Balancing stability with the need for change

Jeffrey W. Steed
Jeffrey W. Steed

Jeffrey W. Steed

Change often leads to fear because of the unknown.

Change can threaten us socially, as it may impact our relationships; economically, as it may change our financial stability; and psychologically, as it may cause us to question our personal ability to be successful in the new environment.

Even with many factors working against change, nonprofit leaders must search out those sacred cows in the organization that impede progress toward achieving the underlying vision.

The slaughtering of those sacred cows is crucial for the sake of clearing the way for the adaptation and overall organizational effectiveness.

However, change must be approached with grace in order to help maintain a needed level of organizational stability.

Any nonprofit can face sacred cows in the form of leadership styles, organizational culture, operational processes, technological systems, staff structure, job descriptions and other areas.

It is the nature of an organization to become comfortable with its own existence, and that causes it to resist change in a changing world.

Whether that change takes place because of economic, political, legal, competitive or social factors, change happens. It is a matter of leadership responsibility to prepare and lead organizations in the dynamic existence of change.

The following steps can help nonprofit leaders approach change responsibly:

Prepare for change

Plead the case for needed change before the organization’s board and staff.

State the key areas that need change before the board and staff and ask for their input.

This step helps a leader demonstrate a level of grace by involving others in the process and help others realize that the leader has not gone rogue within the organization.

Develop the plan for change 

Organize the areas for change, the priorities for change, and the methods for change into a logical framework.

The overall framework for change needs to be incorporated into an organization’s strategic plan. This will help ensure that needed change occurs now as well as into the future due to the longer-term nature of a strategic plan.


Work with staff to execute and monitor the elements of change that are embedded in the ongoing implementation of the strategic plan.

Communicate the progress of those elements, along with the rest of the strategic plan, to the board and staff.

The aggressiveness of needed change depends upon the state of the organization.

For healthy organizations, change can be implemented at a steady and more predictable pace.

For organizations needing life-support, change must happen at an aggressive and heart-reviving pace to attempt to save the organization.

Without incorporating an openness to change into an organization’s DNA, the nonprofit leader is doing a disservice to the organization because he or she is not preparing the organization for survival in the future.

Specifically, he or she is not developing an adaptable organization that can effectively deal with change as the world around it evolves.

Change is inevitable. Leaders must slaughter an organization’s sacred cows with grace to clear the way for needed change and to further make an impact in its underlying reason for existence.

Jeffrey W. Steed is Vice President of the Arkansas Baptist Foundation and Christian Ministry Services.

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