Because I talk about change in the nonprofit sector a lot, I sometimes get inquiries from nonprofit leaders who think they want change at their organization, but actually don’t.
A nonprofit leader might be excited by the idea of dramatically improved fundraising results, or a board who is engaged and invested in the work, or funders who want to step up, but she isn’t willing to do the hard work to realize that change.
I recently talked with a nonprofit leader who was interested in a Financial Model Assessment because he was intrigued by the idea of potential revenue increases. But when I explained that realizing those changes might necessitate other changes — like how he structures his staff, how involved in decision-making he allows the board to be, even how he crafted their long-term strategy — he began to balk.
But the fact is that you simply cannot expect a different result if you continue to operate in the exact same ways.
When I work with a nonprofit organization, my role is to lead a change process so that when I leave, the organization is more sustainable, more engaged and engaging, more strategic and integrated, and ultimately more effective at creating social change.
But significant change is not easy. And for it to truly come to fruition it requires that the nonprofit leader must fully commit — and get her board and staff to fully commit — to creating real, lasting change.
The nonprofit sector is sometimes criticized for being too stuck in its ways. And indeed it can be hard to create change amid a sector that is so consensus-based. Sometimes even the smallest decisions must involve discussion among staff, the board, even funders and other stakeholders.
So if you really want the reality that your nonprofit faces to be different, if you want to find greater financial sustainability, if you want to achieve more program results, if you want to attract more and bigger funders, if you want a stronger, more effective board, you have to commit to real change. And then you have to get others at your organization to commit to real change as well.
I can often tell the difference between a nonprofit leader who is just playing at change, and one who is actually committed to doing the hard work. Ask these questions to determine if your nonprofit is truly ready for meaningful change:
- Are we willing (at every level of the organization) to take a hard look at how we operate and make changes where behaviors or systems no longer make sense?
- Are we willing to have difficult conversations, perhaps on formerly taboo topics, in order to find a better way forward?
- Are we excited enough by the potential rewards of change to work hard to convince skeptics (on the board and/or staff) to come along?
- Are we as an organization willing to invest the time (and patience) in a change process that could take months or years to fully realize?
- Are we willing to open everything we do as an organization to discussion and analysis?
If you can find a critical mass of board and staff members who can answer yes to these questions, then your nonprofit is a candidate for true change and a more effective and sustainable path forward.
Because change is really hard. But with effective, meaningful change can come great reward.
Photo Credit: Pat Ronan
Over the past few weeks I’ve started using video more often on the blog. My plan is to do even more of that. So today I’m excited to share the below video with you (click here to see the video if you are reading this in an email.) It explains how I help nonprofit organizations, of all shapes and sizes, navigate dramatic change in their organizations so that they can raise more money, engage their board, achieve their mission, and ultimately create more social change.
I have launched a Social Velocity channel on YouTube, and I plan to add additional videos and even video blog posts in the coming months. I encourage you to check it out and subscribe to the channel if you are interested.
I believe very strongly that in order to fix a broken nonprofit sector we must change how things are done. But it is not enough to change only the larger structures of the nonprofit sector (IRS regulations, public perceptions about “overhead expenses,” funder requirements). Individual nonprofit organizations must also change how they operate in order to survive in this dramatically changing environment.
At Social Velocity, the nonprofits I provide consulting to have all reached some sort of inflection point. They have realized, for whatever reason, that they can no longer continue on the way that they always have. They have decided they must revamp their financial model, restructure their board, dramatically grow their services, or chart a new strategic direction in order to stay relevant and achieve their missions.
But it’s not enough to want change, or for just a couple of people within a nonprofit organization to want it. Over the many years I have been working with nonprofits, I have realized that in order for change to really happen, there must be some key building blocks in place:
- A Champion. There must be someone in a leadership position in a nonprofit who is a cheerleader for change. It could be the executive director, the board chair, or a board member. And that person must have the respect and trust of a majority of the organization. If the champion for change is a sidelined board member, an executive director on their way out, or a disgruntled staff member, the effort for change will go nowhere.
- A Need for Change. The champion for change must be able to describe the need for change. There has to be some urgency and a described end goal in order to rally others to the cause for change. It may be that a major funding source is going away, or board members are resigning, or client need is dramatically increasing. The champion for change must make a case to the rest of the organization about why change must happen, and why now.
- Critical Mass. Once a key champion starts pushing for change they must rally enough board and staff members behind the idea. There must be enough people who also want to see significant change in the organization in order to force it out of inertia.
- Funders of Change. A nonprofit could have an entire board and staff ready and willing to change, but without at least a few funders who also believe in that change and are willing to invest in a process for making it a reality (a new financial plan, a growth plan, a board recruitment process) they won’t get very far. You need to identify a few funders who love what your nonprofit does and can be made to understand the need for change now.
- A Navigator. I’m probably biased, but I believe that you need someone to guide the organization through significant change so that it doesn’t collapse in the middle. Without an outsider who understands the change that needs to happen and how to lead the organization there, a nonprofit can easily fall back into their normal ways of doing things. If a nonprofit is really committed to making a serious change, then they need to invest in a competent guide to get them there.
The convergence of the public, private and nonprofit sectors, an economic restructuring, and increasing competition for dollars, among other things, have combined to make change in the nonprofit sector a necessity. Those nonprofits that realize that business as usual just won’t cut it anymore and begin the work of changing their organizations to meet these new challenges are the ones that will survive and thrive.
To find out more about how I help nonprofits navigate change, check out my consulting services.
Photo Credit: Best and Worst Ever
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Beth Kanter. Beth is a leading thinker and innovator around social media for nonprofits. She writes one of the longest running and most popular (and one of my favorite) blogs for nonprofits Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. She also co-authored the seminal book The Networked Nonprofit with Allison Fine in 2010, which gives nonprofits a road map for understanding the brave new world of social media and how to embrace it. I often recommend the book to my clients because it provides a completely new way of understanding how nonprofits can and should fit into the wider marketplace. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Because the nonprofit sector is undercapitalized it is highly competitive and individual nonprofits tend to isolate themselves and become “fortresses” as you call them. Yet what you are arguing for, a networked or connected mentality, is a huge change for a risk-averse sector. How realistic is it to think that the majority of nonprofits will embrace this change? What will convince the majority of nonprofits to change?
Beth: That’s a great question. I’m suggesting that nonprofit shift from a scarcity mentality to embrace abundance. It is a much less exhausting way of working, plus it is more sustainable. Here’s more, here and here.
Nell: For those nonprofits that haven’t yet recognized social media as a tool for achieving their mission, what do you think is holding them back? What are the hurdles that keep them from a networked approach?
Beth: Risk adversity – issues around organizational culture or changing the way they work or deliver programs. Here’s a recent example from the classical music world. Nonprofits need to establish a social media policy, there’s more here.
Nell: One idea that you propose is that nonprofit boards use social media to get those outside the organization to contribute to the direction and strategy of the organization (online board meetings, etc). This is a radical idea in a sector that has historically kept their board exclusive and elusive. What is the value of a more disbursed form of leadership, and can it work for every nonprofit?
Beth: It can work, but the nonprofit culture and way of working has to be open enough to accept it and do it. The value — better quality programs, ideas, potential revenue, and more. More here and here.
Nell: What does a networked executive director look like? Or does the whole understanding of the nonprofit executive director need to change as well?
Beth: Wow, that is such a good question! The big thing that needs to change is that ED’s need to work with a networked mindset, a stance toward leadership that prioritizes openness, transparency, relationship building and distributed decision-making, more here.
Nell: What do you think will happen to those nonprofits that don’t move toward a networked approach?
Beth: There will be degrees of networked approaches, but this approach helps nonprofits remain relevant so they don’t need to over think.
Nell: For those nonprofits who have embraced the ideas of the networked nonprofit, what’s the next frontier? What do they need to be doing, thinking about, or experimenting with next?
Beth: Master the networked approach and the next thing on the horizon is the anytime, anywhere nonprofit – the impact of mobility – not just the use of smartphones, but the idea that we’re no longer tethered to a screen.
In the lifecycle of any nonprofit there comes a time when something needs to change. Call it an inflection point, a resetting, a fork in the road. I see it all the time. Someone in the organization takes a step back and realizes something just isn’t going to work anymore. It’s a critical point. It’s the point at which you decide whether you are going to take the leap and make this a year of real change.
When that moment comes, and you feel the urge to really do things differently, don’t shy away from it. Take the leap.
Here are eight of the most common nonprofit inflection points and how Social Velocity can help you seize the opportunity they present:
- Board and staff are floundering and don’t know where the organization is going:
- Everyone is fed up with fundraising
- Your approach to a community problem has become too narrow
- Your board is not helping to move the organization forward
- You can’t effectively articulate your nonprofit’s value to the community
- You need money to strengthen the organization, but don’t know where to look
- There is a much greater need for your nonprofit’s programs, but you can’t afford to grow
- You’re worn out and need to be inspired
- Read the Social Velocity interview series with social innovators
Photo credit: besar_bears
One of the things I love about my job is that I can spend some serious time reading and thinking about the many conversations happening in the evolving world of social innovation. I am continually amazed by the thought-provoking things that happen out there in philanthropy, nonprofit innovation, impact investing, social entrepreneurship. I think particularly because of the nascent nature of the social innovation movement, definitions and approaches are constantly evolving. People are constantly pushing the boundaries, stretching our world views, defining new territory as they go. It’s all very exciting.
I love to have my thinking challenged, especially by smart, articulate, thoughtful people. I’m assuming you do to, so to that end, here are the blog posts, reports, videos, and articles that have caught my eye, expanded my thinking, inspired me, or pushed the boundaries for me in the past several weeks:
- What Nonprofits Can Learn from Coca-Cola
- Foundations With a Limited Life
- Blackbaud’s State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey Results
- Exit Strategy and Exit Strategies for Social Entrepreneurs (two different takes on a similar topic)
- Txt if by Land, Tweet if by Sea
- Not Your Father’s Foundation
- Keep it Simple (Tips on simple nonprofit evaluation)
- A Different Kind of Philanthropy
- Straight Talk in Mixed Company: A Plea for Across the Aisle Conversations about Overhead
- Why Running an Effective Charity is Like Flying a Fighter Plane
- Four Questions to Determine if a Nonprofit is Ready to Change
- Transforming Failure Into Success
- 50 (More) Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits
- Voting to Donating: Social Psychology Reveals What Moves Us
That’s my list. What got you thinking this month? Add to the list in the comments.