How to Get Started with Change Management for Your Nonprofit

We’re seeing a trend here at Heller Consulting: More nonprofits are starting to research and invest in change management for their organizations. They’re recognizing the many benefits of change management for changes of all types, including process and technology changes.

In light of this trend, we thought we’d share a few key elements and a few tips to help you get started with change management for your nonprofit.

Let’s start with a definition.

What is change management?

Change management is the practice of applying a structured approach to the transition of an organization from a current state to a future state to achieve expected benefits. That’s a formal definition that might sound a bit intimidating.

But more simply put, change management is about applying tools and strategies to help the people in your organization through projects — big or small. It helps people across the organization understand why and how a project is happening so that they’re more likely to support it, disruption is minimized, and the entire project is more likely to be successful.

Hear how change management helped during a CRM implementation project with the Canadian Cancer Society: Watch the testimonial.

A long-term benefit of change management is that it builds on itself. If staff members have a positive experience with one project, then they’ll tend to feel positive about future projects. Over time, this creates a culture of positive change in the organization, which is particularly important for technology projects and during times of rapid and unexpected process change, such as the changes we all experienced in 2020.

So, what do you need to get started with change management?

For a deeper dive on change management for nonprofits, download The Nonprofits Guide to Change Management 


Three fundamentals for change management

Change management is a broad discipline that relies on a variety of tools and techniques — too many for us to cover in this article. However, there are some fundamentals that you can begin applying to any project — even if you’re just getting started with change management.

Here are three key elements of change management:

1. The “why” statement.

For people to get behind a project, they need a reason for it. A why statement paints a picture of a future state — the goal or outcome of the project. It helps explain why your organization is doing the project in the first place and why you’re doing it now. Ultimately, it helps you get buy-in for the project from everyone in your organization who you need to participate in and support the project.

A successful why statement should express the vision of the project. It should be simple and not require a lot of explanation. It should not be so broad that people have trouble understanding its significance to their role at the organization, nor so specific that it fails to inspire people.

If you don’t have a why statement, download this template that we’ve created to help you get started. If you do have a why statement, consider revisiting it to see if there’s room for improvement.

2. The executive sponsor.

Having a leader at your organization who had agreed to be an active sponsor of your project is critically important for successful change management. This person is more than just someone who writes a check. It’s someone who is influential within your organization. It’s someone who can keep people accountable for their roles in the project and help you promote a common vision to keep everyone focused and motivated to complete the project.

As you recruit your sponsor, be sure to:

    • Let them know what their responsibilities will be and what expectations you will have from them.
    • Create a cadence of meetings and a timeline for them so they understand how the project will be structured.
    • Provide them with support, such as suggestions for how they can motivate and reward people as the project progresses.

TIP: We’ve seen some organizations that have a sponsor on board for a project, and then realize that the sponsor is not as involved or as effective as hoped. But, for political or other reasons, they can’t ask the sponsor to step down. In this case, all is not lost. Try recruiting another executive sponsor as a co-sponsor and use each sponsors’ strengths to move forward.

3. The reinforcements.

Some projects can seem long and challenging. It’s important to reward people throughout the project to keep them engaged and motivated.

While a big “project accomplished” party is a great way to celebrate a job well done, there are other things you can do along the way as incentives and milestone celebrations to keep up momentum on the project. For example:

    • Bring snacks to project meetings
    • Acknowledge people for great work via email or in staff meetings
    • Host a staff lunch
    • Offer a half or full day off
    • Give out gift cards

Learn More about Change Management for Nonprofits 

These three elements will get you started with change management, but there’s more that you can do to ensure the success of your next project. Read The Nonprofit’s Guide to Change Management for an overview of more key change management concepts, tips from Heller Consulting’s change management experts, and real-life examples of change management successes.

Read more about change management:

About the Author

Smita Vadakekalam
In 1998 Smita starting work on the front-line of the nonprofit sector helping organizations with fundraising, technology strategy, and operations streamlining. Since then she has worked with hundreds of nonprofits implementing strong business practices, technology and change management strategies to... Read More
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