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Creating Change – A Brave Path Forward for Nonprofits Part 2

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Jessica Haynie_headshot_bwVicki Pozzebon Head ShotSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal 

By Jessica Haynie and Vicki Pozzebon

Part two of a three-part series

The new year is a time for renewal, a time for change. Last month, we wrote an article on the first part of this series, introducing the I, We, It framework for change that nonprofit organizations can consider for creating long lasting, transformational change. Our first article in this series focused on the “I” (individuals, or “what do I need?”) in creating change. In this second part, we focus on the “We.”

WebOrganizations do not create change, people create change. As organizations are a network of people, the transformational framework shows that once individuals address their role in the change that it shifts to exploring the dynamics of the team. Just as there are key questions that a leader must ask themselves, there are key questions that need to be asked of the team. Individuals in the team need to understand how to shift from the I to the We to hold a shared vision, work together, support, and motivate one another. An individual must look at their role within the team. Simply put, most leaders can’t do this work by themselves and need the support of their team.

To understand the change that needs to take place, we suggest starting by identifying the problem. Then ask the question “Why?” five times together as a team to understand the core cause of the problem. This will allow the team to better recognize what needs to be changed. This technique can be used to ask questions from “Why is the graduation rate so low in XYZ school?” to “Why are we struggling to raise necessary funds for our organization?” Asking “why” until a sufficient answer is reached is a great starting point for a team. Now the team can begin asking the following questions of themselves and each other as they go through the transformational framework process:

  • What do we need to make change and move forward, or what’s it going to take? Once the necessary change idea is identified, it’s time for the team to think together about what it needs to do to make the necessary change happen. These could be tasks, a series of meetings, a simple change in communication method, or a whole new set of objectives and strategies. This may involve deeper inquiry into the team’s dynamics. For instance, the team might need to decide that everyone must be completely open and honest for the change to occur and therefore it will take the creation of a safe space for open and honest dialogue to take place. Other things might come up as well. What resources are necessary to move forward? Does the team have the time, staff power, expertise, financial investment?
  • How far are we willing to go? When things get challenging, does everyone pull back and stop? Or is the team willing to slow down, reflect, and keep moving forward? Often when difficult conversations come up or need to be addressed, the team will avoid having the difficult conversation and skip to a solution or take on side conversations between team members. In order for an organization to move forward with change, its team members must be willing to go the distance – together. Just as everyone asks themselves how far they were willing to go, the team needs to come to consensus on how far it is willing to go. In asking how far the team is willing to go, ask if the team is willing to fail in their attempt to make change. Sometimes big lessons come from failures.
  • What do we have within our skill sets now that we can utilize to make the change? What is missing? Sometimes teams need to evaluate if the right people are in the room and it’s important to ask if we are the best suited to our roles now that we’ve decided to make changes? Assess the team’s assets, strengths, and gaps. What or who is missing? Who could fill new or refreshed roles with the strengths that exist? Is there overlap?
  • Are we all in alignment with our mission and vision? Sometimes people come into nonprofits drawn by the mission or vision, but an organization can fall off course or individuals don’t have a strong grasp of the actual mission or vision. Making sure the team is in alignment is key to moving forward. How do you know what alignment looks like? This could require a visioning session for the future and everyone contributing ideas as to what it would look like if the organization fulfilled its mission and vision. Is the team on the same page? If not, find out why the misalignment has happened? What has caused it? Is there a lack of clarity in general?
  • What are the pressing questions and/or issues blocking us from moving forward? This is a self-check for a team. Once a team begins down a path to change, roadblocks can come up and team members need to express them or risk coming to a dead stop in the process. If a safe space has been created for open and honest dialogue to occur, asking this set of questions should be easy and natural. If a safe space was never created or a neutral team member hasn’t emerged as a natural facilitator, it might be time to look at professional facilitation to break through the block in order to move forward.

Creating change in an organization is a lot easier when the whole team is involved and committed to the process. By integrating a transformational framework individuals are empowered and teams come together to embrace change. As teams go deep together to identify the root causes of key problems and what is needed to address these problems, it is important for the team to know how far they’re willing to go, to make sure that they’re in alignment with their mission and vision, and to clearly communicate what issues or roadblocks may be arising. As we’ve mentioned before, change is not easy for people and certainly not for a team of people, but by following these steps the process can be eased and a culture of change begins to emerge in the organization.


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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