The Challenges of Change: How NFPs Can Evolve
20 December 2017 at 3:25 pm
The greatest challenge any organisation faces is maintaining its core purpose, while being able to adapt and change with the times, write Chris Wilson, chair of The Reach Foundation and partner at Koda Capital; and Rusty Benson, director of Raine & Makin.
The not-for-profit sector is both complex and challenging. For long running organisations the complexity is often heightened. There is a tension that exists between the past and present, causing a type of paralysis that can hold an organisation back.
How do we take the best of the past, the pillars of strength that have made our organisation and our work great, while simultaneously creating an organisation relevant for today’s environment?
The dynamic environment within which not for profits exist, requires many to adjust their approach. This can be difficult if an organisation is beholden to the past. However, letting go of too much of what has made you great can undo the fabric of your organisation. It can eat away at your culture, and the fundamentals of your theory of change that have made your work so effective.
The greatest challenge any organisation faces is maintaining its core purpose, while being able to adapt and change with the times. Many recognise the organisation needs to evolve to achieve their mission, but are unsure where to begin.
Further complexity comes as a result of the ebbs and flows of funding. Organisations can experience extended periods of robust funding, providing the freedom to grow, explore their purpose, have fully resourced teams and a flourishing culture. This can quickly change, resulting in austere measures, team resourcing cuts and a culture afraid to innovate for fear of failing.
To overcome these challenges, strategic plans are developed, without a clear and unifying sense of how to implement plans into action. This can lead to further stagnation and frustration. These strategic plans are rarely up to the task of spurring deeper and lasting changes, and seldom address the need for systematic cultural change.
Change in Action: The Reach Foundation
By way of example, The Reach Foundation (Reach), one of 59,000 charities in Australia, found a way to forge a new pathway forward in an overcrowded market by using a human centred approach to change. This is just one story of evolution and there are many, though I hope it is a useful lesson and a story of hope for other purpose driven organisations.
“Generations of confident, self-aware and passionate young people shaping the world” is the vision of Reach. Over the past 23 years Reach has worked with over 850,000 young people, giving them the opportunity to back themselves, connect with others, develop emotional intelligence, connect to the human spirit, dream big and create positive futures for themselves and their peers.
Though Reach, like many organisations, needed to develop a contemporary strategy and identity that would propel them into the future. Helping the organisation and the young people they work with thrive for another 23 years.
But where to begin?
A Human-Centred Journey of Change
Reach commissioned Raine & Makin, a purpose-led design company, to undertake a change process that would involve research, strategy and design. Most importantly the process puts people at the very heart of it.
A discovery process was undertaken to understand how people experienced Reach, the internal culture that delivers this experience, and the supporters and stakeholders that help keep the doors open. The outcome of this human-centred process, would assist in clearly defining the challenges facing Reach and what specific actions could be undertaken to overcome them.
Listen, Learn and Discover
Undertaking an initial stakeholder interview process provided a constructive environment for people to share their experiences, personal stories, challenges and frustrations. Observational and participatory research was undertaken to gain a deeper insight into how the organisation operated day to day.
The research findings were examined and key insights were uncovered and organised into themes.This allowed the team to identify opportunities and suggested ways to bring them to life.
The findings and insights reflected the collective contribution, passion and commitment of people across Reach. Board members, leadership teams, corporate partners, parents, teachers, staff and young crew were an integral part of the process. This reinvigorated everyone, opening the door to transformational change that could otherwise be met with resistance. Why? Because everyone had been heard.
Plan Ahead to Overcome Roadblocks
This innovative and intensive approach can’t be achieved without commitment from senior leadership. “Permission to dream big.” That was the directive of the board. There was an acceptance at board level that if Reach was to thrive, it would have to evolve. There was an understanding that in order to evolve, a certain amount of risk would have to be taken. The board was comfortable with this, so long as it was informed risk.
Actively listening to internal and external stakeholders was essential to moving forward and allowing change to occur. This participatory approach informed decision making and simultaneously inspired the trust, belief and backing of both the staff and young people at the heart of Reach.
This human-centred process puts people, and more specifically young people, at the centre of everything Reach does. From strategic direction and communications, to storytelling and program experiences.
The discovery phase directly informed the new strategy, new brand, new messaging, and approach for developing a new website. It has influenced Reach’s commitment to continual improvement and working together. It has been a recalibration of culture that encourages more autonomy, supported by high alignment to a shared vision. It has empowered staff to use these new skills to fully listen to their audience, and given them a sense of shared ownership of their purpose, vision, mission, what they do and why it’s important.
At the close of Reach’s discovery phase, it became clear that something more transformational had occurred: A reinvigorated sense of optimism, energy and excitement across the organisation. Reach now has a clear sense of where they are going and more importantly, how to get there. Explore Reach’s new strategic plan
About the authors: Chris Wilson is a partner at financial services organisation Koda Capital and chair of The Reach Foundation which was started in 1994 by Jim Stynes and Paul Currie with the hope of creating a place where young people could explore who they are and who they want to be.
Rusty Benson is director of Raine & Makin.