Prepare the way for change

Change can seem threatening to charities.

So as you begin to consider big changes at your charity, use communications to help your board, staff, donors, clients and other partners understand the need for change, the difference it will make for the people you serve and for your organization, and the steps required to make it happen.

You do not need to spring your big ideas for change all at once on the people your organization counts on. If they are not prepared, their initial response may be fear about how the changes might affect them individually, and resistance to your ideas.

So be smart and strategic in laying the groundwork for where you are headed and how you plan to get there.

You might use board and staff meetings, or your regular email updates to board and staff, or your regular report to donors, or the weekly blog you post on your website, or your monthly newsletter, or all of those vehicles, to lay the groundwork for change.

Don’t overwhelm your various audiences with information. Keep each message short and use it to explain a small piece of a much larger and more complex story. And devote multiple short messages to each of the broad topics you want to address.

You might begin by talking about the community need your charity addresses. Who does it affect, and how? What are its larger implications for the community and its social and economic health?

Then describe the people you serve. Who are they? What are the circumstances of their lives, the challenges they face, and the causes of those challenges?

Next, talk about what your organization does. What services do you provide? How do your programs work? What difference do you make in the lives of the people you serve?

Then describe the resources your organization counts on. Who supports you? Who are your partners? How do you work together?

Next, describe the challenges your face. What economic, financial, regulatory and competitive forces affect the community you serve and the marketplace in which you operate? What is working and not working in your operations, programs, fundraising and board oversight?

Then explain some possible ways your organization might change, and the way those changes might improve the services you provide and the lives of the people you serve while also addressing the challenges you face as an organization.

As you unfold your story, ask for feedback. Carve out some time at board and staff meetings to talk about the issues you are raising. In your email messages and other communications, invite donors and other partners to contact you with their comments and ideas.

If you get a particularly positive response from a board or staff member, or a donor or partner, follow up with one-on-one conversations. Ask about the challenges they see for youur organization, and their ideas for improving the way you work.

And if you get a particularly negative response, follow up as well. Ask both about the person’s concerns and hopes for the future.

By communicating clearly, carefully and strategically, you can break down resistance, build consensus, and help the people you count on see the need for change.

Change can be frightening. Use stories to make change make sense.

Want professional help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

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