Ideas that work: Commitment to change

Gilman Sullivan and Amy Adams
Gilman Sullivan and Amy Adams

Gilman Sullivan and Amy Adams

[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

In difficult economic times, nonprofits are implementing changes to deal with the results of increased demand for services, decreased endowment value and smaller donations: downsizing, reorganizing, reducing programs, upgrading systems technology.

Impact of change

The key elements of organizational effort are people, process and technology.
Every change we might typically consider affects one or more of these elements. Changes are unsuccessful if the critical resource, people, is overlooked.

Any change to what the organization does, how it is done, who is leading and what the strategy is, affects people, who then become stakeholders.

If you overlook engaging, educating and committing stakeholders, then your change will fail.

When a major change is made, people experience that change much as they experience personal loss.

Once change is announced, there is a downturn in performance. Denial, anger, avoidance and a growing frustration with change can occur.

Decreased performance may return to a previously acceptable level but not to the level required.

It’s a challenge

Changing any major component of an organization affecting how people work creates a need to manage the process of change.

The challenge is to reduce the negative impact on performance, and shorten its duration, while moving the stakeholders toward commitment.

Often, change management is attempted by making an announcement, establishing a committee or ignoring it altogether.

But there is more to it.

Change requires involving stakeholders, a communications plan that meets the needs of those stakeholders, and training to your leadership team for leading change, and handling resistance.

Analyze stakeholders

In order to focus change activities you need to determine which stakeholders merely need to be aware of what is change, those who need to agree with changes, and those who must deliver changes.

To determine this hierarchy, interview a cross-section of the organization, asking about understanding, how they want and need to be engaged and what kind of communications they suggest.


Once the stakeholders are known, the roles clarified and the fears are identified, a communications plan and mitigation steps must be created to address the issues.

The medium, message, target audience, frequency, owner, expected outcome and measurement of success all must be included in a spreadsheet plan.

That plan needs to be shared with management and have ownership and tracking established for execution as well as for review and revision.

The key elements of the plan should be published so that stakeholders are aware of the pending communications.


Managers may encounter people who are resistant to change, so there should be a plan for keeping managers on the path of modeling the correct behavior, guiding people past their personal concerns and embracing the organizational need.

Training managers in active listening, issues resolution and change management itself, is vital to your success.

There are three critical steps: conduct thorough interviews, create a solid communications plan and provide training in leading change.

The key organizational capacity is people.  If you involve your staff, educate and engage them, then commitment to change will follow.

Gilman Sullivan is practice manager for Blackbaud; Amy Adams is principal for Blackbaud.

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