Years ago, when I was first working nationally with nonprofits in need of training and technical assistance, I came across an unattributed quote. It stated: Change is good… You go first! Today, when I goggled that statement, I got 778,000 results. Clearly there is an interest, perhaps a “market” for change. But to what end?
I looked through some of my past materials to find how I used that quote and there it was – on a very nice overhead slide. Obviously, I was using it before the advent of Power Point. It always got a laugh from those who viewed it, whether in a training or in a more formal lecture, but I was never sure of just how or if it pushed others’ thinking.
Today, as I approach my work and volunteerism with nonprofit organizations, the issue of change is ever-present. It is discussed, questioned and given high priority…but I am not sure that it is really embraced. We are a nostalgic people. We tenaciously hang on to what we have done and been and hesitate to take the risks involved in real change. We rarely ask the really hard questions: What are we about? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? The answers to these questions might be dangerous to what currently exists… But these answers might be the determinant of a better future for what nonprofits seek to do.
Understanding purpose is an integral part of being an effective organization (or human being for that matter!). It helps us to keep our focus, do our work more efficiently and weed out what is superfluous to our mission and vision. But often organizations continues to do things that are no longer relevant or effective in the name of “sustainability” or because they have a funding source. If they cease doing something it could mean that what they are (their purpose) is no longer what it was. This is the scary part of change. It can lead to organizations stepping back from what they have done for years. It might lead some into new, more relevant and effective areas; some into mergers and collaborations with others who also do similar work; and some into closing their doors. All of these options require courageous leadership (something I hope to write about soon) and risk-taking and, of course, change. These kinds of change are not easily accepted. They require careful outreach, discussions with funders, constituents and communities. They require thoughtful planning and marketing. But… when done well, they provide communities and constituents with services and resources that are current, relevant and truly make a difference.
So… I am now reminded of a second, often quoted and seldom attributed quote (also on a very dated overhead): If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always got. (It only had 289,000 results on Google!) Perhaps it is time to change. I’m ready. Anyone want to go first?
Carole Levine, Principal
Levine Partners, LLP