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Change Management: 3 Steps to Make Change a Reality at Your Nonprofit

By Guest Author June 10, 2022

As a nonprofit leader guiding your staff through changes over the last two years, you might have investigated change management. Change management is a set of tools and techniques your nonprofit can use to build buy-in and support staff members as you lead an organizational change.

The techniques help to grease the wheels of any organizational change. When making a technology change, change management is a process of applying a structured approach to transition from the old system to the new system.

Benefits of Change Management for Nonprofits

Here are some benefits you can expect to see from proactive change management:

  • Decreased resistance – By communicating regularly with all stakeholders and providing them with tools and resources to work through change, everyone involved and impacted is more likely to participate actively in project planning. Change management also helps you get buy-in so that your staff will support the project and gives them a clear reason why they are going through the change.
  • Increased enthusiasm – By proactively managing the organization through change, you’ll give staff a sense of clarity and certainty that helps to reduce stress levels and improve enthusiasm for the project. It can even increase overall job satisfaction for staff members because they are playing an active part in the change instead of feeling like the change is simply happening to them.

With technology changes especially, people may start to worry that the new technology will threaten their jobs. Including them in the process from the start assuages concerns and provides clarity around how they will be expected to learn and use the new technology.

  • Improved focus – The process of change management helps the entire organization stay focused on the beneficial outcomes of the project versus the temporary challenges that change can produce, which ultimately results in a project that stays on track.
  • Sustainability – Proactively managing change through one project helps set the stage for future projects. Over time, it helps build your organization’s change management “muscle” and helps your organization to stay resilient no matter what the future brings.
  • Inclusion – Change management gives your organization a framework with the language and instructions needed to ensure all stakeholders have a chance to voice their viewpoints.

Where to Start: First Steps of Change Management

Three people brainstorming at a white board At the beginning of the project, outline why your nonprofit is making the change and communicate that with your project team members.

Change management relies on a wide variety of tools and techniques. However, there are some fundamentals that you can begin applying now to any project:

1. A “Why” Statement

Create a statement that paints a picture of a future state — the goal or outcome of the project. Think of it as a mission statement for the project. This will help explain why your organization is doing the project in the first place, why you’re doing it now, and keeps everyone moving towards the same goals.

A successful “why” statement should express the vision of the project. It should be simple and not require a lot of explanation. It should not be so broad that people have trouble understanding its significance to their role, nor so specific that it fails to inspire people. Make sure your “why” statement is:

  • Aspirational, clear, memorable, concise, and appealing
  • Easy to communicate
  • Easy for senior leaders to state in a compelling way in less than five minutes

For nonprofits specifically, we have seen successful “why” statements tied to the mission of the organization.

2. An Executive Sponsor

Having a leader at your nonprofit who has agreed to be an active sponsor of your project is critically important for successful change management. While the executive sponsor for technology changes is typically someone who is familiar with technology, for nonprofits that may not always be feasible. Instead, it’s more important that this person is someone who:

  • Is influential within your organization
  • Can keep people accountable for their roles in the project
  • Can help you promote a common vision to keep everyone focused and motivated to complete the project

As you recruit your sponsor, be sure to:

  • Let them know what their responsibilities will be and what expectations you will have from them
  • Create a cadence of meetings and a timeline for them so they understand how the project will be structured
  • Provide them with support, such as suggestions for how they can motivate people as the project progresses

3. Reinforcements

It’s important to reward people throughout the project to keep them engaged and motivated. For example:

  • Bring snacks to project meetings
  • Acknowledge people for great work via email or in staff meetings
  • Offer time off
  • Give out gift cards
  • Host a “project accomplished” party to celebrate a job well done

A top-down view of a laptop, cup of coffee, and a thank you note
Simple acts of kindness to thank your staff for their hard work go a long way in building momentum and decreasing resistance.

Finally, remember that proactive communication is critically important to change management. It impacts every phase of transition, from articulating a vision to easing staff through disruption and helping project team members adapt to the new status quo. So, be sure to prioritize and budget time for regular communication. This could take the form of email updates, group and one-on-one meetings, and dedicated opportunities for project members to voice their concerns and celebrations throughout the project.

More Change Management Resources for Nonprofits

Change continues to accelerate for nonprofits. Change management planning can improve team satisfaction with a new project and reduce the risks involved with change. If you’d like to learn about more techniques that you can start weaving into your next project, here are some additional resources:

About the Author

“Catherine Moore
Catherine is the Digital Transformation Practice Lead for Heller Consulting, guiding higher education institutions and nonprofits through digital transformation efforts. Catherine has served the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, previously guiding the strategic pathway for technology, digital transformation, marketing, and fundraising at the Canadian Cancer Society and others.
She is skilled at understanding and addressing the human concerns that arise during a project as well as the technical challenges that any system transition will bring. She is a frequent speaker at nonprofit conferences and a guest on nonprofit-specific podcasts. Outside of her professional life, Catherine is passionate about STEM education for children and enjoys the privilege of mentoring other women and young professionals.