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A Change is Gonna Come

Change is:







Call change what you like but there’s one thing we all must agree with – funders of all types pour money into communities everyday seeking change in some form or another as the return on their investment (ROI).  Some organizations and communities are successful at implementing, managing and navigating change; while others struggle with the mere thought of change.  I started wondering what’s the difference between those that successfully implemented and sustained long-term, positive, effective, healthy changes in our communities and those that didn’t.

Based upon my observations and conversations with leaders in the Social Sector, I’ve discovered 4 keys to successful change efforts, the keys that separate the “change agents” from others:

Purpose:  You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not.  Simple question, why??  Why are we doing this?  To what end? What’s the core purpose of this initiative, effort, or project?  I’ve seen instances where the sole purpose was to “spend money we had to spend”.  Guess what?? There was no long-term, positive, effective, healthy change.  Why?  Purpose drives passion and provides direction.  If we’re just trying to clean the books before the end of the fiscal year, all we’ll change is the balance sheet.  Clearly defining the purpose gives everyone involved a framework for their engagement.  We know why we’re here.  We know the end we’re striving for.  We are able to see beyond the tasks at hand to the vision at the end.

Patient Persistence:  Successful change agents recognize that “it didn’t get this way overnight and we’re not going to change it overnight.”  This has been a huge issue with government and foundation funding.  We expect to break generational and cyclical patterns of poverty and despair in one grant cycle – Not going to happen.  I applaud those foundations, government agencies and other entities that recognize the strategic advantage of committing to longer-term funding.  Some of the proverbial “needles” we want to move are going to take a while to move. We shouldn’t hastily select “symptomatic” indicators that can move the needle easily, but don’t change reality.

Participation:  We’re not going to make a difference in anyone’s life or any community without the active, up-front participation of all stakeholders.  I’ve seen far too many “needed” programs and projects fail because the “smart people” making the decision, knew what the community or target audience needed and decided to deliver it without their buy-in. We’re not there to work “for” “to” or “at” anyone, we’re there to work “with” and “through”.   This notion that we’re going to ride into a community on a white horse in our shining armor and save people from themselves is played-out.  By the way, participation is more than inviting people to an event announcing what’s already been decided upon.

Pain: As necessary as change may be, for a target audience or community, we must acknowledge that any time we disrupt the status quo it results in discomfort for somebody.  The process of change can create conflict and resistance.  Think about it, when faced with pain most of us want to “pull up”, “pull back” or “pull out” (think about working out at the gym for the first time.) The first step to handling this is to be up-front with all stakeholders – talk about the process and challenges.  This applies to all stakeholders, including service providers.  For instance, collaborating can be a painful process – it’s different, it can become uncomfortable and disruptive.  Talking about this “pain” will help everyone manage the pain when it inevitably arises.

This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just 4 simple ideas that I believe can positively change the “culture of change” in our organizations and communities. 




  1. Dominica August 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Morning Motivation! Needed this! And thanks to Darius, I now have to clean my room! LOL

    • Charles August 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      That’s right. Start cleaning. Amazing how it’ll make you feel.

  2. Sherry Larson August 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Thank you Charles! Needed this as we begin our training today for our new data base. Change will happen and we need to be on board, but it is nice to know that what you are experiencing is a normal progression of the process!

  3. Lil August 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    This is so timely for our association as we begin to craft our strategic plan for the coming year and forge new relationships that were once severed. We’ll keep these ideas in mind so that we might sustain long term, effective, positive, healthy change. Thank you, Charles!

    • Charles August 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

      Glad you find it helpful Lil.

  4. Joy Campbell August 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    Nicely done, Charles! I would add: “the difference between those that successfully implemented and sustained long-term, positive, effective, healthy changes in our communities and those that didn’t” ………

    1. a predefined strategy for reaching the end goal: If you don’t know where you are going from the beginning how will you know you’re on the right track and how will you know when you get where you wanted to go?
    2. defining in advance how you will measure the outcomes you seek to achieve: If we are seeking change, what indicators will tell us we are getting, or not getting, the results we wanted?
    3. And then: a willingness on the part of leadership to change course, if necessary, to acheive the desired outcome.

    • Charles August 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

      Thanks for the great feedback Joy. Insightful.

  5. Matthew Costello August 7, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    re: participation, stakeholders and collaboration. A public health professor at USC recently summed it up for me very wisely and concisely: she said “The wrong way to build a nonprofit is through the ‘WE will build it and THEY will come’ approach that everybody does. The only right way to make long term change is through use of a ‘THEY will build it and THEY will come’ model.”

    • Charles August 7, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      Wise professor. I wish more people would take this advice.

  6. Brian Thomas August 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    I think we all need to be reminded of those ‘no-brainers’ – thanks Charles for the reminder…

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