Here to There in the New Year

Each year about this time I start thinking about what I want to do differently in the next year. Key themes usually emerge — eat better, exercise more, learn to play guitar — and I create plans to make forward progress in the new year. Some of these plans come to fruition, others do not. Ultimately, being healthier and developing a new skill all comes down to what I am willing to change.

Change is hard, but it can also be good. And it doesn’t have to all happen at the same time. Change can also occur incrementally. I’ve made the same learn-the-guitar resolution for the last three years. And while I can’t yet play Stairway to Heaven, my diet is better and I’ve set aside time to work out. I also now own a guitar which is ready for me when I am ready for it.

A board member of a nonprofit I led once made a statement that has stuck with me. We were in the third hour of an intense board meeting, debating a sensitive topic that would drive the future of the organization. We had lofty goals and opinions were strong about how we’d achieve them. At one point this gentleman remarked, “What got us here will not get us there.” This simple yet powerful message about the need for change has become a personal and professional mantra for me.

Too often nonprofits are slow to change. We tweak our programs, host the same fundraising events year after year, and accept dated technology. Existing processes, people, and systems have served us well, getting us to where we are. But what about when you want to go there? What needs to happen to grow your organization’s capacity and magnify its impact?

A Harvard Business Review article titled Change for Change’s Sake argues that organizations should embrace a culture of change, even when outside forces don’t demand it:

“Even if the external environment is not changing in ways that demand a response, the internal environment probably is. The human dynamics within an organization are constantly shifting—and require the organization to change along with them.”

Different results require different actions. That’s not to say different is always better, but how would we know if we don’t try? To continue to stay relevant, we must adapt. Change comes in many forms. It can mean retiring a program that’s no longer effective, introducing a new service based on your constituent’s needs, implementing new technology, or creating a more diversified development strategy.

When is the last time your organization really changed to get there? As we approach 2018, I challenge you to think about what you are going to do differently in the coming year. For my part, I resolve to take guitar lessons!

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