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Change Management: Key Principles You Need to Know


By Ellie Burke

Black Boardwomen

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

This piece is an excerpt from Organizational Behavior 101: A Leader’s Guide to Motivating Employees. Download the full guide below.  


If there’s one constant at every organization, it’s change. What distinguishes great leaders from good ones is how they react to it.

And not only how they react to it, but how they react to it in the context of their larger teams. The practice of navigating a group through both negative and positive shifts is an important facet of leadership and is commonly referred to as change management.

In order to effectively respond to new developments, it’s necessary to first understand what causes change and how you as a leader have the capacity to initiate and manage it.

Causes of Change


Internal sources of change are typically the result of operational problems. Examples include poor communication, as well as things like low morale and high turnover, which are both symptoms of deeper-seated issues. Organizational Behavior and Management by Ivancevich, Konopaske, and Matteson warns that leaders often do not realize the need for an internal change until disaster hits (an employee strike, for instance).


External sources of change stem from political, economic, social, or technological changes in the environment outside of the organization. Consider how your organization adjusts in the face of external circumstances. Nonprofits need to react to change quickly in order to stay relevant to their audience.

Take online fundraising, for example. As more and more people began to move online, it became clear that nonprofit development strategies needed to move from traditional direct mail and push-advertising methods to segmented engagement through online channels.

Problem Diagnosis

In the 1950s, Taiichi Ohno, the former executive vice president of the Toyota Motor Corporation, developed a strategy for problem diagnosis called the “five whys” that is still used and widely taught in business operations classes. Using this method, Ohno would urge his staff to ask “why?” five times in order to get to the root cause of a problem.

For example, if your organization is facing high turnover, your questions might pan out something like this:

1. Why is there high turnover?

Employees are unhappy with their work experience.

2. Why are employees unhappy?

Employees feel they lack opportunities for career development.

3. Why do employees feel like they lack opportunities for career development?

Paths for advancement are unclear to employees.

4. Why are paths for advancement unclear?

There exists no set educational process around career mobility opportunities.

5. Why is there no set educational process?

Educating employees on how to navigate career advancement has not been a priority at the organization historically.

Management Techniques

DON’T Rely on “Methods of Power”

Through methods of coercion—such as the ability to fire, demote, or give negative feedback to someone—you can issue threats to manipulate your employees into changing their behaviors. While these tactics might yield desired results in the short term, they put your organization at risk for problems down the road due to low employee morale. Organizational Behavior and Management advises reserving these autocratic tactics for times of true crisis, such as when your organization’s existence or the safety of your employees is at stake.

DO Reeducate Employees

Rather than forcing change with little explanation, or assuming that everyone will be onboard with your logic, encourage an open dialogue and create an education program around the prospective change. By using this opportunity to acknowledge “the old way,” and clearly spell out reasons for “the new way,” you’re more likely to get buy-in and give everyone a chance to voice concerns and ask questions.

How to Combat Resistance

Change is a natural source of anxiety for many. It often requires facing uncertainty and navigating new terrain. Consequently, your team may resist change when it causes them discomfort, threatens their own authority, inconveniences their work, or appears illogical to them.

To prevent a combative situation with your employees, Bennis suggests that the more people involved in the change, the better. Everyone needs to understand the reason for change, so communication is an integral factor. Identifying “champions of change” can also help smooth the process. These individuals are well-versed with the problem and need for the new solution, and they act as models through the transition for others to mirror and reference.

Your organizational culture also plays a large part in how change is accepted at your company.

If your culture supports change and innovation, it’s also likely to accept failure and encourage experimentation. To build a culture that is conducive to change, you must facilitate opportunities to examine choices, learn, and move forward from failure. This approach will foster informed risk-taking that continuously drives your organization to seek best practices and innovate.

Evaluating Success

Rather than assigning a solution, carrying it out, and moving on, your organization should first figure out how it will evaluate the success of your proposed solution. This practice saves your team from potential future strife should the solution only be a failure or short-term fix.

Identify how you will measure the results of the change once it takes place. Check in on the results and measure them to know if the problem persists.

Get the full guide to read more on hot topics in organizational behavior like:

  • The two components of effective leadership
  • How to manage stress in the workplace
  • What motivates employees and the role of incentives
  • How to integrate new employees

Photo credit: wocintechchat.com

Organizational Behavior 101

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