How To Manage Change At Your Nonprofit

Navigating change is difficult whether you’re a startup nonprofit or an established organization, but change is also inevitable. With stretched resources and an oftentimes overworked staff, nonprofits tend to bear an extra burden when it comes to enacting change.

Nonprofit employees are commonly averse to change, and the reasons for this are very clear. Any implemented change can, in fact, impact how that person does their job, their schedule, and even their home life.

According to Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez, writers and communication experts, the key to a successful workplace transition is honest and empathetic communication throughout the process. By focusing on how you present information on the change, you can shift the tone.

If your nonprofit is about to navigate change, whether it be a shift in organizational structure, updated strategic plan, a decrease in funding, etc., then you have to consider how that change will affect the entire organization and plan your communications accordingly.

Using Nancy and Patti’s formula, let’s take a look at ways that you can manage change at your nonprofit.

Steps To Help You Manage Change At Your Nonprofit

1. Communicate The Vision

The first thing that you need to do as a nonprofit leader to manage change at your nonprofit is to figure out how to inform your employees, staff, and others affected by the change. Your job is to get them to believe that the change will be better than their current experience.

To do this, imagine yourself in their shoes so that you can better understand how to frame your communications. Ask yourself:

  • How would you want to hear the news?
  • How will this impact their day-to-day lives?
  • How does that person fit into the matrix? How are they a part of the end goal?

Then, craft a handful of honest talking points that focus on the envisioned outcome. Include:

  • A backstory about why the change is occurring
  • The steps that have already taken place behind the scenes
  • Examples of how the change will impact the nonprofit
  • Specific goals that include numbers and statistics

When first broaching the change with your nonprofit, focus on the hope that the outcome will result in a better future for the organization.

When first broaching change with your nonprofit, focus on the hope that the outcome will result in a better future…” tweet this

2. Encourage Buy-In

Do your employees and volunteers fully support the change? Chances are, they haven’t yet come to terms with the concept, and that’s okay.

Give them time to mull it over. After all, the change doesn’t exist anywhere but in their minds at this point. In a way, you’re asking them to buy into an idea that they haven’t yet experienced.

Getting everyone on board is tough, but you can encourage buy-in by giving your employees the information they need in addition to some time for adjustment and adaptation. Implement an open-door policy so that people feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns.

Remember to stay positive and empathetic to the changes that they are anticipating in all interactions.

3. Face Obstacles Head-On

Hurdles are par for the course when you manage change at your nonprofit, especially because you are asking for your employee’s commitment to a vision that is not necessarily their own.

When encountering an obstacle, whether it is an unhappy employee, missed deadlines, or unclear directions, try to put a positive spin on it. In fact, hiccups early in the process should leave you and your team with enough time to learn and grow from your mistakes.

Here are some tips to help you keep ahead of those obstacles:

  • Constantly communicate your goals and note your progress, whether at a team meeting or with a simple memo.
  • Call out key employees that are moving the nonprofit forward. Note their strengths and what others could learn from them.
  • Encourage and mentor those that need extra guidance or support.
  • Don’t rely on your employees to stay hopeful about the outcome. It is up to the managers to take an active role with this. Try:
    • Quick pep talks
    • Rewards for employees that go above and beyond or embrace the change.

Remember that every misstep or struggle allows your team room for improvement.

4. Practice Endurance

Implementing change is a lot like running a marathon. It seems like a good idea at first, but about halfway through you’re wondering what you got yourself into.

In your role as a manager you likely have the experience and knowledge to endure the process, but as the nonprofit dives into that change, you’ve been busy communicating, easing minds, supporting, pushing, improving, and repeating the process over and over. Whew!

This is when endurance comes into play. You’ll notice that you’ll gain some ground, only to meet another obstacle. Just keep on going! Keep your vision in mind, and continue to reconnect yourself and your employees with that main goal.

Consider using a visual measurement tool such as a thermometer, timeline, or calendar for employees to see where they are in the process as a way to rally the troops and keep the end-goal in sight.

Don’t allow dissonance and frustration to stifle momentum. Manage change at your nonprofit one day at a time and move forward past your obstacles with empathy and hope.

“Manage change at your nonprofit one day at a time and move forward past your obstacles with empathy and hope…” tweet this

5. Arriving At Your Goal

If all goes as planned and you’ve seen the change through, then you should set aside from time for reflection. After all, the work is never over at a nonprofit.

Get your team together and note:

  • Lessons learned
  • Obstacles and issues
  • Things that happened according to plan
  • Comments and suggestions

As a leader, ask yourself:

  • What could you have done differently to manage the change?
  • What would you do differently versus the same in terms of your:
    • Approach
    • Framing
    • Creating the goal itself
    • Goal preparations
  • Request employee feedback

Then, it’s time to reward everyone, including yourself. Change takes a lot out of an organization and success is something to celebrate.


In the nonprofit world, resources and needs continually change with the economy and because of this, change is inevitable. Changes happen so that a nonprofit can grow, improve, and adapt, but employee support is necessary to do any of this. Encourage your employees to envision a better future through empathy, constant communication, encouragement, a fighter’s spirit, and endurance.

“Changes happen so that a nonprofit can grow, improve, and adapt, but employee support is necessary to do any of this…” tweet this

What change management strategies have you used at your nonprofit? Let us know below.

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