier than being reactive. Try to brainstorm with your team about what knowledge and skills will be needed to make the change a success and be sure to include such trainings in your timeline.

Measure Your Progress

Clarify what success looks like and try to apply a metric to it. Be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight and if certain routines and processes are being disrupted, it may take your organization a minute to find it’s footing by deconstructing old habits and creating new ones. As you measure progress, make sure the request is reasonable.

Use the metrics to encourage or course correct your team.

Practice Adaptability

Try and anticipate certain snags in the change process. If the unexpected arises, and it usually does, remain flexible and fluent in how you respond. Change can almost always push us out of our comfort zones.

We have often hear the words “comfort zone” but what does it really mean? The dictionary defines a comfort zone as: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

As much as we all like to live in our comfort zone, pushing yourself into “a growth and learning zone” can be practiced and, in itself become more comfortable. Staying within one’s comfort zone is often not sustainable as life is constantly throwing us curve balls.

A growth and learning zone helps us embrace change and stress and navigate the unexpected with more ease.

It is when we feel ill-equipped and rigid in our ways that we skip over a growth zone and go straight into a “panic zone” when something difficult arises. Once in the panic zone, changes become very hard to navigate as our body goes into a maximum stress mode, our emotions get elevated, and our brains shut down and become closed off to solutions and suggestions.

Being rigid during the process of change is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. Being able to be adaptable and in the “growth zone” is crucial during the change process.

Two types of adaptability that can be applied in the workplace are cognitive adaptability and emotional adaptability.

1. Cognitive adaptability 

This refers to decision making. Considering logical scenarios and outcomes falls under this category.

2. Emotional adaptability 

Emotional adaptability acknowledges that we are all different. A big mistake someone can make is to think there is only one right way to do something. People all see the world through their own unique lens and emotional adaptability allows for connecting with different personality types while considering your own.

Being adaptable in the workplace is an entire lesson and topic within itself and includes many things.

Being adaptable will require you to call on your problem-solving skills:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Brainstorm solutions and outcomes.
  3. Select the best solution based on outcomes.
  4. Implement the solution.
  5. Repeat if needed.

Being adaptable will also require a lot of emotional intelligence, keeping an open mind, and dropping personal ego. One of the best things you can do when being adaptable is admitting when you don’t know an answer but committing to learn it.

Don’t Implement Too Many Changes at Once

Sometimes when a system feels broken, it can be tempting to try and change everything about it. Don’t try to implement too many changes at once. This is known as change saturation and it is an extremely common issue in organizations. Change can be tempting when there are lots of problems to solve at once or lots of potential new and exciting ideas. However, making too many changes all at once will create overwhelm, frustration, insecurity, and failure within your organization.

When you have too many new projects going on, it is easy to lose track of who is doing what, what resources are being spent, and whether a certain change is successful. Try and focus on one change at a time for your organization.

If you are already too far deep into change saturation, there are a few things you can do to help get your organization back on an efficient and effective track.

  1. Make a list of all the various projects going on.
  2. Categorize the projects by type. Subcategories for projects could be compliance/regulation, cost reduction, impact growth, sales/donation growth, branding awareness, etc.
  3. Prioritize! What goals are most important. Complete those first. What projects can be completed most quickly to get them off your teams’ plates?

Remember, changes an be small, like moving where the office supplies are kept. Keep in mind that even small changes can add up and lead to change fatigue. Be careful in this area and be sure to check in with your team.

The Hand Off

If the change has been successful, it’s time to delegate who will oversee sustaining that change. Will the team that was involved in identifying and implementing the change be the same team that carries out its result? If not, make sure the hand off is thorough, well informed, and supported. Check in with the team on a regular basis until the change feels like the new natural rhythm.

Get Feedback on Change Management

To conclude, setting goals and constant communication is key to success in most things; i.e. relationships, sales, marketing, and service. Change is no exception. Make one of the metrics of success dependent on your team’s feedback. How has this change improved or inhibited their performance? Additionally, if the change impacts those you serve or your donors and supporters, make sure to check in with them as well. Do they enjoy the new change? What do they like about it? What do they not like about it?

If the feedback isn’t positive, try not to get discouraged. One of the best skills we can learn as professionals, and as humans in general, is resilience and flexibility.

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You do not try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You do not let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash

Change management and learning from mistakes is an important and crucial part of life and is the cornerstone of growth. Remember, nothing is permanent, and even if the change implemented proves to be unsuccessful, you can always make a change.

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