Change 101: Sell-Sell-Sell and then Strategy-Strategy-Strategy

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a recent post, John talked about the importance of “selling problems,” and he wasn’t referencing issues that sales teams experience. He literally meant taking your organization’s problems / challenges and selling them as things that must be solved.

A few weeks ago, I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Regional Conference as an exhibitor and trainer. One of the sessions I presented was “Transformation: Driving Lasting Change at Your Club“. In that training, I shared with participants a six stage process for leading change that I learned at a change leadership training offered by Linkage Inc.

Here are the six stages to that change model:

  1. Make the case for change
  2. Enlist stakeholders to develop vision & strategy
  3. Communicate the vision and strategy
  4. Remove barriers
  5. Set milestones & acknowledge progress
  6. Reinforce the change

If you click over and read John’s post and then click back here to the six stage change model, you will see the first three stages all deal with “selling the problem”.

Of course, this all seems to easy when presented in blogs and six stage models. What could go wrong, right?

Well, there is always that little thing called strategy development that if done incorrectly can lead your organization down a path towards bigger problems.

Let’s look at a real world example that many non-profit organizations deal with at one time or another. This is the issue of fundraising efficiency and productivity.  Here is how I’ve seen this change initiative unfold too many times:

  • The agency needs to do better with its fundraising program.
  • The executive director sells the problem to the board. Facts, figures and charts all demonstrate the need.
  • The executive director and board members sell the problem to donors, who generous agree to help with their pocketbooks.
  • All of stakeholders agree that the strategy needs to be increased organizational capacity in the area of fundraising. The solution? Hire a fundraising professional! (or more fundraising professionals as the case may be)
  • The new fundraising professional joins the team, and the problem doesn’t get better (in fact it sometimes gets a little worse).

Huh? What happened?

In many instances, I’ve seen the executive director take a victory lap and then wash their hands of their fundraising responsibilities. The board does a similar celebration and then disengages from the resource development program. Board members think: “Phew! Thank goodness we hired that person to do all of our fundraising. Now I can focus on other things.”

Oooops! Maybe the problem was deeper and more complex.

When leading change, the first order of business for the non-profit executive director is “selling the problem”. As John points out in his example, if you can make this a self-discovery process for key stakeholders, it will be that much more powerful.

Immediately, after you secure engagement, strategy and vision development becomes critical because selling the right problem with the wrong solutions will get you nowhere fast.

I don’t mean to imply that the aforementioned strategy of hiring a fundraising professional is a wrong solution. However, understanding cause-and-effect is important and anticipating potential scenarios will help you avoid some heartache. Additionally, understanding the entire problem and being comprehensive in your strategy development is key.

Has your agency ever solved a problem without engaging key stakeholders in what the problem was in the first place? What was the result? Have you ever solved a problem and found yourself surprised that the solution didn’t solve the problem? What did you do? How did you correct course and change your change initiative? If you are a fundraising professional who has gone through what I just described, please share how you re-engaged your boss and the board and got things on track. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and examples.

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Non-profit organizations turn, turn, turn . . .

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote that was inspired by a baby crib mobile. He uses the mobile as an analogy for organizational change and equilibrium. Throughout his post he references both major and minor changes in the corporate landscape and talks about how those cultures balance and re-balance.

As I dwell on this post, I think about a number of non-profits who I’ve had the honor of working with throughout the years:

  • There is the organization who employed one of the most talented fundraising professionals I ever knew, and they decided not to re-hire the position after his departure. Needless to say, their resource development efforts are struggling.
  • There is the agency whose most influential and engaging board volunteer resigned due to “burn out,” and they decided to not find ways to keep him engaged. Needless to say, he faded away and isn’t even a donor anymore.
  • There is an executive director who freaked out after the economic crash in 2008, decided to lay off his grant writer and assumed on all of those responsibilities in addition to his regular responsibilities. Needless to say, someone is feeling overwhelmed and burned out.

I think the baby crib mobile is such a great analogy for what non-profits deal with on a daily basis. In fact, I think it is even more appropriate for non-profit organizations than for-profit corporations. Why? Simply look at how much juggling the average organization does because of significantly limited resources. Consider how much more important a board of directors is to the functioning of a non-profit organization compared to a for-profit corporation. So, when one talented employee or influential board volunteer leaves, then everything feels off off-kilter and the struggle for equilibrium feels like a roller coaster ride.

Looking at a non-profit through this mobile lens, I see a chaotic, whirling dance of people that’s bobbing and dipping and threatening to crash and burn.

The difference between a non-profit organization crashing and burning versus re-balancing to find a new equilibrium is huge and highly dependent on their approach to managing change. To some extent, I also believe that organizational cultures that embrace planning at their core and actually implement and adhere to those plans (e.g. succession plan) during times of change are the most successful at re-balancing in a graceful manner.

Those organizations, who don’t have very much capacity and make poor decisions during tumultuous times, end up in crisis. Sure, balance is ultimately achieved, but at what price?

The bad news for these types of non-profits is that change is a constant in our world, and their baby crib mobile probably looks like the tangled and dysfunctional one that hung above my crib (because you know that I was the kid who could never leave anything well enough alone).  🙂

Looking back at the three examples that I described at the beginning of this post, I see a common thread . . . LEADERSHIP. I am talking about both board leadership as well as executive leadership. There is no doubt in my mind that the key to successfully keeping your organization from getting tangled and unbalanced is talented, engaged and committed leaders.

And isn’t that just the perfect cherry on top of the sundae when you look back of all of this week’s blog posts? Again, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Dani Robbins, for guest posting all week-long on board development and executive leadership. I am very happy that she will be contributing a board development post to DonorDreams blog every month.

After reading John’s blog post, I can’t get this song out of my head. So, I thought it would be appropriate to end this post with it.


How chaotic is your organizational mobile? Do you have a story about how your agency managed “change” really well? Please scroll down and share it with the rest of us in the comment section.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847