This article is about understanding and dealing with people’s reactions to change. People react to change in predictable ways, as do organizations, and they generally don’t like it, even if the change is for the better. Be ready for change. Change will happen if you have created a vision and made plans to achieve it, as we discussed in 3 Steps Toward Achieving Your Wildest Dreams, and Ready, Set Go…Make Your Vision a Reality.
Before we delve into understanding people’s reactions during times of change, you need to know that you are dealing with people at two levels: as individuals and as a group. A group is its own entity with unique characteristics, values, and personalities, just like an individual.
Large groups, like organizations, have developed systems to keep them in existence. And systems are much more complex to change than individuals. There is inertia, an energy to keep things the way they are, the way that birthed the agency, kept it functioning, and has served it well. Systems have an inborn resistance to change.
Yet, they are moldable. Given enough time, a nonprofit will take on the characteristics of its executive director. You, as a leader, exert tremendous influence over how well or poorly your agency will fare during times of change just by you being you. As such, you must pay attention to your responses to change when it occurs.
People generally do not like change because they feel out of control, which is unpleasant to them. They don’t like it. They yearn for things to return to a state of normalness, even if the previous normal was not getting them where they wanted to go. Board members may say that they want things to change, but, in my experience, more often than not, they want to keep doing the same things and get different results. In other words, they don’t want to change a system they know, even if it no longer works for them. The unknown is just too uncertain.
When you change your fundraising program, you are changing your revenue streams, which makes it a hot topic. Money is almost always a sensitive topic. Because the survival of your organization may be at stake.
In addition, interpreting financial statements may not be a skill team members possess, especially on board members. Board members may not fully understand what’s going on financially.
Additionally, the principles guiding fundraising are foreign to most board members. Fundraising is not a business function in the corporate world. You end up with a group of people who may not comprehend why you want to do what you want to do. They may feel a lack of control over how money is generated. And be uncomfortable with changing its incoming channels as a result.
Managing Reactions to Change: A Case Study
I have experienced this firsthand. For example, when I was an executive director, the board and staff of the organization I ran were very comfortable raising money through special events. But special events were not working for them. Their gala was not producing enough net revenue to make the costs worth all the effort. Accounting for labor costs, the gala was losing money. It was time to examine the event and decide whether it was worth continuing.
The suggestion of even questioning whether or not to hold the gala was controversial. Several board members vehemently opposed doing away with the event, even though I had provided them with several years of net revenue trends, could demonstrate the gala’s low return on investment, and outlined an alternative way to raise money (individual donations).
Clearly, the numbers showed we needed to change how we raised money to survive financially. Yet, there was still resistance to trying something new. There was this underlying fear that we would fail in our attempts to garner large individual gifts and would have to shut our doors due to a lack of funding.
The consequences of failure were too risky for some of the board members. When the board and I finally decided to cancel the gala and focus on other forms of fundraising, one board member resigned, citing that she could not support the agency’s downfall.
She didn’t want to experience failure and wanted to feel good about the work she was doing. She tried to make a valuable contribution, and loss would not get her there, and she would rather limp along than chance making things worse.
Despite the fallout, I stuck to my guns. And because of it, the agency survived and is now thriving. Changing the way we raised revenues worked. The nonprofit now has about six months of operating reserves and an endowment supporting its volunteer recognition programming. But it took growing pains to get there.
Wrapping It Up
People generally react negatively to change. While a heavy fallout will probably not happen if you change your budgeting procedures, it may happen if you change your fundraising approach. Be prepared to deal with resistance. Before taking on any significant change initiative, you may want to secure the services of a consultant or executive coach to help you through it.
Needed changes and people’s specific reactions to them vary from nonprofit to nonprofit. If you want to explore how your agency can move toward changing for the better, specifically regarding fundraising, marketing, staff motivation, and board relations, register for free to attend my Nonprofit Star Quest live virtual summit to be held March 7-9. Check it out. https://www.joanneoppeltcourses.com/nonprofit-star-quest