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