Archive for April, 2012

Change – Do We Have a Choice? – Five Key Elements for Managing Change through a “Transitions Management” Approach

Change….  The one constant in our life is change but, despite the relentless charge of change, we never seem to embrace it, do we?

A few years ago, the State Department of Transportation started a comprehensive renovation project on one of the main routes I take to work each day.  The rationale was that the road needed to be widened to reduce congestion and improve safety.  The road was to be closed for 13 months.  Worst of all, this meant I needed to find another Dunkin’ Donuts at which to secure my morning coffee.  I was not happy.  I guess sometimes we just don’t have any say in change.

And now, many of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are faced with huge changes.  Nonprofits, particularly those funded by government are facing significant budget cuts and “competition” for all dollars is increasing daily.  Grantmakers and other donors wonder if their donations are risky investments in organizations that might not be viable in the long-term.  For many of us, there can be growing feelings of resentment, anger and/or fear.   Change…do we have a choice?

William Bridges begins his book Managing Transitions by saying that “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions”.  Change he says is situational; Transition is psychological.  Many of our best nonprofit organizations are going through change (executive turnover, downsizing, merging, closures, new structures) and unfortunately, they are being bashed and bruised by the changes and missing the opportunities available when the people who are experiencing the change are not engaged through the psychological process.

We have discovered five key elements critical to successfully navigating the executive and organizational transitions we facilitate:

1)  Acknowledge Change:  First, it helps to acknowledge change is happening and that individual responses (shock, anger, fear) are natural.  Denying that change is happening will just make the “transition” more painful and will limit exploration of opportunities for a healthy future.  Guided discussion about the changes and potential opportunities are essential.

2)  Recognize loss:  It’s often hard to embrace new beginnings if we don’t recognize and acknowledge the loss resulting from the change.  Expressions of sadness, grief, anger, confusion, and fear often come first, before those impacted can begin to think about new beginnings.

3)  Take Time to Reflect and Plan:  Don’t rush!  Organizational and individual risks are increased by rushing through change.  When a CEO retires or funding is suddenly cut back, there is often a knee-jerk reaction to make the change quickly, without much reflection.  While timely responses are often needed, this rapid knee-jerk response will inevitably lead to bad results, including increased frustration, isolation, anger, and skepticism. Rushing may lead to bad decisions that lose resources and damage the reputation of the organization.  Bridges points out that a thoughtful process can cultivate discovery, optimism, and creativity.  “Interim” solutions can often help the organization to pause in the process of change and make the most of this neutral zone “discovery” period.

4)  Don’t Isolate:  Often when organizational leaders experience unwanted change they withdraw and attempt to hide the changes from staff, community partners, donors, and other investors.  This behavior leads to rumors, misunderstandings, and negatively impacts trust.  It helps to see the change process as a learning and “life cycle” event.  Communicating with and hearing from staff, partners, and investors on how best to navigate the changes can increase commitment and enthusiasm, and relieve some anxiety and worry.

5)  Celebrate the past along with the new beginnings:  New beginnings can bring excitement, but other emotions, too, can arise.  For those most ready to embrace the new, enthusiasm and impatience may set in.  Others may remain skeptical.  It provides perspective to celebrate the history of the organization along with the new beginnings and change.  Such an approach allows those who are impatient to see that there is movement and progress.  Simultaneously, others can see that past efforts are honored and appreciated.

Well, enough said – back to the Department of Transportation and my route to work.  I was angry and resentful for sure – especially when the trip took me an extra twenty minutes each way!  But now, two years down the road, there is some good news.

Even though I hate to admit it, now that the route is wider, more smoothly paved, and better lit, it is indeed a safer, more enjoyable, and even faster route – regularly about 8 – 10 minutes faster; and far less of the once routine one-hour congestion delays!   More importantly, I did find an alternative Dunkin Donuts to fill my short term need and it has now become my favorite!  I wonder if the former Dunkin Donut folks miss me?


The Support Center works with grantmakers and nonprofit organizations to effectively manage change and transitions, including Executive Transitions , Organization Assessments, Turnarounds, and Restructuring.


Ensure Your Next Retreat Makes Forward Progress

Do you eagerly await your next board or staff retreat, or does the idea make you groan? Do you want to jump-start discussions, make your meetings more interactive, or most importantly, increase the likelihood of successful meeting outcomes that can be acted upon after the room empties?  You are certainly not alone. An experienced meeting facilitator can make all the difference—and the benefits can be enormous. Here are a few:

  • During the retreat, staff or board can step out of their roles and participate fully in the meeting because they are not running it!
  • As part of the preparation process for the meeting,  a facilitator can help to think through the desired goals and outcomes of the meeting and how to achieve consensus.
  • A facilitator can also help you think about format, what materials should be distributed in advance, and whether the desired outcomes would benefit from ice breakers, small group work or other activities.

A good facilitator is neutral and unbiased—it is someone who does not hold a stake in the outcome of the meeting. They do not know about the quirks of your board or staff, and they invite all points of view.  Their objective is solely to plan and guide your meeting to a productive and successful outcome. If you have a single meeting or a series that would benefit from objective, outside expertise, contact Julia Lu ( or 917-522-8308) to discuss engaging one of our experienced nonprofit consultants.

NYMAC – Fostering Nonprofit Mergers, Acquisitions & Collaborations in New York City

SeaChange Capital Partners has announced the launch of the New York Merger, Acquisition, and Collaboration Fund (NYMAC), a new initiative that encourages and enable mergers, acquisitions, and other types of formal, long-term collaborations between nonprofit organizations working in New York City.  The goal of NYMAC is to provide vital support to a diverse set of nonprofit organizations as they navigate a very challenging operating environment, supporting leaders willing to make difficult mission-driven decisions, and encouraging innovation and best practices in the nonprofit sector.

NYMAC will support organizations that already have a serious interest either in coming together in some way, or in exploring how they might, and will make grants to help cover a portion of the one-time costs required to explore or complete the transaction. As a neutral, credible, and experienced outside party willing to invest time and money, NYMAC will work constructively and confidentially with the funders, boards, and leaders of the organizations considering a transaction as a catalyst for sensible action. In addition to making grants in support of particular transactions, NYMAC will work with foundations, government agencies, and umbrella groups to encourage New York’s nonprofits to more proactively explore the various ways in which they might collaborate with one another. The initial $1.2 million fund will finance approximately 10 to 15 collaborations. Learn more about the Fund at its new website.

April Tweets for Thought

Mergers, capacity building and organizational learning are always on our minds here at the Support Center. Here are three tweets we found this month that we’d like to share on these subjects. Please let us know your thoughts on our blog.

The Most Important Word for Nonprofits: Merger

Robert Egger discusses the five levels of mergers.

What We Talk About When We Talk About  Organizational Learning

This guest post on Beth Kanter’s blog by Cindy Rizzo came out of conversations at the 2012 Geo National Conference.

How Foundations Support Grantees and more with Doug Bauer, Executive Director, Clark Foundation

An insightful interview by Laura Cronin for the PhilanTopic blog.