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Creating Change – A Brave Path Forward for Nonprofits

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Jessica Haynie_headshot_bwVicki Pozzebon Head ShotSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Jessica Haynie and Vicki Pozzebon

Part one of a three-part series.

In the nonprofit world, we talk about change all the time in terms of performance. The question centers around how much change or impact an organization is having in the community. Creating this change is hard work. Just ask any nonprofit executive. But often in order to meet the growing needs of its community or to even survive financially, organizations themselves need to change. If you think creating change in the world is hard work, it’s even harder in an organization with its staff members that are intertwined into the organizational culture.

WebSo how do nonprofits navigate this process of change? It starts with acknowledging that change needs to happen. This can be challenging for organizations, as many fall into the common narrative of, “this is how we’ve always done it.” Further, in order for an organization to successfully implement change, it requires its people to change. But most people are resistant to change – this is simply human nature.

In this three-part series we’ll take a look at how an organization can make the commitment to change, using a Transformational framework that begins in this article with “I” – what am I willing to do make change or what change do I need to make in order to facilitate change in my organization? Then we’ll examine the “We” theme, where the team reflects on how it can work together to lead the change collectively. Finally, we’ll talk about “It” –  applying the work of change to the organizational system. Using this framework, we can easily see where the gaps are in our own thinking, in the team’s work, and in the organization to implement lasting change.

There are key questions that an organization’s leader needs to ask around what is truly the underlying problem and what is the change that needs to happen for the organization to best meet its mission objectives, but the harder questions are for the individuals involved in the organization attempting to make a change.

  • How far am I willing to go to make this change happen? Can you truly dedicate the time, energy, and resources needed? You might need to lean on other staff members to support the process. Do they have the time, energy, resources? Are you willing to ask for the support in your personal life to make the necessary change in the organization? Sometimes home life can be a part of the work/life balance necessary to make change.
  • What is holding me back from making change happen? You start the process of making significant change. You’ve implemented new systems. Suddenly you doubt yourself and pull the memo from your team, asking them to hold off on the new system until further notice. Or, you’ve started on a path to make significant changes within the organization and take the lead to exemplify the change. Suddenly, a rush of guilt comes up in you because you made a commitment to stop the culture of overworking without pay and leave the office at a reasonable hour. Ask yourself what is really going on. There is a very high probability that a wall of resistance will go up somewhere along the way in the process of creating change. Why? Because people resist change. It’s human nature to keep doing what we’ve always done. Perhaps your own fear is holding you back. But taking the first step to be the change you wish to see in your organization is a brave move forward. Maybe it’s your organizational culture that is resistant to the idea of making change and that is impacting you. If that is the case, we’ll be examining that in upcoming articles in this series. Focus on you. What roadblocks do you put in your own way? How can you remove them?
  • How far am I willing to change or transform as the organization changes? As we mentioned above, people need to change if an organization is going to change. Am I willing to let go of things that no longer serve me or the organization? Am I willing to be open to new ideas and ways of working?
  • Am I willing to be flexible? Change takes time and going through change can be an emergent process. When we start on a path, we like to stick to a plan. But sometimes new insights, perspectives, and ideas come up and change the course of the plan.
  • What is it going to take for me to make or commit to the necessary change? Asking this question and writing down a prioritized list of practical things you need will help you implement change and stick to your brave path forward. This could include, but is not limited to, things like I need to practice better self-care, I need to learn to say no, I need to learn how to delegate so that I can dedicate more time to the change that I’m trying to make.

Asking these questions requires creating the time and space to listen and be reflective on where you, within the organization, are really at. Maybe you need a quiet space to sit and think or to perhaps journal. Maybe you need a colleague who is a great listener and can hold the space for you to talk and reflect back on what you’re hearing. Whatever it is that you need, never stop asking the hard questions of yourself and your organization. Furthermore, embrace the change that will not only grow you as a person, but will grow your organization into a thriving nonprofit with a healthy culture that meets its mission and community needs.


Jessica Haynie is a PhD student in Public Administration at the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University. She is also the CEO of Three Stones Consulting, a strategy firm for the social sector. Her strong commitment to the sector is reflected in twelve years of experience in nonprofit fundraising, management, and consulting. Jessica holds an MBA from Syracuse University with a focus on nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship.

Vicki Pozzebon is a purveyor of all things local. She is the owner and principal consultant of Prospera Partners, a consulting firm that designs local economy networks, systems, and developmental plans for businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that put our communities first. She is a skilled facilitator, public speaker, and blogger about all things local. Read her blog at: www.vickipozzebon.com

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