Change management articles/resources/tips for non-profits
November 13, 2018 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm chair of the board of a non-profit that is going through a lot of change. We need a strategy that will address the needs of both staff and volunteers, but most of the resources I can find seem to be very corporate focussed. We're probably going to end up hiring a consultant to guide us through the process, but in the meantime, please point me towards any articles/websites etc that you have found useful. Tips/things to watch out for based on personal experience also most welcome.
posted by rpfields to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I went through two large-scale changes in management at two non-profits, and honestly though I've looked I've never really found anything useful. There is a lot of HBS stuff out there, but I agree it is corporate and honestly, it didn't really feel relevant. In general I do like Managing to Change the World and it does have some information about personalities, changing of managers etc. So this might be useful depending on your situation.

If you message me though with specifics of your situation, I'm happy to share my thoughts.
posted by Toddles at 6:36 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are there any other specifics you can share? What kind of change? What needs? What are you concerns. I understand if you don't feel comfortable.
posted by xammerboy at 7:09 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks both of you! We are a membership-based organization that has relied on fees and fundraising for most of our income, but we recently got a very large programming grant that means we can do more than ever to serve our membership but now need additional skills in our office. Although we're not changing the job descriptions of any of the long-serving staff, a number of them, led--to my surprise-- by our Executive Director, see the new focus and the need for new hires as a personal threat. (The ED's main value-added has been primarily in fund-raising, not donor relations, and I think they see themselves becoming less relevant. That's not really the case, although their handling of this situation has led me and others to question their judgement and leadership.)

The new programming opportunities have attracted a board that is exponentially more active and engaged than ever before, and they are extremely frustrated with what they see as resistance and obstruction by the staff. The ED's behind the scenes shenanigans are also exposing some very poor management and governance practices that have gone on for far too long. The general attitude of the board is that the employees are adults who can decide to work with the new reality or find employment elsewhere, but that would be a terrible waste of talent, commitment, and corporate memory. (There probably will be at least one departure, but hopefully not more...)

I have to admit that I was one of the new board members attracted by the chance to take on some major activities and do some real good for our members, and I'm not thrilled about having to spend my time on internal battles. That said, if we don't turn this around somehow, we risk being paralyzed for months if not longer, and losing volunteer and community engagement. I'm hoping to come up with at least a few ideas for getting us out of this hole that I can sell to the rest of the board.
posted by rpfields at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2018

Thanks for the clarification. Some questions for you to consider, that you don't necessarily have to answer here.

1. Have you brought this specific concern to the ED directly and honestly? What was the response?
2. Are these new board members respecting the ED's authority, background and knowledge or are they (yourself included) running roughshod over the ED and longterm staff?
3. Are you coming with ideas and actual plans of how to make it happen or are you spending a lot of time asking "why aren't we doing this or that?" - for example, "I believe we should hire these three positions, I can help you draft job descriptions, post them and review candidates. Tell me what you need from me." vs. "why haven't you hired this person yet?"
4. Does this large grant allow you to increase salaries of your current employees and ED to be competitive with other organizations in your area or are you just hiring more people on at a low wage?
5. How have you included the current staff and ED in this change process? Did you have a workshop? Strategic meeting? Anything that included them in the next steps?

Your description from a board member position sounds exciting, but from a staff position sounds like a nightmare. All I see from a staff perspective are red flags that scream, get out! No one knows your organization better than your staff. There is so much logistical, day-to-day work that you just will never ever know as a board member. It's not your responsibility to know it, but it is your responsibility to listen and ask questions. You sound like you are on the road to completely disrupting operations, undermining and losing staff and ending up with unrest, low morale and high turnover. Stop. Rethink. Start again.
posted by Toddles at 7:57 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Stop. Rethink. Start again.

I see your point, and it's helpful to look at this from the staff POV.

But, to clarify, while we can do the last two (if we can figure out how) the first one is just not going to happen. The decision to take on this grant was made by a binding vote of our membership, and it's a reality that we all--staff, board, volunteers, everyone--now have to deal with.

[No more thread sitting from me!]
posted by rpfields at 8:15 PM on November 13, 2018

I have done a lot of change management in nonprofits.

You do not have a change management problem. You have an ED problem.

Have a serious sit down with the ED. If they can't get on board and turn this around with your pressure, then the organization's growth means it's time for them to move on, because they clearly can't manage that growth. Having that conversation, and taking whatever action warranted, is the board's responsibility. You can't fix the internal workings of the org- that's the ED's job. It doesn't sound like this ED is up to the job.

I'd have the conversation, with clarity and honesty, then set a 6 month turnaround plan with specific targets that they are to lead, and move on from them if the targets aren't met.
posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

It’s not your acceptance of the grant you need to stop, it’s your approach to change. Staff need to be onboard with change, which takes a whole heap of engagement. Much more than feels normal.

And yes, if your ED is not onboard then this won’t happen. How you should approach this depends on your overall culture, but shape up or ship out is an option.

I wonder if reading the archives of Ask A Manager might be helpful. This is a people management issue at heart, and she covers issues in a wide range of organisations.
posted by plonkee at 10:43 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Joan Garry has some decent resources that might help you.

Fellow board chair here - you don't actually have only an Executive Director problem. You have an "us vs. them" problem, with the Board vs. the staff. Solely getting rid of the ED may or may not help you - if it's done poorly, the associated emotions could spill over and impact the entire staff, and it might take you years to recover - if you do at all.

Based on where you are right now, if it were me, I would focus on the transition. First, the ED. If there are board members who are particularly close to them or with whom they have a good relationship, I would ask them to engage with the ED to see if the relationship can be reclaimed. This might include a variety of different strategies - sympathizing with the ED's frustration and concerns, setting up structures to ensure the ED feels included in decision-making, finding out if the ED's skill are up to the new reality, and mitigating them if not; and (most importantly) setting up new goals and norms that the ED agrees to, including metrics and timelines for which you can hold them accountable.

Meanwhile, I'd also have an all-staff meeting or meet with everyone in groups (depending on the organizational size and structure), give a brief overview of the grant, and ask them what questions they have. There will be grumbling. A TON of grumbling. Remain relentlessly positive. Invite them to consider what pain points they currently have, and then (either in the meeting or later on), share how having this grant might help them eliminate or reduce them. Ideally, one or more staff people will be excited about the change. Pay attention to these people. These are your change champions and will help you implement the new structure.

On the volunteer front, I would issue a series of communications about the grant, letting them know at a high level what is changing, and any new volunteer opportunities. You might consider having a Volunteer forum after the implementation has been figured out, so you can let them know what is changing, what is not, how your focus is changing and so.

Ideally, if you can turn the ED around, they will help you manage the staff - but I would be sure to make a good-faith effort to engage with them, and make sure the staff sees you doing it. That way, if the ED ends up leaving, it won't be a huge shock, and the Board/staff divide won't be exacerbated.

Memail me if I can help - this sort of thing is fun for me.
posted by dancing_angel at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

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