New board members, staff, and volunteers come in full of questions. Why do you do this, what if we changed that…sigh…they don’t know what happened when we tried this or that. They come in full of new project ideas – they don’t know how hard the staff already works. They come in with partially developed bold ideas for big changes – when would we have time to develop the idea? It is difficult. Besides, the organization is doing ok, right? The doors are open. The bills are (mostly) paid. Sure, there are things that could be better – it would be nice to see more people coming in through those doors every day. It would be great if more young people got involved. The organization could use more community support. But the doors are open so why should anything have to change?
Change is hard. It disrupts daily routines, established working parameters, and efficiently set-up work spaces. It creates tension between those who struggle against it and those who push for it. A change once made may prove to be worse than the previous status-quo. Change may bring disquiet to board meetings, donor relationships, and volunteer habits. Change costs money and it is stressful to commit limited funds to an idea which may or may not be successful. Staff time is limited and difficult to reallocate.
But change brings excitement, fresh outlooks, and new opportunities. What is the alternative? “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.” There are all kinds of over-used phrases to describe the alternative and many of them are framed in the negative. Let’s look instead at change from a positive point of view. Start with the organization’s definition of success.
How does the organization define success through its mission statement, vision statement, and strategic plan? Is the strategic plan up to date, with clearly defined goals and objectives, and action steps assigned to specific individuals in order to reach those goals and objectives? Do the staff and board members understand how success is currently defined in those documents and work toward those goals? If so, the organization is moving toward change through a measured, carefully thought out process. Moving toward new goals in a pro-active way comes about when an involved board and staff are involved with and listen to their community and chart the organization’s future course to best serve that community. This is positive change – even if not all the new goals turn out exactly as expected. An organization working pro-actively toward change can accommodate unexpected results, re-evaluate, and set new goals.
If the organization is not moving toward change in a pro-active manner, this may be an opportunity for organizational growth. This is also positive. Schedule time for board, staff and volunteers to brainstorm what success means for your organization. Think outside the box! Set aside the preconceived notions about the way it has “always” been done or what “has to” be done, and foster an atmosphere in which innovative, creative ideas for the organization’s future are able to be articulated, embellished, polished, and potentially implemented. Encourage a process that is creative, positive, and supportive of new ideas and new organizational goals. Allow this to be a time when new board members, staff, and volunteers can safely share ideas without being shut down with stories of negative past experiences. Allow them to help redefine what success is for this organization moving forward and how it can be achieved.
Prepare for change. Share the strategic plan not only with members, staff, and volunteers, but with the community. Create opportunities for asking and answering questions and for the community to make a commitment to contribute to the organization’s success. Communicate the importance of the shared vision of the organization’s future. Encourage supporters to embrace the new definition of success and to contribute to reaching new goals.
Implement change. Change takes mental and physical energy. Change requires an open mind and a willingness to try, evaluate, and re-evaluate. Positive change cannot take place in an atmosphere of fear – reactionary change takes place out of fear. Build a pro-active, creative, and successful organization – one that is not afraid to make changes, evaluate results, and change again.
Each year organizations experience turn over in staff, volunteers, and board members. Each person who comes to our organizations has unique talents, ideas, and insights. Allow them to share their skills, creative ideas, and energy. Allow them to be a positive catalyst for change, a valuable contributing member of the team, a creative and energetic project leader. Don’t be afraid of new ideas – view those new ideas through the lens of the positive creative energy they bring to your organization.