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Change is SCARY & Other Organizational Apparitions

Change is Scary

This week’s blog post was written to honor Halloween… we’re now full into the time of year when the holidays are officially upon us, candy & sweets are everywhere and the stressors of the fourth quarter of the calendar year ramp up. Read: I’ve been stress eating a LOT of candy these days. And if you’re being honest, you have too.

As we enter this hectic, full and busy-is-not-enough time of year, I began to ask the Connect For More team and our Clients the following question:

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever faced in your organizations – nonprofit, government or for-profit?

Overwhelmingly it came down to change in some form of another. Whether it was a loss of funding, leadership transition, board or staff turnover, culture or paradigm shifts, it all came down to this – change is scary as HELL and many of us not only don’t like it but have no idea how to manage it or our expectations of it within our organizations.

As it turns out not only are we genetically wired for connection we’re also genetically predisposed to see any sort of change as a threat to our existence and livelihood.  Admittedly, what you’ll find below will not be the magical formula on how to manage change with grace and mitigate your anxiety about it. I still consider myself a savant in this change management field, but hopefully, the insights below will share a glimpse of our own struggle and how we’ve worked to face it.  Courage over comfort, my friends.


Change should align with your mission, vision, values, and culture.

When it’s anticipated change, this alignment is admittedly a lot easier. In other words, when you can plan ahead for business or systems change, you typically have the advantage of clearer not-in-crises thought patterns. Like any strategic effort, though, planned change requires a leader – someone who will keep things moving and help remind people of their accountability. Depending on the change, this might be a committee (with the chair serving as the lead communicator), the chief executive, the board president. Regardless of these change(s) ahead, putting a plan into action will be important for its success and your stakeholder engagement. Below are a few questions we ask to help others think through their action planning for change and strategy:

  1. What are 2-3 things that we can implement this year to make a positive change at our organization?
  2. What is our common understanding of what we mean by this goal and objectives?
  3. Which committee, board/staff member is best suited to lead this effort? i.e. Who’s responsible for accomplishing/implementing it?
  4. How does it fit into our culture?
  5. When do we need/want to accomplish it by?
  6. How will we measure, monitor and communicate success with our board, staff, development committee and donors?
  7. What obstacles /challenges might we encounter and what can be done to prepare for them?


Words matter.

Far too often we reach into our proverbial bags of nebulous acronyms to describe the work we do… or the work we want to do. To be sure it’s impossible to bring people along on the journey or get them interested in the change ahead if we speak this type of “foreign” language. It’s important that despite the nature of change – planned or presented – that we find commonality in how we’re speaking about it. For example, when we say leadership transition do we mean that our Chief Executive is retiring? Or do we mean that our staff leadership team is turning over? Or that we’re working to grow our board to better meet our clients’ needs? All three VERY different organizational nightmares, er… scenarios. Doing the work with your internal team – BEFORE you expound upon the change with your external audiences – will help you better communicate your needs and can bring some solidarity by establishing common language that everyone can get behind or at the very least understand well enough to ask thoughtful questions.


Tear down the silos.

Many of us have worked within, with and for organizations who operate in silos – that is, where each department operates as an island unto its own. Usually, the only communication amongst departments happens at leadership meetings or in times of crises. I’m encouraging you to face change in a different way – in fact, change can be the catalyst if not the requirement for things to be done a different way. How can you get all voices heard and all hands on deck to help you manage the change ahead for your organization? The first obstacle is to ask… the second, to listen and the third, to act on what makes sense for your organization.


Change is inevitable. How you handle it is not.

While you can’t always predict when organizational change is going to happen, you can create a  culture on your board or in your organization that is better equipped to meet any change that comes it way. How do you do this? By stretching your generative muscles (hyperlink), practicing conversations and decision-making procedures before change or crises comes, and with small amounts of change doled out over time. While you can’t always manage change with grace the generative questions below have helped leaders see challenges in a new light and be better conditioned to face whatever changes come their way.

  • In what ways does our organization/board become aware of impending changes to the way we do business?
  • How do individual leaders in our organization/on our board react to change? How do we know?
  • What potential changes/challenges might be on the horizon of our future strategy that could impact our mission work?


How does your organization handle change?

We’d love to hear your successes and challenges in the comments section.

Is your organization preparing to face a change in the way you do business? Not sure if everyone is speaking the same language about your mission, vision, values, and culture?

If you’re looking for an independent facilitator, strategy coach and outsider perspective, we’re here to help. Please contact us at info@connectformore.com.


Interested in learning more? Check out these resources.

The Generative Mode of Governance – What Is It and How To Do It | Richard P. Chait, William P. Ryan, Barbara E. Taylor. Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (New York: John Wiley and Sons) 2005

More Nonprofit Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark | Nonprofit AF


Liz Wooten-ReschkeAbout the Author: Liz Wooten-Reschke is President/CEO of Connect For More. CFM engages leaders and empowers philanthropists to help them accomplish their mission. As the lead consultant, Liz focuses her efforts on providing ongoing support & coaching for chief executives and volunteers of nonprofits, workshop & retreat facilitation, and customized engagements to enhance board governance, agency strategy and leadership experience with her clients. Liz is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. She is a proud member of the University of South Florida Alumni Association Board, a fourth-generation Floridian and Key West Conch. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her partner, four children, two dogs, and one cat. For more information about Liz or her work, please follow her on Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.

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