Readiness for change in fundraising organizations

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In April 1999, a brief survey of selected members of NSFRE, Vancouver Chapter, was conducted on organizational and personal change readiness and change leadership capabilities. The survey was designed to provide some interesting facts and insights as part of a presentation at an NSFRE monthly meeting. This article presents a summary of the key ideas about organization change that were presented to the monthly meeting, and shares some of the survey findings and their implications for fund-raising organizations.

Organizational change comes in a wide variety of types and sizes. Change can mean vast, systemic change such as a new strategy or mission that turns the organization on its ear. Or it can be limited to simpler actions, such as adopting a new process for an administrative function.

Regardless of the size of the change, organizational change can be described as a realignment of people's attitudes and behaviours. Change happens when people make it happen -- when they start behaving in new ways that are aligned with the desired future state.

But how can you make people change? One approach takes a holistic view of change management: integrating the needs of people's Heads, Hearts and Hands.

  • People's Heads need understanding - the reasons for change, the problems with staying the same, the advantages of the new attitudes and behaviours. Only when they understand why they should change will people begin to devote energy to the change effort.
  • People's Hearts need to be engaged in the change - you need their commitment and enthusiasm, energy and willingness. This is often the hardest element to affect, but can make or break a change effort.
  • People's Hands need to be given tasks to do to make the change happen, as well as the tools and resources to enable them to perform in the changed environment. Having both the skills/resources and a plan of action gives people an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment.

There is a perception of the need for change, but are people ready?

Understanding the fundamentals of organizational change is clearly an important leadership function in fund-raising organizations. Among the fund-raisers who participated in the informal survey, a large majority perceived that they needed to make significant changes in their organizations in the next year or so in order to continue to meet the needs of their stakeholders.

How ready are fund-raising organizations for this challenge? The survey found that participants had lots of commitment and enthusiasm for undertaking change (they had the Heart part). But they lacked a clear understanding of the reasons and goals of change in their organizations (the Head part), and they lacked the tools, resources, and action plans that would enable change (the Hands part).

As leaders in their organizations, survey participants indicated a strong willingness to take on the challenge of leading change (again, a strong Heart component). A large number had had previous experience in leading organizational changes. But a significant risk factor was also identified by the survey. Organizational leaders had an overstated belief in their staff's readiness to undertake change. Leaders perceived more commitment to change, more understanding of the reasons for change, and more change-related skills in the organization than was reported by their staff. This could result in a leader moving ahead too quickly with a change effort, and making incorrect assumptions about the willingness and ability of staff to follow them. Leaders must ensure that they are well informed about the attitudes, perceptions, skills and abilities of their staff before they proceed with a new change effort.

How can you ready yourself to lead change?

Here are five suggestions for a personal development plan that will increase your change leadership capabilities:

  1. Know yourself. Get an honest assessment of your skills as a change leader.
  2. Know your organization. Get diagnostics on your organization's change readiness before you proceed with your change program.
  3. Learn everything you can about change management. Take courses, read books, talk to experienced change leaders, and consult with change experts.
  4. Change yourself first. Make sure your own behaviours, attitudes, expectations, and values and consistent with those you expect of your people. You must walk the talk.
  5. Get a coach or partner. Everyone has weaknesses in one or more areas of change leadership. Make up for your weaknesses by hiring expertise or partnering with a complementary person to assist in the design and management of your change program.

Leslie DeAthe is a management consultant who specializes in organizational research such as climate/culture surveys, change readiness audits, and program evaluations, and assists management in using the information to develop the capacity and capability of their organization to meet the challenges of change. Leslie works from two offices - one on Salt Spring Island, B.C., and one in Toronto, Ontario. Contact her at 250-537-0884 for more information.

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