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How to Prepare Your Nonprofit for Major Changes


By Contributing Author

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Have you ever changed your email marketing system, CRM, fundraising software, or another technology that you rely on? A technology change in your organization can be exciting, but it can also create tension, confusion, and a lack of ownership if not prepared for properly. 

While it’s important to focus on the new tools that will help increase your impact, it’s equally critical to remember your staff throughout the change process. Saturation and fatigue with change is one of the top five project failure factors, right alongside lack of sponsorship and poor communication.

We conducted a survey in 2017 and found that while a majority of respondents indicated their organizations are continually searching for new opportunities in innovation, they have inadequate structures or systems in place to support change, and there is inadequate leadership and management support for changes. Below, we’ll provide you with tips for how your nonprofit can prepare for change, minimize friction points, and keep employees bought in.

Nonprofits Want to Be Innovative

In 2017, our basic survey of nonprofit organizations showed 65% of respondents indicating their organization is continually searching for new technology opportunities and innovation.

technology change

At Classy, we often see organizations coming to us looking for an easy-to-use fundraising software to replace a less flexible solution, and to easily integrate their online fundraising with their existing technologies like a marketing automation system or CRM. We find that nonprofits want the flexibility to choose the best-in-class technologies and they desire a streamlined integration where all of their systems are speaking to each other. While we offer implementation packages, it’s equally as important to have a change management and implementation plan in place to encourage adoption and ensure a successful migration

Jessie Kain

Product Manager at Classy

If you don’t have a plan in place, you run the risk of change fatigue, which negatively affect the success of your project and user adoption.

Change Fatigue is Real

While nonprofits are craving new opportunities and innovation many have been through change before and have felt the pain of a lack of a change management plan. In our survey, almost 60% of respondents noted that fatigue from past changes at their organizations is a factor.

technology change

So, how do you address the risk that comes with the change saturation—when the amount of change is greater than the capacity an organization has to manage it—that can arise when making simultaneous, complex shifts in process, operations, and technology? In addition to careful planning, let’s walk through some steps to help minimize resistance and fatigue. Let’s use the example of switching from TeamRaiser to Classy.

Assess Your Landscape

First and foremost, we have found that doing an assessment of the landscape at the start of a large project identifies additional anticipated change. A landscape assessment will help you determine what technology systems exist and who is using them

Example Landscape Assessment

Often, organizations find when they do this exercise that there are silo databases being used, which many people in the organization were unaware of. By taking stock of what exists today and analyzing your users’ needs, you’ll be able to determine a plan for streamlining systems and understand who is impacted by the change.

For example, if your organization was moving from TeamRaiser to Classy, you should determine what the other systems are that exist in the technology ecosystem. Ask questions like:

  • What system is currently being used to manage donations received from offline, online, or fundraising events?
  • How does this system interact with TeamRaiser?
  • Is there a small department in your organization that is maybe using a homegrown system or excel spreadsheets to manage a very small event?
  • Are there legacy systems that were once used and are only used for particular events?
  • How is TeamRaiser data reconciled with your organization’s financial system?
  • Is this a manual or automated process?

It is important to map out all the systems that exist, small or large, and determine the future state diagram before embarking on the project.

By mapping out all of these various systems, and who is using these systems, you’ll have a sense of the amount of change that will be required to move from TeamRaiser to Classy. Once you have a landscape assessment, it is also important to take stock of other key questions such as:

  • Does this change impact a large number of internal and external stakeholders?
  • Have change projects in the past been mostly unsuccessful? 
  • Are people in your organization mostly not supportive of this change?
  • Does this change require people to change the way they do things?

The answers to these questions gives you a sense for the scope and scale of the change on a specific project. The more “yes” answers to these questions means this is a major project for your organization and you need to invest time and resources in change management processes in order for it to be successful.

Sequence Your Change

Alongside that piece of the puzzle is the sequencing of the technology changes that are part of the implementation. Breaking down a large project into manageable phases allows for specific departments or teams to plan for the times when they will need to be more involved and provides a clear path for when they will have less project-focused activities occurring.

Example Sequencing

  • Phase 1: Move from TeamRaiser to Classy
  • Phase 2: Migrate from Raiser’s Edge to Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP)
  • Phase 3: Integrate Classy into the new NPSP ecosystem

Understand Who’s Affected

Map out the value props and points of resistance for all individuals who are involved in the change.

Example stakeholder map

When you embark on a technology project it is important to identify all the people who will be impacted by this change. For example, if you are moving to a new fundraising software, some key people at your organization that would be impacted by this change would be:

  • Fundraisers,
  • Donors,
  • Events team,
  • Gift entry staff,
  • Finance,
  • Volunteers,
  • Previous software vendor,
  • IT staff, etc.

Once you map out the groups that are impacted, document the unique benefits for each group, and the points of resistance when moving to a new fundraising software. Once you complete this exercise, you’ll want to use this information to inform your communications, training, and risk management plan.

For example, if you identify that a point of resistance for the finance department is not having enough information about the new system and the new reconciliation process, you’ll want to proactively address this in your project. You could make sure that you have a special targeted training that reviews the reconciliation process for finance, and ensure your communications to their team are clear on the importance of audit trails and reconciliation.

You may also want to send additional documentation to this group that details the system at a level that would help them understand how it works. The stakeholder map becomes an excellent grounding point as you start to move into the project execution.

Executive Sponsorship

Our survey also found that while 27% of nonprofit respondents believe their organization has the systems and structures in place to support and monitor change during initiatives, another 27% are right in the middle, and 46% do not. Both our sample and rigorous studies by Prosci indicate there is a need for more structured planning around change, and that starts at the executive level.

technology change

Proci’s 2018 Best in Change Management survey found that active and visible sponsorship is the top contributor to project success. Specifically, 72% of projects with effective sponsorship were successful compared to just 29% of projects with a lack of executive sponsorship.  

Some attributes of effective sponsorship are having the right leaders in place that have influence in the organization, sponsors who are active and visible throughout the project, are able to articulate the vision of why the organization is making the change, and are rewarding behaviors that contribute positively to the change. 

To add on to that, in Classy’s recent report, “World-Changing Work: The Modern Nonprofit Professional’s Experience”, when it comes to testing fundraising technology, executive leadership or IT is often tasked with discovering what will work for the organization. However, almost one-fifth of organizations haven’t implemented any sort of process, with respondents revealing that there’s no specific department in charge. 

While it’s important for executive leadership to be involved in testing new technology, it’s also important for them to see value in aligning a champion and preparing for change.

Are You Ready For Change?

Understanding if your nonprofit is ready for change can help you prepare for the many challenges you may face. Planning ahead for the appropriate conversations, establishing effective executive sponsorship, and creating clear communication channels can help your team embrace what’s to come.

The first way to get started is to ask your team how they perceive the organization they work with to get a better picture. To help, we updated our 2017 survey alongside Classy to capture new results and gain a new understanding of how organizations navigate change.

Complete the quick survey below to get an idea of where your organization stands:

Survey: Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Change?
Take the survey, then get tips and resources from Heller Consulting to help manage your next technology change.
Take the Survey Now

In the end, any changes you’re considering in your nonprofit strategy are more about people than they are about processes or technology. When you make the effort to understand the people using the system, consistently communicate with them, and provide complete transparency during transformation, you’re substantially improving the chances of adoption and success.

Smita Vadakekalam has been working with the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, working at various nonprofit organizations in the field of fundraising, technology strategy, and operations streamlining. At Heller Consulting, she has worked with hundreds of nonprofits implementing strong business practices, technology and change management strategies to make their work more efficient and effective.

Smita has played several roles at Heller, from Consultant, Project Manager, VP of Professional Services to her current role as COO and Senior Strategist. Smita enjoys speaking at conferences and writing about change management in the nonprofit sector.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from George Washington University and a master’s degree in Philanthropic Studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy – Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, where she now serves on the Alumni Board.

She is a committee member of the Association of Change Management Professionals, a Prosci-certified Change Practitioner, and has a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute.

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