What do I mean by "change?"

The quote in the cartoon above comes from 20th century management guru W. Edwards Deming. Deming championed the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle that became associated with improving product quality by continuously changing and studying various aspects of production. The ideas later found their way into the practice of managing organizational change in the nonprofit sector.  

Change in this context means committing to new learning and new ways of doing things. Deming believed this was a key to both personal and organizational growth. In his words:

Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.

Why is change especially difficult for small nonprofits?

There are many reasons for this. The biggest one is a lack of capacity. There simply aren't enough hands to do all that needs to be done to deliver on the mission and tend to administrative tasks.

Another reason is that nonprofits are complicated. There's a steep learning curve associated with mastering marketing, strategic planning, board development, fundraising and the like. What's more, most of the materials on these subjects are neither targeting smaller organizations nor amenable to a "quick read."

what's the basis for these observations?

My name is Barbara Hopkins and these observations come from 25 years of experience working with not-for-profit organizations, serving as a lawyer and later as a college vice president in charge of marketing, fundraising, strategic planning and legislative relations earlier in my career. I subsequently followed a dream to pursue a landscape architecture degree, which led to my forming a nonprofit management consulting practice to support myself while in school. In my consulting work, I formed a nonprofit for a group of local foundations and worked closely with many others on a range of planning, assessment, fundraising, and marketing projects.

After earning my landscape architecture degree, I found a job as the executive director of a small, nonprofit, urban land trust. The land trust work is the best match ever for someone with my background and I LOVE IT! But even with that background, growing the organization has been challenging.

When I started as ED in 2009, there were 30 names on our communications list. Few of them had an email address. In six years of existence preceding my arrival, little effort was exerted to expand this list or to communicate with or solicit the people on it.

The website provided scant information and was difficult to navigate and update. The marketing materials were mediocre in quality and messaging was inconsistent. A consultant had recently developed a strategic plan, but it failed to address the foregoing challenges.

I relay these things not to cast aspersions on those involved with the organization up to that point. There were many smart people trying to make a go of it. But the group did not have a complete grasp of the fundamentals of growing a nonprofit. New ways of doing a few things better were very much needed if the organization was to be positioned for growth.

what can you expect to find on this site?

Here, I want to share what I know and what I am continuing to learn about growing a small nonprofit and doing it with few staff. I want to boil these lessons for personal and organizational change down to their essence, providing practical information and resources.

why am I doing this?

FIFTY-SIX PERCENT of our nation's 1.6 million nonprofit organizations have annual revenues under $100,000. That means there are a lot of nonprofits out there operating on a shoestring. With the many challenges our communities face today, we need many more of them to be vibrant. I also have a personal stake in "choosing to improve," given that I am, myself, striving to grow a small nonprofit. 

I want this to be a conversation. To that end, I encourage your comments.  I also invite you to contact me with your feedback or questions at barbara@choosetoimprove.org

Finally, if you're struggling with an issue and want to brainstorm solutions, I'm happy to offer an hour of my time at no charge. Send me an email with the nature of the question and a couple of dates and times that would work for you and I will reply with conference call instructions.

Connect With Me

Share a Little transformation