For Impact


FACT: Change Organizations are Designed to Not Change

Vision & Entrepreneurial Strategy, On Change in the Social Sector | | Nick Fellers

I’ve been very torn about nonprofit boards for several years.

You have a bunch of people that barely know each other. They get together once/month – take 60 minutes to review some info and then they’re asked to make decisions. Really no incentive to take risks… to leap for change. Adding to that, these board members – because they’re are disconnected the rest of the month – feel they need to inject a token voice for concern about the decision de jour. It’s easier to point out how something could go wrong than to try to grasp an idea enough to figure out how to make it work.

One board member voices a concern – the others don’t know him well. No one wants to be the one to say, “That’s ridiculous.” Instead, someone layers it on – this offers both some camaraderie/support for the first objector AND demonstrates active participation by the second board member… and so on and so on.

I mean for this to be less of a rant than it would sound, I’m sure. I’m on boards. I can vouch first hand for the dynamics above. I’m sure I’ve even been ‘guy 1’ or ‘guy 2’. The structure and perceived risk/rewards lend themselves to these dynamics.

This means CHANGE is often killed dead in the water.

Perception: No upside to taking a risk… to changing… only downside… what if it doesn’t work?

Different perspective: What if we don’t change? How many lives do we NOT impact? So what if we fail spectacularly? Isn’t that better than slowly dying?

There is a solution. Simple. Not easy. Be a LEADER. Tell the guy or gal that you respectfully disagree with the WHY NOT… stand for the WHY IT WILL. Be the CHAMPION for change. Be passionate about VISION and moving forward.

Note: I visited with a board about one year ago – at the time of the financial melt down. 14 voices in favor of hunkering down… doing less… changing none. One voice – the board chair – saying, “NOW is the time for CHANGE!”. One year later I was in the same board room – org doing great… changed… I heard one board member whisper, “This VISION thing actually works.”

Absent of strong leaders, nonprofit boards are designed to maintain the status quo – with minutes and reports to back it up. Leadership takes courage, conviction and the ability to take some criticism.

No new wisdom here… Leadership (Rah! Tah!) Vision (Rah! Rah!). That being said, let’s just call this a REALITY and a FACT for the third sector: Change organizations are designed to not change.

Ergo: FACT, need a LEADER!

Good News: Easier to CHANGE when we deal in facts.