Communicating Change in Your Nonprofit Organization

"In times of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. -Eric Hoffer, American Writer, 1902-1983

Nonprofit organizations are faced with more change than ever in this economic climate. Have you ever found yourself smack dab in the middle of unexpected change wondering how to keep everyone on board when you're not even sure you can hang on yourself?

Melany Brown of Executive Alliance offers nonprofit professional suggestions on how to overlap change and actually enjoy it. Rather than thinking of it as a negative, she simply defines it as growth. Change is inevitable, but how you deal with it is completely up to you. The ones steering themselves and their nonprofit organizations by taking responsibility for what they want to create have more fun and feel more secure. Being reactive is like chasing and never quite catching the bandwagon. Here are four tips to help you and four tips for helping others benefit from change and enjoy the process.

Help yourself embrace change`

1) Be clear on your vision. Executive Directors are faced with tough decisions every day. Do you need to lay an employee off? Do you need to take a stand on a sensitive issue? By keeping your larger vision active and alive, you'll know how to navigate through rough waters. Guide yourself around the obstacles rather than letting them stop you. Notice what's in your path, while keeping an eye on the big picture. Melany acknowledges the hurt she feels when laying off an employee, but moves forward pro knowingly her decision will help the nonprofit organization meet their goal.

2) Realize the responsibility that comes with being a change agent. Making decisions that affect others automatically comes with a huge bulls-eye that lands neatly on your back. It's easier for people to say what they do not like than what they do like. Take a lot of deep breaths, remember your mission and keep going!

3) Engage in frank conversations to alleviate fear. In times of tumultuous change, it's being tempting to be like an ostrich with your head tucked away in the sand. Develop a support system of peers, board members and staff where you can honestly express your feelings. After you've released what's been holding you back, remind yourself of the valuable service your nonprofit has to offer. Make appointments to talk with donors about how they can partner with you to meet a larger, collective goal. Have fun with your supporters; enjoy your time together!

4) Research and take action. Be aware when you've fallen into analysis paralysis. 15-20 minutes of research is often all you need for daily decisions. Do not let the powers of the internet entice you to spend too much time on research. Notice if your research is merely a reason not to take action. Your decisions may change, but for today, take a stand. Be ready to change when you get new information. Mitigate as much as possible, but keep moving forward. Trust yourself, get enough people on board and be totally committed when you make a decision.

Help others overlap change

1) Be open, direct and transparent. Have meaningful conversations with your staff and listen to what they feel their role is in your organization. Each person on your staff needs to be fully engaged or it's time for them to move on. Transition can bring up a plethora of fear. Work together. If they say they do not want to change, communicate in a firm and compassionate way that that is not an option. Help them see options and possibilities that are aligned with their upcoming changes so they can be as proactive as possible.

2) Encourage them to make more decisions and take responsibility for what matters to them. The Executive Alliance hosts the Washington State Annual Conference with a theme this year of Investment + Innovation = Impact. Melany encourages people to invest in themselves and the nonprofit sector so they can find more innovative ways to make an impact.

3) Communicate your vision in different ways. It's easier for your staff and supporters to embrace change if you present your vision in different ways. Reach out to the visual learners with pictures, graphs and other visual props. Have dialogue and audio programs to reach the auditory learners. Explore creative ways to physically involve the kinesthetic learners. Refresh your vision and keep it alive in their hearts and minds. Multidimensional communication supports everyone going through small and large changes. Help people feel safe by relating to them in a way that makes sense to them.

4) Share examples of people doing amazing things. While community service is part of the graduation requirement for many schools now, it's just the starting point for others. When you meet people like 17 year-old Dallas Jessup who travels over 10,000 miles a month speaking about her cause, writes a book and makes a film all while going to high school, it's easier to go through change yourself. Melany loves sharing stories like this. Think of people who are having a hard time going through change and share an inspiring story with them.

Change. It's going to happen. What you do with it is your choice. Being proactive with these tips will put you in the driver's seat. If you have more suggestions on how you get through change, please leave a comment.

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